Environmental Indicators
  • Parts per million of particulate matter in the air
  • Number of good air quality days
  • Increase in asthma-related hospital admissions
  • Number of vehicle miles traveled

Talking Points
  • Traditional environmental indicators look at specific problems
  • Traditional indicators are necessary but not sufficient
  • Sustainability indicators show links to economy and society

Here are four examples of environmental indicators. The first two are traditional indicators; the second two are sustainable community indicators.

The number of good air quality days is certainly an indicator that can be easily understood by members of a community. However, it is a one-dimensional, short term measure of a problem. It answers the immediate question "Is it okay to breathe today?", but does not link the answer to causes or effects of poor air quality.

The disadvantage of number of good air quality days as an indicator is that it does not show links between air quality and other economic or social issues. Sustainable community indicators do show these links. For example, asthma-related admissions shows the link between air quality and health. Vehicle miles traveled shows the link between social and economic behavior and environmental results.

Additional examples of environmental indicators can be found on the Environment indicators page of Maureen Hart's Indicators of Sustainability web site.

(Note to instructor: Rather than just telling participants what makes the second two indicators better than the first two, engage participants by asking them to explain the differences among these indicators. Make the discussion interactive by asking participants for their ideas for good indicators in these areas. Have the facilitator or helper write down the indicators that participants suggest. For each one, ask the participant what the links are with the various categories of issues.)
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