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What is an indicator of sustainability?

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Trying to run a complex society on a single indicator like the Gross National product is like trying to fly a 747 with only one gauge on the instrument panel. imagine if your doctor, when giving you a checkup, did no more than check your blood pressure." Hazel Henderson, Paradigms of Progress

In contrast, a comparable sustainability indicator is the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare. In order to get a more complete picture of what is economic progress, the ISEW subtracts from the GDP corrections for harmful bases or consequences of economic activity and adds to the GDP corrections for significant activities such as unpaid domestic labor. For instance, the ISEW accounts for air pollution by estimating the cost of damage per ton of five key air pollutants. It accounts for depletion of resources by estimating the cost to replace a barrel of oil equivalent with the same amount of energy from a renewable source. It estimates the cost of climate

change due to greenhouse gas emissions per ton of emissions. The cost of ozone depletion is also calculated per ton of ozone depleting substance produced. Additionally, adjustments are made to reflect concern about unequal income distribution. The correction for unpaid domestic labor is based on the average domestic pay rate. Some health expenses are considered as not contributing to welfare, as well as some education expenses. (See Indicator Spotlight for more on the ISEW as a sustainability indicator.)

Indicators of sustainable community are useful to different communities for different reasons. For a healthy, vibrant community, indicators help monitor that health so that negative trends are caught and dealt with before they become a problem. For communities with economic, social, or environmental problems, indicators can point the way to a better future. For all communities, indicators can generate discussion among people with different backgrounds and viewpoints, and, in the process, help create a shared vision of what the community should be.

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