ISIN International Sustainability Indicators Network
About ISIN News Work Groups Members Resources Join Home
Draft Characteristics of a National Sustainability Indicator System
Pocantico Meeting
PreMeeting Materials
Pocantico Statement
Participant List
Endorsers of Pocantico Statement
The following characteristics of an indicator system were used as the basis for discussion at the meeting and were generally supported by participants. However, it was not the subject of detailed discussion at the meeting. Thus, while the tone and general content are consistent with the meeting's outcomes, the specific text is included here for informational purposes, not as a component of the consensus statement. Portions of the characteristics were taken from the Bellagio Principles, a set of guidelines developed in 1996 by an international group of measurement practitioners and researchers from five continents.
To be most effective, a U.S. system of sustainability indicators should:
  • Consider the condition and capacity of social, ecological, and economic subsystems, including their state as well as the direction and rate of change of that state, of their component parts, and the interaction between parts;
  • Place primary focus on phenomena and factors most directly relevant and causally related to sustainability;
  • Promote the consideration of both positive and negative consequences of human activity in a way that reflects the costs and the benefits for human and ecological systems, in monetary and non-monetary terms;
  • Adopt a time horizon long enough to capture both human and ecosystem time scales thus responding to the needs of future generations as well as those of short-term decision-making;
  • Define the space of study large enough to include not only local but also long distance impacts on people and ecosystems;
  • Build on historic and current conditions to anticipate future conditions (e.g., where we want to go, where we could go) and start to identify unintended consequences of previous activities;
  • Include statistical measures based on replicable observations from existing sources to the extent practical and appropriate;
  • Organize data into a set of related categories at varying levels of detail that have a clear conceptual relationship to sustainability; and
  • Promote compatibility of measurements and indicators in various contexts (government, businesses, non-governmental organizations) and levels (local, regional, national) that allows for a tiered system of indicators.

Dissemination of the information in that system should include:
  • Data and information products that are widely viewed as not being affected by the biases of particular interests,
  • Making the indicators and underlying data available in a manner that allows a variety of users to select the sets of space, time and phenomena appropriate for their purposes as well as the levels of aggregation, and the methods of geographic and graphic displays, and
  • Publication of a core set of indicators in clear and plain language that are periodically broadcast to the public in a manner that builds a common understanding of conditions and trends.

Implementing this system will require long-term commitments from governmental, business and non-governmental organizations to:
  • Identify and allocate permanent resources such as staff and funding;
  • Participate collaboratively in the process of developing, evaluating, and maintaining the system of indicators;
  • Manage the indicator development and implementation in a manner that is efficient, well coordinated and yields high quality products;
  • Create an institutional structure with sufficient independence from policy and management to assure freedom from bias;
  • Develop mechanisms for coordination and collaboration among governmental, business and non-governmental organizations to gather data measuring a wide range of phenomena from a variety of data sources;
  • Continually improve the coverage, quality and consistency of the data through a process that sets priorities based on the extent and value of the usage of different categories of data; and
  • Continually improve the scientific basis for interpretation in sustainability assessments and diagnoses.

Successful use of the national system of sustainability indicators will require:
  • Incorporating the system of indicators into policy and decision-making at all levels;
  • Providing a mechanism to periodically review and revise the indicators that includes the users of the system and the data keepers; and
  • Supporting the development of local, state and regional capacity to assess sustainability and incorporate that information into decision-making processes.
Comments or questions?
Contact contactus at
Copyright © 2002,
International Sustainability Indicators Network
About ISIN News Work Groups Members Resources Join Home