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Sustainability indicator

Sustainability indicator is a proxy for a specific issue or theme that an organization, business or government want to monitor environmental data over time. Indicators are symbolic representations (such as numbers, symbols, graphics, colours) designed to communicate a trend in a complex system.

Indicator design

An indicator represents the root of a given challenge and is designed to register a set of highly specific data to be monitored over time, on one or several issues within a given theme. It is to a greater extent important for sustainability policies to be supported by information flows from various and different sources. The indicators can relate to economic, social or environmental processes, however, the data needs to be monitored in a transparent way across a wide range of media.

Examples of an Indicator

  • In biology, any biological entity or processes, or community whose characteristics show the presence of specific environmental conditions.
  • In chemistry, a substance that shows a visible change usually of colour, at the desired point in a chemical reaction.
  • A device that indicates the result of a measurement; e.g. a pressure gauge or a moveable scale

Indicators can be descriptive, related to performance, efficiency, policy effectiveness, or overall welfare, but in the context of sustainability, it is their integration across different policy areas that are most critical. One of the most well-known indicators is the human development index measuring.

See also Higg Index and sustainable development

Sources and useful references

  • Sustainability Indicators A Scientific Assessment, edited by Tomas Haak, Bedrich Moldan and Arthur Lyon Dahl. Published 2007 Island Press

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