Sustainability Metrics are a new concept to me and appears to be about measuring the benefits, if any, of sustainability, not an easy thing to do I imagine. “Sustainability Metrics are tools that measure the benefits achieved through the implementation of sustainability. Measuring sustainability involves tracking indicators, or “bits of information which, added together, provide an overview of what is happening in a community and to a community””-http://www.centerforsustainability.org/resources.php?category=89&root=176 (2-4-11). It is very difficult to measure the sustainability of an area and its community, as the indicators used are and must be very broad and often intangible. Sustainability is often measured by comparing two regions using specific indicators but these indicators may not suit the two regions to the same degree. The difficulty in measuring the sustainability of two regions-Annacotty and Limerick City- was easy to see in Bernadette O’Regan’s lecture. Annacotty and Limerick City differed greatly in population and as a result the availability of services and access to amenities were very different. As population was one of the indicators used in this metric, it would seem that more information could be gathered by choosing a region with a similar population. The population of Limerick City is about “82,743” http://www.trueknowledge.com/q/population_of_limerick_city_in_2010 (2-4-11) while Annacotty has a population of about “1839” http://www.towns-ireland.com/annacotty-4th-best-town-in-ireland/ (2-4-11). Having said all that, I learned that both Limerick City and Annacotty are regarded as similar in terms of measured sustainability, which is not what I expected given the difference in population. It is clear that there is immense difficulty in calculating the sustainability of regions as it is difficult to find two exactly similar regions and there is no standard global sustainability metric to use at present.
While it is difficult to measure sustainability because of the enormity of its social, environmental and economic impact and the difficulty with choosing indicators:
“Much of the measurement of indicators has, at the end of the day, largely resulted just in the measurement of indicators. The actual operationalisation of indicators to influence or change for instance, policy is still in its infancy.”- http://www.cyprus.gov.cy/moa/Agriculture.nsf/0/61EF14864E9C2131C225726000351387/$file/Imagine%20sustainability-Simon%20Bell.pdf (3-4-11).
It is however important to measure sustainability in order to provide evidence that positive change can and is happening. Metrics are also an important way of influencing government and corporate policy development and opening debate on the whole area of Sustainable Development in order to lead to awareness and change.
The only sustainable metric I was aware of was the carbon footprint calculator. This calculator has a big impact on people because it puts a real figure on individual actions and is easily accessed on the internet and is easy to use. It is an example of a strong metric and it is easy to see why, as people see it as a Scientific measurement that gives a real result. When calculating our global footprint, Richard Moles, pointed out that a lot of science is based on theories as a lot of science is uncertain so there is always a possibility that serious underestimating and overestimating occur in these calculations. That said I believe that even if we get an overestimation, it is good that we are able to measure how we are affecting the world. It is a thought provoking exercise and can only have a positive impact on raising awareness. We can all go along happily thinking we are not doing too badly but using this measure raises awareness of our global impact. Even if it over estimates our global footprint, by for example giving a total flight calculation rather than individual results, this may have a positive outcome by having a bigger impact on some of our actions. The focus must I think be on individuals and the impact each of us as individuals can have when it is all added together. The Natural Steps framework uses the example of a football team to explain how individual actions can influence team results and make a difference “The Natural Step (TNS) Framework is based on ‘systems thinking’; recognizing that what happens in one part of a system affects every other part. Think of a soccer team. We can’t understand why the team lost the game until we look at how each player – the goal keeper, defenders and forwards – all worked together on the field. We won’t learn much if we just study one member of the team. The TNS Framework gives an organisation the tools to look at the whole team, understand the rules of the game, define success, and move towards it together.” http://www.naturalstep.org/en/our-approach#quick-overview (3-4-11). This kind of strategy is what I think should influence our approach to sustainable development metrics in order for them to be of benefit, we all must feel part of the team and realise we all have a part to play.
What comes up continually, for me, is that in every way our needs and our wants are far exceeding our planet’s capacity to meet these needs. It comes up again and again that the planet can not sustain us if we continue to do as we are doing now. In 2008 here in Ireland we became unsustainable and now that we have this information we need to do something about it, something that would shock us into adjusting. We need to be convinced that there are benefits in this for us and that we can make a difference. The ecological footprint is a good starting point as it focuses our thinking and gives each of us a measure to work towards. While each of us individually need to adjust so too do governments and corporations “as many governments and corporations still do not see that sustainable development can occur without impeding progress”- http://www.oecdobserver.org/news/fullstory.php/aid/453/decoupling_environment_from_economic_growth_.html (2-4-11). Sustainable Metrics can help to convince us all together of this and will in the end lead to happier people and a better society for all.
Why not measure your carbon footprint and find out the area needed to absorb carbon emissions generated by your home energy use and transportation?