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UK Government: Sustainability (and indicators) Counts

Date sent:          Wed, 3 Feb 1999 11:20:38 +0000
From:               [email protected]
Subject:            Re: Sustainability Counts
To:                 RP CINET 

The indicators are an important step forward, but as usual there is much
more work to be done. In particular, we need to develop measures of
poverty and start measuring (and therefore promoting) the new economy.
This includes small scale, people centred and environmentally friendly
activities such as local trading, credit unions often triggered by
encouraging participation.

Below is NEF's response to the strategy.

Response to Sustainability Counts Consultation document

New Economics Foundation
The New Economics Foundations welcomes the headline set of national
indicators. This basket of indicators represents a significant step
forward in building sustainable development in the UK. The work cannot
stop here. The indicators need to be strengthened and integrated with the
everyday decision making of citizens and government alike.

We eagerly anticipate the full set of indicators to be launched in the
Spring and hope that these and the new Sustainable Development Strategy,
to be launched at the same time, help to establish sustainable development
as a national priority.

Encouraging Action
The indicators must be for action. In order to do this they need to engage
citizens, households, local authorities, business and government itself,
in sustainable behaviour. One of the key aspects to this is that the
indicators need to be meaningful to the actors mentioned above. For some
of the indicators this dimension can be improved. For example, waste and
waste disposal has no breakdown into critical sectors such as household
and business. As a result, the indicator looks favourable and fails to
highlight the relatively small percentage of waste that is recycled from
households and the need to target this area.

Targets are essential if the indicators are to drive change. Emissions of
greenhouse gases contains such a target and this is excellent. However, in
most cases targets are missing. We would encourage the use of targets
where possible, or other devices that help to focus on the issue. For
example benchmarks could be used to contextualise some of the indicators.
How, for example, do the expected years of healthy life in the UK vary
from that in other EU countries? Another device would involve attaching
action points to each of the indicators, to enhance them. There might be
action points for households, business and local, regional and national
government. Greenhouse gases and air pollution might be particularly
conducive to this kind of treatment.

The balance of the indicators
The balance of the indicators is critical in delivering sustainable
development. Areas of continued challenge include the use of GDP.
Exercises such as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare highlight the
ambiguity of GDP as an indicator of progress. The headline set of
indicators need to make this ambiguity clear. Work around tools such as
the ISEW should continue to inform the work of DETR and offer a snapshot
of sustainability that cannot easily grasped from thirteen separate

A related point is the absence, from the list, of indicators of the New
Economy. This covers activities that offer considerable hope for
sustainable development. Organic farming, Local Exchange Trading Systems,
Credit Unions and a  host of other activities contribute to social,
environmental and economic progress. These activities are small but
vigorous and growing. Developing indicators for this sector will help to
validate and encourage it.

The indicators of social progress do cover the basics of human
development, however there are many aspects of social progress: community,
voluntarism access to key goods and services. These too need to be
covered, as does poverty.

Overall the set of indicators are not ones that will be resonant with the
public. An excellent exception is the `bad air day'. Efforts should be
made to make the indicators more accessible to the public, for example
through public education campaigns.

The attempt to make the indicators policy resonant is understandable, but
a formal mechanism is required to do this. For example, is it possible to
ascribe sole or joint ownership of indicators to government departments?.
It is only with this kind of ownership that the indicators will focus the
mind of government and will not be allowed to `fall through the cracks'.
As importantly, key policy events such as the Budget and the Public
Spending Round need to be judged in terms of the indicators. For example
one criteria for allocating money to a government department should be the
degree to which their actions are focused on sustainable development as
articulated in the indicators and elsewhere.

The DETR is to be congratulated for its excellent efforts so far. We have
been happy to play our part in this important work. However key challenges
remain. In particular there is a need for further development of
indicators of social progress and the new economy. The buy-in of citizens
and government departments beyond the DETR should also be a focus of
attention for the next phase of this work.

______________________________ Reply Separator
____________________________ _____ Subject: Sustainability Counts Author: 
Craig Simmons  at NEFMAIL Date:    27/01/99 22:38

Those working on sustainability indicators in the US may be interested to 
learn of what the UK Government is planning. They are just finishing 
consultation on a set of 13 headline indicators. The document is called 
'Sustainability Counts'. A bit of a mixed bag and no particular surprises -  
but probably worth a look for those exploring how to whittle down a mammoth
set of indicators to a few meaningful ones.

For those interested, I can also send you a copy of BFF's brief response 
to the consultation  (we were also involved in the preliminary work and 
are referenced in the document). 
Global greetings.
Craig Simmons
Best Foot Forward Limited
Oxford Centre for Innovation, Oxford OX2 0JX, UK.
email: [email protected]
'the problem with land is that they stopped making it some time ago' - Mark

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