Implementation of Environmental Programs: Environmental Indicators and Outcome Metrics: Country Examples
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.
- Country Examples
- Some U.S. Activities and Additional Resources
United Kingdom (UK). The UK uses a suite of 68 indicators 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) . 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):
|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%.|
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) . 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:
- theme area indicators address the main environmental quality problems (e.g., dispersion of toxic substances and disposal of solid waste)
- target group approach indicators consider the societal players contributing to environmental problems (e.g., consumers and agriculture)
- spatial-oriented policy indicators focus on regional differences in environmental pressures and desired states of environmental quality.
Canada. Environment Canada developed environmental indicators and national "indicator meters" 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.
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, 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 .
Australia. In Australia, indicators are used to develop State of the Environment (SoE) reporting . 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.
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 . 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.
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.
- Report on the Environment. As the first step in EPA’s multi-year Environmental Indicators Initiative, in 2003 EPA published its draft Report on the Environment (ROE) and supporting materials. EPA is developing a 2007 ROE.
- Government Performance and Responsibility Act (GPRA). GPRA requires U.S. federal agencies to develop five-year strategic plans, including a mission statement, which sets out long-term goals and objectives. GPRA also requires federal agencies to develop annual performance plans, which provide annual performance commitments toward achieving the goals and objectives presented in the strategic plan, as well as annual performance reports, which evaluate an agency's progress toward achieving performance commitments.
- Program Evaluation. Developed by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to assess the performance of federal programs.
- Superfund environmental indicators. Superfund environmental indicators are measures of program performance used to communicate tangible progress made in protecting human health and the environment through site clean up activities.
- Corrective action environmental indicators. EPA uses Environmental Indicators for human exposure and groundwater to measure progress in the RCRA Corrective Action Program.
- AIRNOW. The Air Quality Index (AQI), a joint undertaking coordinated among a number of agencies, reports daily air quality. EPA calculates the AQI for five major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone; particle pollution (also known as particulate matter); carbon monoxide; sulfur dioxide; and nitrogen dioxide.
- biological indicators of watershed health. EPA’s biological indicators are numerical values derived from actual measurements and have known statistical properties.
- America’s Children and the Environment (ACE): Summary List of Measures. ACE brings together, in one place, quantitative information from a variety of sources to show trends in levels of environmental contaminants in air, water, food, and soil; concentrations of contaminants measured in the bodies of children and women; and childhood illnesses that may be influenced by exposure to environmental contaminants.
- Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) . Through multi-stakeholder involvement, GRI promotes the use of a sustainability reporting framework worldwide. Over 1000 organizations in over 60 countries use the GRI framework.