Press release

New software allows people to measure sustainability

August 29, 2002

Innovative online "Dashboard" helps public visualize and track progress towards sustainable development

Peter Hardi, Director of IISD's Measurement and Indicators Program, is available for media interviews following the event.

WINNIPEG — The Dashboard of Sustainability, a new online tool that helps policy-makers and the public visualize and track progress towards sustainable development, will be presented at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The software communicates complex information in a user-friendly format, allowing people to see sustainability performance between countries, through the use of numerous indicators. The Dashboard of Sustainability was developed by the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators (CGSDI), a group of leading indicator experts from five continents. It is based on the United Nations CSD indicator set and contains 19 social, 20 environmental, 14 economic and eight institutional indicators. It includes data for over 200 countries. The latest version, RioJo, allows a comparison of the situation at the time of the Rio Summit in 1992 with the current state of the world.

The Dashboard is the product of a six-year international project led by the Canadian-based International Institute for Sustainable Development, with headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"It provides a tool to signal what is significant and to go deeper into the underlying causes," says Peter Hardi, Director of Measurement and Indicators at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. "Like the instrumentation of an aircraft, the Dashboard offers a visual signal of progress towards sustainable development, and warnings of problems."

"The Dashboard helps the 'pilots' of our societies to understand the complexity of sustainable development, and to discuss and communicate their ideas," adds Jochen Jesinghaus, a civil servant at the European Commission and author of the Dashboard software.

The prototype will be demonstrated on August 30, 2002, 11:00 am - 3:00 pm at the Ubuntu Village Conference Centre, room F - Fever Tree.


An aircraft dashboard contains instruments that signal the flight path and performance, enabling the pilot to know when corrective action is needed. The signals are often integrated in one panel to avoid overwhelming the pilot with information, but individual problems and more specific information can be traced back through the detailed instrument displays.

The Dashboard of Sustainability takes an analogous approach to the presentation of sustainable development indicators. It is an instrument panel designed to inform decision-makers and the public on the status of a nation's progress toward (or movement away from) sustainability. The concept grew out of the work of the Consultative Group on Sustainable Development Indicators (CGSDI), engaged in critical assessments and design discussions since 1996.

Recently, the Dashboard was made functional by using 57 indicators offered by the United Nations Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) to compose the three main clusters for over 100 countries. Algorithms and graphic presentation software have been developed; data are presented in an animated version of the Dashboard.

The specification has a built-in flexibility and the clusters can be modified according to the end-users' specific needs, without changing the functioning of the Dashboard. It allows the presentation of four dials, corresponding to the four clusters of the CSD indicator set (economic, environmental, social and institutional). The Dashboard allows presentation of complex relationships in a format that is digestible for decision-makers and other persons who might specialize in one field (e.g., environment or social issues or economics), but need to integrate policy fields in which they are not experts, into their work.

The correlation between any pair of indicators can be shown graphically. A list of indicators, sorted by "best fit," allows identification of the most relevant linkages (for example: is unemployment correlated with GDP growth?). In particular, these functions allow identification of synergies (indicators whose "desirable" values are positively correlated) and potential conflicts (e.g., environment vs. many economic and social variables).

Work on the Dashboard has brought together a multidisciplinary team and a unique constellation of partner institutions. One particularly important area where significant efforts are still needed is the input of developing countries to enrich the selection of sustainability measures.

About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development is an independent, not for profit corporation headquartered in Canada whose mission is to champion innovation, enabling societies to live sustainably. Established in 1990 with continuing support from the governments of Canada and Manitoba, IISD also receives revenue from foundations and other private sector sources. The Institute is a registered charitable organization in Canada and a 501(c)(3) tax exempt, nonprofit corporation.

Dr. Peter Hardi is the Director of the Measurement and Indicators Program at the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Over the past decade he has designed and implemented sustainable development indicator projects in a variety of settings, ranging from local communities to international agencies and from highly developed countries to developing nations and countries in transition.

Jochen Jesinghaus is an economist, engineer and author of the Dashboard indicator software. As a civil servant of the European Commission, he worked since 1992 on environmental and sustainable development indicators at Eurostat and the Joint Research Centre. Other work areas include Ecological Tax Reform and indicator linkages.


About IISD

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is an award-winning independent think tank working to accelerate solutions for a stable climate, sustainable resource management, and fair economies. Our work inspires better decisions and sparks meaningful action to help people and the planet thrive. We shine a light on what can be achieved when governments, businesses, non-profits, and communities come together. IISD’s staff of more than 250 experts come from across the globe and from many disciplines. With offices in Winnipeg, Geneva, Ottawa, and Toronto, our work affects lives in nearly 100 countries.