The Applied Use of Indicator Systems

After the theoretical discussion of sustainability indicators in subsection 5.5, an incomplete overview over current indicator systems concerning sustainable development shall be given in the following section, with a focus on german and international indicator systems.

Sustainability Indicator Systems in Germany

The official indicators for sustainable development in Germany are the sustainability indicators of the german statistical office. The individual components and their current rating were listed in Table 3. They are divided into four groups: generational justice, quality of life, social cohesion, and international responsibility (Statistisches Bun- DESAMT 2012). The indicators for the key thematic fields, combined with target values and time tables assigned to the majority of these indicators, were introduced to measure the effectiveness of policies and strategies towards sustainability (Rat FUR Na- CHHALTIGE Entwicklung 2009). The valuation of the indicators (a target is considered as achieved if the actual value is not more than 5% below target) has been discussed in subsection 3.1. But, even more importantly, the choice of indicators is harshly criticized by some, such as Dybe and Weith (2004), who state that so far the indicator systems developed in Germany do not fulfil the expectations. The existing indicator systems - as well the ecological as the economic and social indicators - have not much to do with the real social developments. In addition to national indicator sets developed to measure the success of the national sustainability strategy, there are also local indicator sets that were established to measure local Agenda 21 processes. In the first decade after the start of the Agenda 21 process, those indicator sets were developed locally and with more or less expertise. In 2002, a group of regional and national institutions concerned with local Agenda 21 processes has developed a set of 20 indicators that can be used to evaluate the success of the measures implemented. The common indicators have the advantage that they make the results of different communes comparable and simplify the possible transmission of experiences and knowledge from one community to the other. Those indicators are not obligatory and can be supplemented by indicators that are appropriate for specific local or programmatic necessities (Agenda-Transfer Agentur fur Nachhaltigkeit 2003). This indicator set has been continually adapted since its creation in 2000. The adaptation has been furthered by practical experiences of a number of communes (Diefen- bacher et al. 2009).

An alternative concept to measure sustainability in Germany is the HGF-concept that was developed within a project to find reliable indicators to measure sustainable development. The authors participating in the project aimed and still aim to find an integrated concept that analyses strategies and measures not as isolated facts for each dimension, but rather interdisciplinary. The basis for the concept is the four pillar model with institutions/politics as fourth pillar, but the important elements of the models are justice/equality, globality and anthropocentricity. The minimum requirements for the three main aims of sustainable development according to the HGF-concept are:

(1) To secure the human existence

i. protection of the human health

ii. ensuring basic services

iii. ensuring autonomous securing subsistence

iv. equal possibilities to use the environment

v. equalizing differences in earnings and wealth

(2) To conserve the societal production potential

i. sustainable use of renewable resources

ii. sustainable use of non-renewable resources

iii. avoiding unjustifiable technical risks

iv. sustainable development of real, human and knowledge capital

(3) To preserve the possibilities for development and action

i. equal chances for education, jobs and information

ii. participation in social decision processes

iii. sustaining cultural heritage and cultural diversity

iv. sustaining the cultural function of nature

v. sustaining social resources” (Diefenbacher et al. 2009, pp. 3435).

Another approach to a division of indicators to measure sustainable development in Germany is taken by the official german census report on sustainability that divides the indicators into four groups: generational justice, quality of life, social cohesion, and international responsibility (Statistisches Bundesamt 2012). The different approaches to develop indicator sets rely partly on the same data that is usually collected by the federal statistical office of Germany. However, some data is collected independently, and an increasing number of NGOs or other concerned parties collect information with the help of surveys (cf., for example, subsection 5.7).

In summary, the number of measures to determine sustainable development that prominently include social aspects is impressive. Some of the indicator and indicator sets are based on the GDP, using the advantage of a monetary assessment to increase comparability and reduce biases caused by weighting; other indicators are either dimensionless or use a self-created dimension. There is also a group of indicators that abstain from aggregation and let the user of the indicator sets decide on the weight to be placed on every item of the set (cf. Figure 42, where examples for every indicator type are included). Every method has its advantages and disadvantages and it is necessary to decide for every single case of application, whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages or whether another indicator type should be chosen to correctly assess the result of a measure or the change of the status quo.

Alternative welfare measures

Figure 42: Alternative welfare measures

(Enquete-Kommission 2013, p. 299)

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