We are what we measure.   It's time to measure what we want to be.

The checklist questions in more detail

1 Does the indicator address the carrying capacity of the natural resources -- renewable and nonrenewable, local and nonlocal -- that the community relies on?

This question addresses the carrying capacity of all the natural resources on which the community depends. The types of natural resources that a community measures will depend upon the community. A community in the Pacific Northwest may rely on its forests for raw material and for jobs. An indicator that measures the rate of timber harvest relative to the renewable harvest rate would get one point for this question.

Similarly, a community in the southwestern U.S. may rely on water that is piped hundreds of miles. Although outside the local area, that water is an important part of the community's natural resource base. An indicator that shows whether the water is being used sustainably would get one point for this question.

An industrial community may rely on metals that come from mines in another country. If the material from the mines is vital to the community's economy, that resource is part of the natural resources on which the community depends. An indicator of cyclical use of this non-renewable resource would get one point for this question.



2 Does the indicator address the carrying capacity of the ecosystem services upon which the community relies, whether local, global, or from distant sources?

This question addresses the carrying capacity of the ecosystem services that the community uses. This would include indicators of the sustainable use of wetlands, farmlands and fisheries. For example, a farming community might measure the percent of farm acreage that is sustainably managed. This indicator would get one point for addressing ecosystem services.



3 Does the indicator address the carrying capacity of esthetic qualities -- the beauty and life-affirming qualities of nature -- that are important to the community?

This question addresses the carrying capacity of the natural beauty of a community. A coastal community that relies on tourism for part of its economy might have an indicator that measures the number of tourists that can be served by the area without destroying its natural beauty. This indicator would get one point for this question.



4 Does the indicator address the carrying capacity of the community's human capital -- the skills, abilities, health and education of people in the community?

This question addresses the carrying capacity of a community's human capital -- the skills, abilities, health and education of people. An indicator that measures rates of graduation from high school or the dropout rate would get one point for human capital because it is a measure of the education level of the community.



5 Does the indicator address the carrying capacity of a community's social capital -- the connections between people in a community: the relationships of friends, families, neighborhoods, social groups, businesses, governments and their ability to cooperate, work together and interact in positive, meaningful ways?

This question addresses the carrying capacity of a community's social capital. The essence of social capital is the ability of a community to work together. An indicator that measures the voting rate or the amount of volunteerism would get one point because it is a measure of the connections between people in the community.



6 Does the indicator address the carrying capacity of a community's built capital -- the human-made materials (buildings, parks, playgrounds, infrastructure, and information) that are needed for quality of life and the community's ability to maintain and enhance those materials with existing resources?

This question addresses the carrying capacity of a community's built capital. Built capital is a product of natural capital and social capital, because raw materials have to come from somewhere and human skills, abilities, and cooperation are needed to produce manufactured or built objects. An indicator that measures the amount of waste generated gets one point for built capital. However, the money used to value built capital is never a measure of sustainability in and of itself -- monetary value needs to be measured in relation to other aspects of the community. For example, measuring the dollars spent disposing of waste is not a good measure of sustainability. Measuring the percent of a community's budget spent on waste disposal, however, would be a measure of sustainability if that amount were a measure of the true, long-term costs of waste disposal.

Note that an indicator can get multiple points for community capital. Consider the indicator "Number of new housing starts." This indicator measures built objects. Out of the six possible points for community capital, it would get one point for built capital. However, if the indicator was "Number of new housing starts that use sustainably produced building material" it would get one point for built capital and one for natural resources. If the indicator was "Number of new housing starts using sustainably produced building material that are affordable on a typical family's income," it would get one more point because it measures whether families can afford to live in the houses. Note that it is difficult to develop a measurable indicator that incorporates all six elements of community capital. Therefore, very few indicators will get all six points for carrying capacity.



7 Does the indicator provide a long term view of the community?

This question relates to the long term view of the community: is there a long-term goal that can be defined for the indicator that fits a sustainable view of the world? An indicator of sustainability should help measure progress toward that long term goal. One way to test whether an indicator provides a long term view is to consider what the indicator trend would show after 20 years and whether that would be consistent with, or relevant to, a sustainable community.

For example, an indicator of "the number of jobs paying adequate wages' does not provide a good long term view of the community. How many jobs are enough -- a hundred? a million? The number of jobs is only important when compared to the number of people who need jobs. A measure with a long term view would be "percent of the population that has jobs paying adequate wages,' because a goal could then be set as a percentage of the total population or the number of people who need jobs.



8 Does the indicator addresses the issue of economic, social or biological diversity in the community?

This question addresses the issue of diversity in a community. An economic, social or environmental system that is diverse usually withstands stress better than a homogenous system. A community whose economy relies mainly upon a single type of industry will be less stable and less sustainable than one whose economy is diversified. A mono-culture forest is less able to withstand disease and environmental stresses than a forest that has a diverse types of trees and plants. If the indicator is a measure of diversity, it gets one point for this question. Note that the terms 'economic diversity,' 'social diversity,' 'cultural diversity,' and 'biodiversity' are not sustainability indicators. They are issue areas or categories for which indicators can be developed but they are not indicators. Examples of indicators of diversity include 'number of different industries in the community,' 'number of jobs at different wage levels,' and 'number of birds in the annual bird count.'



9 Does the question address the issue of equity or fairness -- either between current community residents (intra-generational equity) or between current and future residents (inter-generational equity)?

This question addresses the issue of equity. An indicator earns a point for measuring either intra-generational equity (equity among people living now) or inter-generational equity (equity between today's generation and future generations).

One measure of current or intra-generational equity is 'the difference in income of the 20% of the population at the top of the income scale and the 20% of the population at the bottom of the income scale.' One measure of future or inter-generational equity is 'the percent of farmland remaining in the county' since future generations will need land to produce food and if we use it up now for roads or housing, they will not have as much opportunity as we have.



10 Is the indicator understandable to and useable by its intended audience?

This question has to do with whether or not the community at large can understand an indicator. If an indicator is only understood by experts, it will only be used by experts. If it is only used by experts, it will not change the behavior of people in the community. If people in the community cannot understand and use an indicator, then the indicator cannot help them decide what actions to take.



11 Does the indicator measure a link between economy and environment?
12 Does the indicator measure a link between environment and society?
13 Does the indicator measure a link between society and economy?

These questions address the linkages between a community's economy, environment, and society. Traditional indicators tend to be one-dimensional measures that only look at one aspect of a community, such as water quality or number of jobs. However, sustainable community indicators highlight links among different areas of a community.

One example of an indicator that links economic and social aspects would be "the number of jobs paying a living wage that include educational benefits.' This indicator would earn one point for the social-economic link.

An example of an indicator that links economy and environment is "the number of tourists that can be supported by the local environment.' This indicator would get one point for the economic-environmental link.

The indicator 'the percent of households using xeriscaping (xeriscaping is a type of landscaping that uses native plants that do not require high maintenance in the form of water or fertilizers and pesticides) is an indicator that links the environment with social behaviors. It would get one point for the environmental-social link.



14 Does the indicator measure or set a goal for sustainability that is at the expense of another community or at the expense of global sustainability?

This is the most important question on the checklist. It does not have any points because it's the "show stopper" question. Does the indicator focus on local sustainability at the expense of global sustainability? Any indicator that says "we are going to be better off by making someone else worse off" is automatically disqualified. This does not mean that one community cannot be better than another community. There will always be communities that succeed while others fail. It just means that it is not possible for a community to be sustainable if it is making another community unsustainable.

For example -- the indicator and goal 'local median income that is 110% of the US median income' sets a goal that is at the expense of other communities -- some communities will have to be below the median for this goal to be accomplished. In addition, the goal isn't really a meaningful goal in terms of sustainability because it doesn't matter how much money a person makes. What matters is how income compares to the cost of living. A better indicator and goal would be 'local median income that is 110% of the local cost of living.'