Indicators on and off course teaching and working with sustainability indicators
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INDICATORS ON AND OFF COURSE: TEACHING AND WORKING WITH SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS. Dr. Peter Hardi Senior Fellow, IISD Winnipeg, Canada April 2005 [email protected] Timeliness. United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development has begun on January 1, 2005

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Indicators on and off course teaching and working with sustainability indicators


Dr. Peter Hardi

Senior Fellow, IISD

Winnipeg, Canada

April 2005

[email protected]


  • United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development has begun on January 1, 2005

  • European ministers of environment and education adopted a strategy

    • develop indicators to measure the effectiveness of the implementation of the Strategy

  • universities’ role in educating future experts

    • possess more than practical know-how to use indicators

    • understand science and methodology behind the tools

What is taught on sdis at universities on course
What is taught on SDIs at universities (on course)? SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

Questions to consider:

  • What is taught?

  • How is it taught?

  • Why is it taught?

  • How is it linked to practice?

What is taught on sdis at universities on course examples from canada
What is taught on SDIs at universities (on course)? SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORSExamples from Canada

  • 1. Royal Roads University

  • Science, Technology and Environment Division, Master of Science in Environmental Science program

  • The interdisciplinary program devotes a section to SDIs

  • Sets model for other Canadian universities to implement SD strategies


Canadian examples cont
Canadian examples SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS (cont.)

2. Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario

  • Campus Sustainability Assessment

  • The illustration below presents the way indicators are defined for the ecosystem health-human health system (based on the “egg of well-being” metaphor)

Http www carleton ca cscn gitp SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

Canadian examples cont 3 university of british columbia vancouver bc
Canadian examples SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS(cont.)3. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

  • Course Agroecology 361: Key indicators on sustainable agriculture

  • Practical and conceptual approach

  • Quantitative and qualitative indicators to assess the direction and degree of sustainability of a farm or a farming system

  • specific application of indicator usage to an agricultural topic

Canadian examples cont 4 u of manitoba
Canadian examples SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS(cont.)4. U of Manitoba

Lectures on SD measurement and indicators:

part of Ecological Economics class (Dept. Economics)

Structure of the lectures:

1. Assumptions: pre-existing knowledge of basic concepts of SD, environmental protection and economics theories (including statistics and econometrics)

2. Definition of concepts related directly to the presentation: Assessment, measurement, indicators, frameworks

3. Data requirements, data processing and techniques of indicator construction

4. Role of classification in measurements and most frequent classifications

U of manitoba structure of the lecture cont
U of Manitoba SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORSStructure of the lecture (cont.)

5. Classification by measurement frameworks

6. Detailed presentation of indicator systems in a continuum from isolated economic and environmental frameworks through combined ones to new, holistic frameworks specifically developed for SD

7. Discussion of communicating results and channeling into decision making

8. Importance of feedback and participatory process in design of indicator systems

Examples for other university programs
Examples for other university programs SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

1. Overseas Development Group, University of East Anglia, UK

Indicators for Sustainable Development course:

  • explore the current use of indicators and teach a practical, participatory and holistic approach to their development

  • five key areas of indicator application

Odg course cont

  • Describing the current use of indicators of all kinds in a wide range of different global contexts;

  • Reflecting on the use of such indicators and developing a critique of good and poor practice;

  • Reviewing alternative methods for developing indicators of all kinds;

  • Learning a tried and tested holistic approach to the development of SIs - 'Systemic Sustainability Analysis'* - in the development of new indicators; and

  • Applying this to participants' own country contexts.

    (*Bell and Morse)

Examples for other university programs the baltic university network
Examples for other university programs: SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORSThe Baltic University Network

Network of 180 universities & institutes

of higher learning

The baltic university network cont
The Baltic University Network SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS(cont.)

Courses deal directly with sustainability issues:

  • indicators within the context of implementation

  • Baltic experience with Local Agenda 21

  • industrial adoption of life cycle analysis

  • Sustainability indicators

  • Frames for SD work

  • Actors for SD and their roles

  • Life Cycle Assessment

  • Dilemmas of teaching sdis at universities
    Dilemmas of teaching SDIs at universities SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

    • Background knowledge to build on: Is there any; how reliable?

    • Basic concepts and their interpretations: Conflicting values and ideologies

    • Theory vs. practice oriented approach

    • Participatory vs. expert based process

    • How much quantitative analysis is required: The depth of statistical and econometric techniques

    • Discussion of frameworks: Needed or not?

    • Discussion of specific areas of application: applied science or esoteric knowledge?

    Recommendations follow a dual path
    Recommendations: SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORSfollow a dual path

    1. Focus on theory:

    • Review the professional/academic discourse on SD and its assessment

    • analyze the leading theories and their supporting empirical bases

    • distill all these into the backbone of an introductory course

    • analyze the gray areas, the contradictions and the open questions in theories and concepts

    • amend the backbone with the presentation of the critical issues

    • signal the areas where further research and intellectual work is needed.

    Recommendations cont
    Recommendations SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS(cont.)

    2. Focus on practice:

    • Review existing practices aimed at implementing SD and assessing the progress in real life situations

    • Try to conceptualize the necessary conditions of successful projects, the expertise and technical factors needed to implement such projects

    • Focus on how these findings could be translated into a higher educational course that help organize and manage such processes

      Summing up:

    • Universities may help student to deal with the subject matter intellectually (on-course activity) and

    • empirically (off-course activity)

      • activity on and/or off campus.

    What is done with sdis at universities off course
    What is done with SDIs at universities SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS(off course)?

    Making campuses more sustainable:

    General approach

    • Mission of the Association of University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF): Make sustainability a major focus of teaching, research, operations and outreach at colleges and universities worldwide (details: see the Talloires Declaration)

    Specific approaches

    1. University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

    • Sustainability Indicators, August 2001: Published in accord with the Global Reporting Initiative, Sustainability Reporting Guidelines

    • Prepared for baselining the University of Florida’s systems

    • Future work: develop metrics for benchmarking; identify numerical targets; develop composite indices and performance indicators

    Specific approaches cont
    Specific approaches SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS(cont.)

    2. Clarion University of Pennsylvania, Clarion, PA, USA:

    Sustainability Indicators and Policy Report for Clarion University:

    • builds on the prior Indicators Reports to both quantify past progress towards a sustainable Clarion University and provide a guide for future actions

    • provides detailed and economically viable policy recommendations to improve SDIs in order to firmly establish Clarion in a leadership role in environmental stewardship among other universities

    • Helps students internalize their role as members of the sustainable Clarion community

    Specific approaches cont1
    Specific approaches SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS(cont.)

    3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan USA

    Sustainability Assessment and Reporting for the University of Michigan's Ann Arbor Campus April 2002

    U of michigan cont

    The Report:

    • proposed a definition of sustainability and a framework for assessment tailored to the U-M AA;

    • used the framework to evaluate a set of sustainability indicators;

    • provided a baseline for indicators;

    • utilized the Triple Bottom Line concept;

    • provided recommendations for an institutionalized reporting process.

      The assessment is also a Master’s Project

    Specific approaches research
    Specific approaches: Research SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

    University of Sydney, NSW, Australia

    Integrated Sustainability Analysis™@ The University of Sydney

    • 2-year Sustainability Reporting Pilot Program to develop tools for organisations

    • provide a consistent framework within which companies and organisations can undertake sustainability reporting

    • use collaboratively defined and relevant indicators and national statistics

    • underpin work by established economic theory

    • bridge the gap between ‘hard science’ and the real-life issues and needs of people who want to make a difference in the workplace.

    Analysis of indicator projects at universities
    Analysis of indicator projects at universities SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

    Interest in teaching SDIs:

    • individual teacher’s interest

    • department’s conscious efforts to build a curriculum on SD

    • university’s policy to implement SD on the campus and beyond

      Accomplish this goal with three types of activities:

    • Education – teaching SD and, as part of it, SDIs as a scientific discipline or discourse;

    • Research – conducting applied scientific research on the critical issues of SD and the proper application of SDIs in the public and private sectors; and

    • Action – implementing projects aimed at making the campus and/or other communities more sustainable.

    Analysis of indicator projects cont
    Analysis of indicator projects SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS (cont.)

    • University’s obligation to educate students on issues that govern the university’s philosophy and policies

    • Help their students understand the concepts and practices of SD and be professionally prepared to actively participate in the implementation of the university’s policy

    • University as a community implementing a special set of policies has an obligation to assure the participation of its students and measure the outcome

    • Above two obligations together could result in the participation of students in activities on and off course

      • They would need to learn about SDIs on course and work with them off course

      • if such programs are successful, students and alumni would deal with SD and SDIs both on and off campus.

    Analysis of indicator projects cont1
    Analysis of indicator projects SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS (cont.)

    Relationship between on and off course issues:

    • What do the students need to know on the subject?

    • How can they contribute to real life projects?

    • What can they learn from practical involvement?

      • What kind of feedback is possible and/or necessary between off course activities and on course teaching?

      • What kind of lessons these projects offer beyond academic carriers?

    Answers to the first question
    Answers to the first question: SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

    • Teach and discuss the definition, interpretation and everyday significance of concepts of SD and SDIs

    • Provide intellectual and moral motivation to participate in actual projects promoting SD, including projects on the campus

    • Teach how to use quantitative methods

    • Challenge: teaching must focus on intellectual rigor but needs to discuss uncertainties, discuss ideological components and political influence, but without advocacy

    Answers to the second question
    Answers to the second question: SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

    • Required: Empirical analysis of ongoing SD projects, their use of indicators and other measurement tools

    • Empirical analysis needs to be linked to the conceptual analysis

    • May generate new types of research

      • controversial, particularly participatory research

      • role of ethics in conducting scientific work

    Answers to the third question
    Answers to the third question: SUSTAINABILITY INDICATORS

    • Students participating in campus SD projects are de facto accepting not simply a scientific truth but an ideological and sometimes a political position

      • Reflects the university’s action to promote SD

    • It is important to understand that not everybody would share this vision and the related actions

      • Additional arguments why SD should be taught in university courses not only as part of the scientific discourse but also as part of the ethical discourse

    • Need further research both in the science of sustainability…

      • which is still in its infancy (if it exists at all) and

    • …and the ethical issues SD raises

      • through decision making and political actions to implement it.