Sustainable development indicators: a scientific challenge, a democratic issue
18 Jun 2008
Institut pour un Développement Durable, 7 rue des Fusillés, 1340 Ottignies, Belgium
Abstract. Social indicators, and therefore sustainable development indicators also, are scientific constructs whose principal objective is to inform public policy-making. Their usefulness is dependant on trade-offs between scientific soundness and rigor, political effectiveness and democratic legitimacy. The paper considers in this perspective three important stages in the building of sustainable development indicators: the identification of the various dimensions underlying the concept of sustainable development, the process of aggregating lower dimension indicators in higher level composite indices and the attribution of weights at various levels of the indicators hierarchy. More specifically, it assesses the relative fruitfulness for indicators construction of the four most widespread conceptions of sustainable development, in terms of domains or pillars (economy, society, and environment), in terms of resources and productive assets (manufactured, natural, human and social capitals), in terms of human well-being (needs, capabilities) or in terms of norms (efficiency, fairness, prudence...). It concludes with a plea for the construction of synthetic indices able to compete with and complement the GNP as an indicator of development.