Measuring Sustainability and Economic Growth in Europe

Hinterberger, F. & Weaver, P. (2007)

In this paper we argue that there is a need to distinguish between several different – albeit related – societal goals that all have some relation to economic activity. These concern the level of formal economic activity, the level of real income and net change in national wealth, the level of wellbeing, and the possibilities to sustain each of these three into the future. In turn, progress toward each of these goals is constituted differently, so each goal requires different indicators for tracking progress. In the paper we argue that our current performance indicators confuse these different goals, that inappropriate design and use of indicators is detrimental to the achievement of them all, and that there is a risk of introducing further confusion in efforts to produce integrated indicators, which may be misguided. To avoid this risk, we suggest an approach based upon distinguishing different goals and arranging our information systems accordingly on the principle of ‘different indicators for different goals’. Since there is no necessary hierarchy or structure among different goals there is a need also to ensure that no one goal is allowed inadvertently to override the others, for example by becoming the driver of policies that are pursued at expense of other goals that may be of equal – or greater – importance to society. Exploring relationships among different goals and among means for their achievement is therefore an important area for future research, which also depends upon developing and using goal-specific indicators.

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