Omnibus: Becoming a Good Sustainability Planning Practitioner

18th October 2010

Session 1: 1.30 - 2.30

Introduction to Sustainability Planning Tools - Indicators


Today we will examine three types of sustainability planning tools: indicators, modeling and standards. Think about how each of these applies to your Group's case study and the framework we are creating for the Group Assignment. Prepare to meet with your Group members at the beginning of each session to identify how the questions on the agenda can be examined in relation to your case.

In the first session we will discuss the critical role that indicators play in measuring conditions, specifying goals and assessing outcomes. Deciding what indicators to use involves a variety of difficult considerations. In 1997 the Bellagio Principles were drafted to guide development of new ways to measure and assess progress towards sustainable development and sustainability. The Principles were drafted through an international effort. They were intended to serve as guidelines for the whole of the assessment process including the choice and design of indicators, their interpretation and communication of the result. Read the first part of the report (pp. i-20) if you want to understand more fully the reasons for each of the principles and their implications for the use of indicators in sustainability planning. For one perspective on the limited progress made on indicators in the ensuing decade take a quick look at the Executive Summary of the 2005 report, Sustainable Development Indicators: Proposals for a Way Forward.

At the global level, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the member countries of the UN in 2000 have required the selection of indicators for each of the goals and targets. Just released is the 2010 Report summarizing the progress that has been made and the challenges in prospect. Read the Forward and Overview (pp. 3-5) to see how these indicators have been used and to get a sense of the picture they present.

The web site for Canadian Sustainability Indicators Network will lead you to many of the ongoing initiatives in Canada. To understand the approach that is presently being developed by Statistics Canada and others, read the Executive Summary of the 2003 report Environment and Sustainable Development Indicators for Canada, produced by Canada's National Round Table on Environment and Economy (pp. xv-xxi); note particularly the summary of the state of the debate about the relative merits of differing approaches (p. xx).

One of the alternative approaches employs the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and was originally developed by the Redefining Progress think tank in the US (recently their link has not worked; see the Wikipedia entry for a general introduction). The Pembina Institute has used the GPI approach to do a reassessment of Alberta's progress, which makes for most interesting reading.

A second alternative approach that reflects a more community-based approach with a suite of sustainability themes and indicators is that used by the Fraser Basin Council Take a look at their 2010 Snapshot to see how they use indicators.



Convene with your Group partners and identify how the questions on the agenda can be examined in (a) general; and (b) in relation to your case. After 20 minutes we will convene in plenary to discuss the questions below drawing on your insights.

  1. What constitutes a good sustainability indicator for planning?
  2. What are the alternative approaches to sustainability indicators and their pros and cons?
  3. Who participates and how in the development and use of indicators?