We are what we measure.   It's time to measure what we want to be.

News

S-CORE™ Sustainability Assessment Tool Acquired by ISSP

Sustainable Measures and AXIS Performance Advisors transfer ownership of the S-CORE™ (Sustainability-Competency, Opportunity, Reporting & Evaluation) sustainability assessment tool to the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP). Adding the on-line version of S-CORE™ to the repertoire of tools and resources available to ISSP members will broaden the use of this powerful sustainability assessment tool and accelerate the evolution of the database that businesses and not-for-profits can use to benchmark their sustainability efforts. To read more, click here.

Wed, Apr 30, 2014
Maureen Hart Takes Leadership Position at International Society of Sustainability Professionals

Maureen Hart has been chosen by the Board of Directors of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) as the group's new Executive Director. To read more click here.

Fri, Feb 28, 2014
Sustainable Water Resources Roundtable (SWRR) Meeting

The SWRR is having a meeting at UC Davis December 6-8, 2011. There will be presentations from nonprofit, government and corporate entities on water sustainability approaches, obstacles, and best practices. Register for the event and see the agenda here.

Wed, Dec 7, 2011
Culture and Local Goverenance Releases Special Double Issue of Culture & Local Goverance

The peer-reviewed online journal 'Culture and Local Goverance' has recently released a special double issue that focuses on the relationship between sustainability and culture within policy and planning initiatives. Articles within this issue come from across the globe, focusing on communities in Europe, North America, South America, Australia, and Africa. The full issue is available for download here.

Wed, Mar 16, 2011
ISSP WebChat Series

On April 19, 2011, at 11am, the International Society of Sutainability Professionals (ISSP) will be having an interactive webinar focusing on 'A Day in the Life of a Sustainability Professional.' Find out more information and register here.

Tue, Mar 15, 2011
United Nations Launches New Website Section and Publication on Sustainable Consumption and Production.

The United Nations Environmental Regional Office for North America has recently launched a new section on its website that is devoted to Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). The aim of SCP is to do "more and better with less, by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the life cycle of goods and services, while increasing the quality of life for all." The new section also has a link to the document "ABC of SCP: Clarifying Concepts on Sustainable Consumption;" which lays out a 10-year framework for SCP goals and programs.

Mon, Jan 24, 2011
Sustainable Jersey Awarded Ashoka Prize

Sustainable Jersey was a winner of Asoka Changemakers' competition, Strong Communities: Engaging Citizens, Strengthening Place, Inspiring Change for their innovation in sustainability project implementation and engaging New Jersey citizens in local government policy-making. Congratulations to Randy Solomon, Kristy Ranieri and the rest of Sustainable Jersey and thanks for all the great work they do for sustainable community development.

Wed, Nov 3, 2010
EPA to Provide Technical Assistance on Sustainable Growth and Development

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has chosen eight communities to receive technical assistance on sustainable growth and development issues. The assistance will help local governments address infrastructure constraints, protect water quality, set development standards, and create options for housing and transportation."
Find more information about the EPA's Smart Growth Assistance Program here.

Thu, Oct 21, 2010
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Announces Nearly $100 million in Grants

"HUD announced the first recipients of the Sustainable Communities and Regional Planning Grant Program. Across the US, 45 regional areas will receive part of the nearly $100 million in funding. This new program will assist State, local, and tribal governments to create and implement regional plans that integrate affordable housing, economic development, land use and transportation to build livable, sustainable communities."

You can find the complete official HUD announcement here.

Wed, Oct 20, 2010

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Many people just starting to work on sustainability indicators have some basic questions that they would like to have answered. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

Q
Can you tell me if City XYZ has done anything related to sustainable development?
Check the Online and Print Resources page. We have listed many excellent sites and publications sorted by topic area. There is a complete listing of every community with a sustainability project that we are aware of. If you know of any we have left out, please let us know. We will add them as soon as possible.
Q
I would be interested in obtaining any additional information you may have on indicators related to topic X.
This what the searchable indicator database is for. It includes most of the good sustainability indicators that we have come across with information on who is using it and what data sources they are using. Also, look at the Online and Print Resources section for related websites, documents, and organizations.
Q
What is the best indicator for my community that could help both the people and the administration better understand the problem of sustainability?
We don't advocate single indicators in general because the system that is being modeled (a community which has myriad economic, social, and enviromental subsystems) is too complex for one indicator to adequately inform all the decisions that need to be made. However, if you are looking for a single indicator as an awareness building tool, the Ecological Footprint is a very good choice. Although it is called an 'ecological' footprint, in fact the footprint is really an estimate of the amount of the earth's resources that a person or community's economic activity is taking up. If you can show the difference in the size of ecological footprint for people with different incomes or lifestyle levels, you also get a social component to the measure, particularly when there is a wide disparity in consumption levels. The ecological footprint is not a perfect indicator, but then, there are no perfect indicators. We can't wait for the most perfect indicators because we will never have any. For more information on Ecological Footprints, read the book. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees from New Society Publishers or contact Mathis Wackernagel at Global Footprint Network.
Q
I'm a college student. Can you do my research? My paper is due next week.
(Yes, we really do get asked this!) No, we can't do your research, write your paper or even review it when you are done, but the site does provide a lot of information including a searchable indicator database and a long list of resources and web links.
Q
Can you explain how you evaluate whether an indicator is a sustainability indicator? Are you using specific evaluation criteria?
This is an excellent question and shows that you are thinking hard about the subject. As of now, there are no universally accepted criteria for sustainability indicators. We have developed a checklist of 14 specific criteria that we have found useful in evaluating sustainability. Explanations of those criteria and a dicussion of the principles behind them can be found on the Sustainability Indicators section of this web site. In addition, you should look into the work by Virginia Mclaren mentioned in the Online and Print Resources section.
Q
My community is developing a list of sustainability indicators. Can you evaluate our list?
Unfortunately, it takes time to do a good job evaluating a set of indicators. We can't afford to do this on a pro bono basis. We have developed the checklist so that you can evaluate them yourselves. If you have a specific question about the checklist, please let us know.
Q
Can you give me data or statistics for topic X?
We do not maintain data sets related to sustainability. This would be a massive undertaking and there are a number of organizations that do maintain specific types of data related to sustainability. We do list several starting points for locating data on various topics. Also, the more diverse the people working on your indicator project, the more sources of data the group will know about. While data is essential to measuring sustainability, this site is focussed on explaining the concepts of sustainability and sustainability indicators. Tracking down data takes a bit of detective work sometimes. Persistence pays off. Good luck!
Q
Where can I find data about X for my local community?
In general, the best data sources for local indicator projects are local sources so it is difficult for us to tell you where those are. You are closer. That is also why it is best to include as wide a range of people as possible in your project. This will broaden your knowledge base about the local sources of data. In the meantime, you should check with local planning boards, regional planning commissions, the local and state environmental agencies, and local energy providers. (The state usually has information on energy because they collect taxes on it - this is not always an extremely precise measure but it is an indicator.)
Q
What is being done to attain the same amount of circulation for these indicators as the traditional indicators? I never hear these on the news for instance, along with the traditional indicators. Why is this, do you think?
An excellent question, begging for a tirade about the media. A better answer probably has something to do with the difficulty of re-educating people about commonly held myths of any sort. Maybe someone can research this and let us know!
Q
What are some good resources to learn more about the process of developing sustainability indicators in a community that knows little about the concept of sustainability?
Check the Online and Print Resources section of this web site. There are a number of organizations listed and a section that lists published documents on the process.
Q
How would you evaluate city XYZ as a model of the sustainable city since it has been widely regarded as a leader in the progress toward a sustainable city?
We don't rate communities. It would be a lot like the pot calling the kettle black, because there are no sustainable communities at the moment. However, if what you are asking is 'how would one evaluate how sustainable one's community is?' the answer would have to be based on a number of factors, including:
  • the amount and type (renewable or nonrenewable) of resources being consumed,
  • whether renewable resources are being consumed at a rate below the regeneration rate,
  • whether all its supporting ecosystems (local and nonlocal) are being degraded or maintained, and
  • whether human and social capital is being maintained and enhanced or allowed to waste away.

If the question you are asking is 'what makes a city a leader in the field of sustainability', the basic elements are:

  1. a sincere willingness to address the issues overconsumption and population, which means:
    1. measuring resource consumption and waste generation including energy and land use and wastes traditionally considered nontoxic such as CO2,
    2. publishing and publicizing the results of the measures, and
    3. increasing community awareness as to why this is an issue to be concerned about
  2. incorporating principles of sustainability into the everyday life of the community bureaucracy (if town hall isn't doing it, it won't work),
  3. including all members of the community in the discussion, and
  4. getting people to actually care enough for changes to occur.

Is there any community that has already done all this? Not completely. Are there communities that are working on it? Yes. Check out the Online and Print Resources.

Q
Where are there examples of local governments that are actively working on sustainability?
The ICLEI web site has information on the Local Agenda 21 process that is going on in many non-US countries. Within the US, two communities to look at are Santa Monica, California and Austin, Texas.
Q
Do you have any suggestions concerning indicators for sustainable industry or a sustainable company?
Indicators for a particular facility will depend upon what they are producing. The general characteristics of indicators of sustainable production are indicators that:
  • Measure the types of material being used (percent renewable vs nonrenewable, percent recycled vs percent not recycled) and the rate at which it is being used (can't be using renewable resources faster than they can be renewed (includes energy being used both in production and in transporting workers, raw materials, and finished products).
  • Measure the amount and type of emissions being generated and the rate at which they are being emitted compared to the ability of the surrounding ecosystems to absorb them without harm.
  • Measure the rate at which workers are allowed or encouraged to develop new skills.
  • Measure the amount to which the facility benefits the community around it, the community around the source of its raw materials and the community that is the destination for the product and for the disposal of the product.

A number of companies are using the framework of the Natural Step's 4 system conditions to develop and organize indicators. Also, the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production is a good source of information.

Q
Could you define what sustainable and unsustainable resource use is?
Sustainable use of a renewable resource is using it at a rate that is slower than the rate at which the resource is regenerated. It also means not systematically degrading the ecosystem services related to that resource. For example, clear cutting large tracks of forests is not sustainable because that can destroy to soil structure and cause erosion and siltation in the watershed.
Sustainable use of a nonrenewable resource means using it in a cyclical way (recycling) so that the material does not end up in landfills or distributed in the environment via the air or water.
Q
We want to develop sustainability indicators for a neighborhood. What resources are available to help us?
Ken Meter, at the Crossroads Resource Center, has written a guide to Neighborhood Sustainability Indicators, which is a good starting place.
Q
Our Community Indicator Report was updated in 1998. Look at our web page for the new goals and indicators.
Thank you! We will update that link as soon as possible.
Q
Can you add a link to my site?
Please let us know more about the web site (It helps if the information is in the same format as the other links on the site). If your web site is a content-rich site or if it offers a new perspective we'll be interested. We include most links that we ourselves are find useful. However, if your site is similar to another site that we already have a link to, we may use the existing one instead. Our goal is not to be all-inclusive, but rather to make helpful suggestions.
Q
Can I put a link on my web site to your web site?
Please do! We would be delighted.
Q
I want to use some of this information in a paper that I am writing. How do I reference it?
Depends on exactly what you are citing, however, as an example, if today were April 18, 2000 and you were citing the page on what is sustainability, which was created on July 29, 1999, the entry would be:
Hart, Maureen.
"What is sustainability, anyway."
Indicators of Sustainability. July 1999.
<http://www.sustainablemeasures.com/indicators>
(18 April 2000).
Q
Can I get a hard copy of this information?
Absolutely! The second edition of the Guide to Sustainable Community Indicators by Maureen Hart is now available. Like the first edition, published in 1995, the updated 1999 edition is written to be easily understood and used by individuals at the community level. Click here to order your copy.
Q
What if I can't find my question?
If you didn't see your question answered on the previous page, you can:
  • Use our site search to see if the information is provided elsewhere on this site.
  • Check out the Online and Print Resources section to see if there is an organization or community that is working on something related to your question.