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What is sustainability?

&r=1" class="c1"> At present measures of sustainability tend to be a combination of economic, environmental and social indicators and to have different levels of application, from supra-national, national, regional and even individual.

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Sustainable development issues are present in the political agenda of virtually every country in the world, in a commitment of integrating economic welfare, environmental quality and social fairness. There is a strong need, from governments and industry alike, for comprehensive assessment of changes in economic, environmental and social conditions. Sustainable development indicators measure the progress towards sustainability.

The importance of sustainability indicators has been recognized in the early 90ís. In chapter 40 of Agenda 21, the action plan adopted in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, there is a call on countries, as well as international, governmental and non-governmental organizations, to create indicators of sustainable development that can provide a solid basis for decision-making at all levels.

Since then a myriad of indicators have been developed. Sustainability indicators can have different levels of application, from supra-national to national, regional, or even individual.

Some of the most popular sustainability indicators presently used are: The Ecological Footprint (EF); Living Planet Index (LPI); City Development Index (CDI); Human Development Index (HDI); Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI); Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI); Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare/Genuine Progress Index (ISEW/GPI); Environmental Adjusted Domestic Progress (EDP).

To harmonize the structure and information present in indicators and to facilitate their interpretation, frameworks were developed. The World Bank refers three main frameworks: A project-based framework; Driving Forces-Pressure-State-Impact-response framework (DPSIR framework); A framework based on environmental (or sustainable development) themes.

Although these frameworks might help the user in selecting indicators, the truth is that there is no universal criterion for choosing them. What the user might follow is a set of criteria that will show the more appropriate and effective indicators to use. These criteria are: direct relevance to objectives, direct relevance to the target group, clarity in design, high quality and reliability and appropriate spatial and temporal scale.