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Sustainability indicators: the problem of integration


  • Stephen Morse

    (Department of Geography, University of Reading, Reading, UK)

  • Nora McNamara

    (Diocesan Development Services, POB 114, Idah, Kogi State, Nigeria)

  • Moses Acholo

    (Diocesan Development Services, POB 114, Idah, Kogi State, Nigeria)

  • Benjamin Okwoli

    (Diocesan Development Services, POB 114, Idah, Kogi State, Nigeria)


Sustainability indicators (SIs) are increasingly seen as important tools in the implementation of sustainable development. Numerous suggested SI lists and matrices exist, but a remaining problem is how these diverse SIs are to be integrated into an answer as to whether something is sustainable or not. In some studies of sustainability workers have adopted a quantitative integration approach whereby SIs are given numerical values and integrated mathematically to produce a value for sustainability. In this paper the authors discuss SI integration by drawing upon the results of a six-year research project based in a village in Nigeria. They conclude that an element of'qualitative integration' incorporating value judgements and subjectivity is inevitable with a concept such as sustainability, even if one begins with what may seem like sharp and quantitative SIs. It is argued that SIs are primarily a product of development intervention rather than a desire to understand, and as a result carry with them the desired characteristics, from the donor perspective, of efficiency and accountability. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen Morse & Nora McNamara & Moses Acholo & Benjamin Okwoli, 2001. "Sustainability indicators: the problem of integration," Sustainable Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 9(1), pages 1-15.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:sustdv:v:9:y:2001:i:1:p:1-15
    DOI: 10.1002/sd.148

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Hansen, J. W., 1996. "Is agricultural sustainability a useful concept?," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 117-143.
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    1. repec:eee:agisys:v:167:y:2018:i:c:p:83-91 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Gomez-Limon, Jose Antonio & Riesgo, Laura, 2008. "Alternative Approaches On Constructing A Composite Indicator To Measure Agricultural Sustainability," 107th Seminar, January 30-February 1, 2008, Sevilla, Spain 6489, European Association of Agricultural Economists.
    3. Hueting, Roefie & Reijnders, Lucas, 2004. "Broad sustainability contra sustainability: the proper construction of sustainability indicators," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3-4), pages 249-260, October.
    4. Zahir Dossa & Katrin Kaeufer, 2014. "Understanding Sustainability Innovations Through Positive Ethical Networks," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 119(4), pages 543-559, February.
    5. Aydın, Hakan & Turan, Önder & Karakoç, T. Hikmet & Midilli, Adnan, 2013. "Exergo-sustainability indicators of a turboprop aircraft for the phases of a flight," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 550-560.
    6. Binder, C.R. & Schmid, A. & Steinberger, J.K., 2012. "Sustainability solution space of the Swiss milk value added chain," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 210-220.
    7. Gómez-Limón, José A. & Sanchez-Fernandez, Gabriela, 2010. "Empirical evaluation of agricultural sustainability using composite indicators," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(5), pages 1062-1075, March.
    8. repec:spr:agrhuv:v:35:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s10460-017-9821-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Wallis, Anne M. & Graymore, Michelle L.M. & Richards, Anneke J., 2011. "Significance of environment in the assessment of sustainable development: The case for south west Victoria," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(4), pages 595-605, February.

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