Sustainable Society Index

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Summary

About the Sustainable Society Foundation

The Sustainable Society Foundation is a non-profit organisation established in 2006 with the objective of stimulating and assisting societies in their progress towards sustainability. The SSF is based in The Netherlands and operates globally.

Index Summary

The objective in 2006 of developing a new index and set of indicators was to have an easy and transparent instrument at hand to measure the level of sustainability of a country and to monitor progress to sustainability. This index, the Sustainable Society Index – SSI, was presented for the first time in 2006. Now already three two-yearly updates were published: SSI-2008, SSI-2010 and SSI-2012. The SSI shows at a glance the level of wellbeing and sustainability in 151 countries.

The SSI integrates Human Wellbeing and Environmental Wellbeing. That is – in our opinion – the way to look at development to a sustainable world, as confirmed by the Rio+20 declaration of the United Nations. Human and Environmental Wellbeing are the goals we are aiming at. Human Wellbeing without Environmental Wellbeing is a dead end, Environmental Wellbeing without Human Wellbeing makes no sense, at least not from an anthropocentric point of view. Economic Wellbeing is not a goal in itself. It is a precondition to achieve Human and Environmental Wellbeing. It can be considered as a safeguard to wellbeing.

The SSI is based on a solid definition of sustainability, the well-known and worldwide respected definition of the Brundtland Commission (WCED, 1987). To make explicitly clear that sustainability includes Human Wellbeing as well as Environmental Wellbeing, we have extended the definition of Brundtland with a third sentence, so it runs as follows:

A sustainable society is a society

  • that meets the needs of the present generation,
  • that does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,
  • in which each human being has the opportunity to develop itself in freedom, within a well-balanced society and in harmony with its surroundings.

After the third edition was launched in 2010, it allowed SSF to start, with caution, to make comparisons over time. It shows that the world at large has grown in wealth, but that this increase has hardly been used for sustainable progress. The overall index slightly increased in the past four years from 5.8 to 5.9.

 

Sustainable Society Index 2012 Data

Framework of SSI

The SSI started with a framework comprising 22 indicators, clustered into 5 categories. After the first two editions of the SSI, we have made a thorough evaluation, based on our findings with using the SSI, the comments and remarks we had received and important input like the report of the Stiglitz commission. This has led to an improved framework of the SSI, now comprising 24 indicators, 8 categories and 3 wellbeing dimensions.

In 2012 the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, JRC, has audited the SSI. In close cooperation with JRC a further improved framework of the SSI has been developed. JRC concluded that

  1. 1 The revised SSI framework is conceptually coherent.
  2. 2 The revised SSI framework meets the statistical requirements set by JRC.
  3. 3 The SSI is well suited to assess nation’s development towards sustainability in its broad sense: Human, Environmental and Economic Wellbeing.

To enable comparisons over the years, all editions of the SSI have been re-calculated, in accordance to the new concept. All data and results can be found on the website www.ssfindex.com.

Calculation methodology

For lack of a scientific basis for the attribution of different weights to the indicators, every indicator has received the same weight for the aggregation into categories. The same applies for the aggregation of the eight categories into the three wellbeing dimensions and finally into one figure for the overall index.
All totals, be it for the world as a whole, per income class or per region, are weighted for population size. This means that an inhabitant of Iceland (317,000 people) has an equal weight as an inhabitant of China (1,344,130,000 people). In the data tables for the SSI-2006, SSI-2008, SSI-2010 and SSI-2012 we have also presented the averages per country. Thus one can notice the impact of weighting per person or per country.

Calculation formulas

If you are interested in the formulas used to calculate the indicators, you can have a look at http://www.ssfindex.com/ssi/data-details-ssi-2012/ and http://www.ssfindex.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/calculation-formulas2012.pdf. For each indicator the formula is shown, in which F(X) is the indicator score and X the value of the raw data. In addition the range of validity is indicated. The graphs show the resulting scores for the 151 countries included in the SSI, visualizing the range of Indicator scores and the range of raw data values.

Results SSI-2012

The results for the world as a whole are shown in the spider web below and in 6 further graphs. The outer circle of the spider web expresses full sustainability, a score of 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10); the inner circle of the web expresses no sustainability at all, a score of 1. The target for each indicator is the outer circle, a sustainable 10.

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The 6 bar-graphs below show the present (SSI-2012) scores for the World as well as progress across the years 2006 – 2012.

Left column = Scores SSI-2012 – Right column Progress 2006-2012
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Highlights SSI-2012

The world’s overall score with respect to sustainability is now 4.74 on a scale of 1 to 10. Over the past 6 years this score has won 0.13, about 0.02 per year. Thus we are moving in the right direction. However, if we don’t speed up, it will take over 200 years to achieve a sustainable society with a score of 10. But that is just theory. Either we will accelerate the progress, or we’ll have to face disasters, which may prevent us from ever achieving the required sustainability.

More important than to look at the overall index, is to see how the three wellbeing dimensions that define the SSI are performing. Of these three, Human Wellbeing scores best, 6.2, and shows the largest progress. Environmental Wellbeing is lagging way behind with a score of 4.5 and is even slightly in decline. This is due to poor performance of the categories Climate & Energy and Natural Resources. Economic Wellbeing, considered to be the precondition for achieving Human and Environmental Wellbeing, has the lowest score, 3.8, with a slight increase over the 6 years since SSI-2006.

Good news is that all three indicators for the category Basic Needs, i.e. Sufficient Food, Sufficient to Drink and Safe Sanitation, are in progress. Certainly not enough, since over eight hundred million people are undernourished and/or have no access to safe drinking water; more than 1.8 billion people have no access to Safe Sanitation. But there is progress, in absolute figures as well as percentage wise. Indicators which are performing worst are Renewable Energy – in spite of the need felt world-wide for a rapid change to renewables – and Organic Farming. And contrary to all good intentions, the quantities of Greenhouse Gases Emissions have increased, resulting in lower scores.
GDP is the fastest growing indicator. Apparently, the huge increase in income has hardly been used for progress towards sustainability.

The regional differences are still large. There is, not surprisingly, a correlation with income. The high income countries in Europe, North America and Oceania are performing well on Human Wellbeing and show a poor performance on Environmental Wellbeing. For low income countries, the picture is quite opposite.

Correlation Wellbeing and Income per person

One may wonder how the scores are related to the average income level in the various countries, according to the definition of income classes by the World Bank.

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On average higher income correlates with higher Human Wellbeing and lower Environmental Wellbeing. This is exactly what one would expect. That would suggest that – on average – an increase in income would result in degradation of the environment. That may be what one expects but it is not a nice prospect, to say the least. It suggests that Human Wellbeing and Environmental Wellbeing are at collision course.

Correlation Human Wellbeing and Environmental Wellbeing

The scores for Human Wellbeing and Environmental Wellbeing for all 151 countries included in the SSI, are presented in the next graph.

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In this figure a linear trend line has been inserted. This line shows a distinct downward trend for Environmental Wellbeing at higher scores for Human Wellbeing. This lends credibility to the common opinion that Human Wellbeing and Environmental Wellbeing are indeed at collision course. However, many countries do not perform in accordance with the average trend. Moreover, this figure does not reveal the path along which countries are developing. So a detailed study would be required to reveal the role that various aspects play in the correlation between Human Wellbeing and Environmental Wellbeing. It should also answer the question whether a collision between Human Wellbeing and Environmental Wellbeing can be avoided and if so, how this can be achieved.

 

Using the SSI

One may use the information of the SSI in various ways, depending on one’s role and position in
society, and of course depending on one’s interest, time and ambitions. Some possibilities are briefly
outlined in this chapter.

Policymakers, government officials

1. Use this information to show the public the actual situation concerning sustainability, not in
a impressive but overwhelming report, but just at a glance, very transparently and easy to
understand.

2. Use the 21 indicators – maybe complemented by additional indicators one may require for a
specific situation – to set the policy with respect to sustainability. For instance, at national level,
each indicator can be assigned to a specific ministry. This ministry will be responsible for the
development towards sustainability with respect to this indicator.

3. The SSI can monitor the results of projects and programmes with respect to the contribution to
sustainability. For example, what is the current progress towards sustainability? Will the targets
set by the government be met in time? This will be an input for the revision of projects and for
the revision of strategies.

4. Use the SSI as a benchmark instrument for comparing countries and regions, and thus stimulating
each other to make progress on the way towards sustainability.

Individuals

1. See how your own country performs with respect to development towards sustainability, where
are the best possibilities for improvement, where is the necessity most urgent etc.?

2. Compare your country with neighbouring countries and see on which aspects these are
performing better or worse than your own country. Why is this, what can you learn by this
information?

3. Use the information to urge yourself and your community to take measures to speed up progress
towards sustainability.

4. Tell your representatives and politicians what you expect them to do to enhance the level of
sustainability, on short term as well as in the long run.

Education institutes

1. Include sustainability and development towards sustainability in the curricula at all levels,
in schools as well as at university level. Use the information from the SSI to illustrate what is
happening in the world around us.

2. Assign further research projects, using the information from the SSI, to pupils in secondary
schools and students in high schools and universities.

NGOs

1. Evaluate your sustainability strategy using the SSI-information and adjust this if necessary.
Communicate this new strategy to the public.

2. Monitor the development and implementation of the national sustainability policies using the SSI
and hold politicians responsible in case of underperformance.

Industry

1. Use the SSI-information to increase your own awareness of the current level of sustainability in
countries where your firm is operating.

2. Improve your own performance with respect to sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

3. Introduce further innovations. An example is the development of a tailor-made sustainability
index for greenhouse cultures in the Netherlands, based on the concept of the SSI.

Cities

1. A new set of indicators to measure and monitor sustainability at city level is under construction.
The start of this index is planned for the second half of 2013.

 

Audit of SSI by Joint Research Centre of the European Commission

In 2012 the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission (JRC) has audited the Sustainable Society Index, SSI. During the auditing process JRC came up with a number of questions and recommendations for further improvement of the SSI. We have discussed all suggestions with JRC and finally found solutions for all imperfections of the SSI. In this way the audit developed into an iterative process, resulting in a sound framework and calculation methodology of the SSI. All JRC’s recommendations have been implemented in the most recent update of the SSI-2012. And of course, all previous editions of the SSI have been retro calculated according to the new framework and set up. Early January JRC has published its final report on the audit.

 

In a nutshell, JRC’s main conclusions are:

  1. 1 The revised SSI framework is conceptually coherent.
  2. The revised SSI framework meets the statistical requirements set by JRC.
  3. The SSI is well suited to assess nations’ development towards sustainability in its broad sense: Human, Environmental and Economic Wellbeing.

The full report, Sustainable Society Index (SSI): Taking societies’ pulse along social, environmental and economic issues, can be downloaded here: website: http://www.ssfindex.com/ssi/audit-jrc/.

See Also

 

Further Reading

  • Sustainability Initiatives Cut Costs by 6-10% The Environmental Leader, 2009.
  • Development towards a Sustainable Society, The Netherlands 1975 – 2008,Geurt van de Kerk and Arthur Manuel, Sustainable Society Foundation.
  • Short survey of relevant indexes and sets of indicators concerning development towards sustainability, AMSDE, Sustainable Development, seminar 5 February 2010
  • Short survey REPORT of relevant indexes and sets of indicators concerning development towards sustainability, AMSDE, Sustainable Development, seminar 5 February 2010
  • 2010 – Evaluation and Redesign of the Sustainable Society Index, SSI – March 2010
  • 2010 – Short survey of relevant indexes and sets of indicators concerning development towards sustainability, Survey for AMSDE, Annual Meeting of Sustainable Development Experts of the OECD, on behalf of ANPED, 5 February 2010
  • 2009 – Romania, on its way to a sustainable society, Regional Sustainable Society Index, RSSI-Romania-2009.
  • 2008 – Sustainable Society Index, SSI-2008
  • 2008 – OECD Moscow: a contribution to the conference in Moscow , September 2008: The Sustainable Society Index – SSI, a novel tool for measuring progress towards sustainability.
  • 2008 – Romania, on its way to a sustainable society, full text of the publication of the SSI-Romania-2008.
  • 2008 – A comprehensive index for a sustainable society: The SSI – the Sustainable Society Index. Ecological Economics Volume 66 (2-3) pp 228-242
  • 2007 – Beyond GDP, paper international conference in Brussels, November 2007
  • 2007 – A comprehensive index for a sustainable society, with comparisons for 150 countries, paper for AC 2007, international conference in Amsterdam, May 2007
  • 2006 – Nederland duurzaam? (Dutch publication)
  • 2003 – Lang leve de aarde en al haar bewoners (Dutch publication)

 

External Links