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Implementation of Environmental Programs: Environmental Indicators and Outcome Metrics: Country Examples

Updated: April 2007

This fact sheet identifies a number of forward-looking approaches to waste-related environmental indicators (EIs) and outcome-oriented measures used by selected countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. A recurring theme in use of metrics by countries is the emphasis placed on measuring interrelationships between environmental, social, economic, and cultural themes in support of sustainability goals. This fact sheet identifies some alternative approaches and frameworks used, along with strategies for communicating this information to various audiences. This fact sheet is not comprehensive; rather, it provides a starting point for readers interested in investigating the topic.

County Examples

United Kingdom (UK). The UK uses a suite of 68 indicators Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer to measure annual progress towards achieving environmental and sustainability goals and targets . These indicators are divided into four categories: sustainable consumption and production; climate change and energy; protecting our natural resources and enhancing the environment; and creating sustainable communities and a fairer world. Although these indicators mainly apply to progress within the UK, the government is establishing indicators that allow the UK to compare sustainability trends among countries in the EU. The UK’s indicators align with government priorities outlined in the UK Government’s Sustainable Development Strategy Securing the Future (PDF) (188 pp, 6MB, About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer. The UK has developed a method of communicating indicator results to the public using a system of “traffic lights” for each goal/target to indicate degree of success/progress (see graphic):

Green - clear improvement

= clear improvement

Amber - little or no change

= little or no change

Red - clear deterioration

= clear deterioration

Missing - insufficient or no comparable data

= insufficient or no comparable data

Determinations concerning indicator progress are made by comparing data from the current year with two baselines periods (since 1990 and since 1999). The yellow light, indicating little or no change, is determined if the indicator value has changed less than 3%.


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Netherlands. The Dutch government’s Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (VROM) uses EIs to inform parliament and the public on the performance of environmental policy laid out in the strategic National Environmental Policy Plan (NEPP) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer. In addressing questions related to sustainable development, the NEPP looks at the interrelationships between pollution sources and ecological, social, and economic systems. Using a target-based approach to understanding and dealing with environmental problems, the NEPP defines environmental quality objectives (represented by themes) and establishes a long-term plan of action and targets to meet those objectives. The Dutch process allows the government to analyze environmental problems from "source to impact." It is noteworthy that VROM places an emphasis on developments in environmental pressures rather than just conveying metrics relating to environmental quality or effects.

Three types of indicators are used to help assess implementation of the NEPP:

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Canada. Environment Canada developed environmental indicators and national "indicator meters" Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer that illustrate trends for a variety of themes and provide environmental information to decision makers and the public. These metrics also include indicator meters for generation of municipal solid waste.

Trend meter The meters reflect environmental trends over time (usually the past decade), showing the degree to which a given indicator is deteriorating, stable, or improving. The indicator meters are not intended to rank the importance of environmental issues; they collectively serve to provide the public with "signposts" of progress towards environmental sustainability. Environment Canada hosts a very thorough, easy to understand, and user-friendly Web site, Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer that presents information on trends (charts, graphs, and underlying data are available) and what the Canadian government is doing to address environmental concerns. Specific Canadian regions, such as the Pacific and Yukon, also have Web sites highlighting regional information and trends Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer.

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Australia. In Australia, indicators are used to develop State of the Environment (SoE) reporting Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer. Using theme commentaries. SoE reporting occurs at both the national and state/territory levels and is designed to support the achievement of ecologically-oriented sustainable development goals. It follows a modified version of the OECD’s pressure-state-response model. "Headline" indicators are used to help answer the question, "Has life in our country gotten better, especially during the past decade?" To answer this question, the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) looks at a combination of indicators to assess progress during the past decade. ABS takes into account the interaction among the various dimensions of capital (human, social, and financial) to achieve a more complete understanding of the country’s growth and progress.

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New Zealand. In New Zealand, two government agencies work on indicators. The Ministry for the Environment (MFE) focuses on environmental performance indicators, while Statistics New Zealand (SNZ) addresses "linked" indicators that tie socio-economic indicators with MFE’s environmental indicators to monitor indirect pressures responsible for environmental change. Both groups coordinate and leverage data, when possible. Although MFE has not confirmed the latest set of indicators, in 2000 the Agency released indicators including measures for solid waste, hazardous waste, and contaminated sites Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer. SNZ’s approach emphasizes the need to coordinate government data collection functions and defines linked indicator sets to include economic, social, environmental, and cultural indicators. SNZ is investigating sustainable development indictors that will address the interrelationships among these various indicator sets.

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Some U.S. Activities and Additional Resources

EPA and other government agencies in the United States at the federal, state, and local levels have undertaken a number of efforts to develop environmental indicators and measure government performance. Below are selected brief descriptions and links for this work.

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