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

Indicator Spotlight


What makes an indicator a good sustainability indicator? What sources of data exist for a particular indicator? How are indicators actually being used? What do indicators say about a community's well-being? These are all questions of concern to anyone involved in community indicator work. The Indicator Spotlight attempts to answer those questions and more by discussing specific indicators in detail.

There are no perfect sustainability indicators, but there are indicators that address the critical issues of community sustainability. These indicators help us understand and measure progress better than traditional indicators. In this section we highlight indicators that are currently in use by a community group or organization actively working on sustainable community issues. The purpose of highlighting any particular indicator is not to suggest that every community should be using it. Rather, the purpose is to provide food for thought and promote discussion of the issues involved in developing indicators that measure and encourage progress towards becoming sustainable communities.

Indicators have been selected for Indicator Spotlight based on how well they:

  • Address the issue of the community's carrying capacity relative to the four types of community capital: natural, human, social, and built;
  • Highlight the links between the community's economic, social, and environmental well-being;
  • Focus on a long range view;
  • Are understandable to the community; and
  • Measure local sustainability that is not at the expense of global sustainability.

For more information about the criteria for evaluating sustainability indicators, see the Sustainable Community Indicator Checklist. For more information about carrying capacity and community capital, see our Key Terms or the Training Material.

Our purpose is to present creative and thought-provoking indicators. Our discussion of each Spotlight Indicator includes:

  • Why is this a good indicator of sustainability?
  • How is this indicator used by the community or organization that developed it?
  • Issues concerning the data sources for the indicator.
  • Ways that the indicator might be used by another community.
  • Potential changes that could improve the indicator.

We are very interested in including comments from reviewers that add to the general discussion of measuring sustainability. As we receive appropriate comments, we will add them to the discussion section of the indicator highlight. If you have comments about a particular indicator that you would like to include, please send us a message. Likewise, if your community or organization has an indicator that you think would be a good indicator to highlight, please let us know.