Sustainability Indicators Past and Present: What Next?

Bell, Simon and Morse, Stephen (2018). Sustainability Indicators Past and Present: What Next? Sustainability, 10(5), article no. 1688.



This paper discusses the current state of thought amongst the Sustainability Indicator (SI) community, what has been achieved and where we are succeeding and failing. Recent years have witnessed the rise of “alternative facts” and “fake news” and this paper discusses how SIs fit into this maelstrom, especially as they are themselves designed to encapsulate complexity into condensed signals and it has long been known that SIs can be selectively used to support polarized sides of a debate. This paper draws from chapters in a new edited volume, the “Routledge Handbook of Sustainability Indicators and Indices”, edited by the authors. The book has 34 chapters written by a total of 59 SI experts from a wide range of backgrounds, and attempts to provide a picture of the past and present, strengths and weaknesses of SI development today. This paper is an “analysis of those analyses”—a mindful reflection on reflection, and an assessment of the malign and benign forces at work in 2018 within the SI arena. Finally, we seek to identify where SIs may be going over the coming, unpredictable years.

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