1c. Assessing Sustainability (indicators and reporting)

Track chairs:

Tomás B. Ramos. CENSE, Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research, Dep. of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, School of Science and Technology, NOVA University Lisbon, Portugal. tabr@fct.unl.pt

Bart van Hoof. School of Management, Universidad de los Andes, Bogota, Colombia. bvan@uniandes.edu.co

Goals and objectives of the track:

In the monitoring, assessment and reporting of sustainability one of the main ends is to support decision-making and policy processes, thus improving the management of natural and human systems and achieving more sustainable outcomes with less negative effects. In addition, to supporting policy development and management strategies, sustainability evaluation, reporting and governance initiatives should integrate and reflect the uncertainty values of non-linear complex processes, where the limits are often unknown. Despite the diversity of methods and tools to assess and report sustainability, indicators are one of the approaches most used, playing a central role, in particular to communicate sustainability performance to stakeholders.

Sustainability Indicators and related approaches have long been used to assess sustainability, therefore now is a good time to rethink their roles and applicability. Researchers in this area are faced with several challenging issues, such as: How useful are indicators for the society and for effective stakeholder use? How effective have indicators been at progressing sustainability/sustainable development? How do we assess the impact of sustainability indicator assessments? How should indicators be tailored to produce real impact on decision-making and policy processes? What are the strengths/benefits, drawbacks, opportunities and threats/barriers of using indicators? How resilient is the indicator concept and what innovations can be expected? The sustainable development goal posts keep changing, are we as indicator researchers keeping abreast of change? and if so, how?

Indicators should be flexible enough to include emerging issues and deal with overlooked aspects of sustainability, particularly those involving global changes and threats, goal and target/limit uncertainty, sustainability ethics, cultural, aesthetics and general non-material values, blurred distinction between peacetime and wartime, collaborative learning, voluntary monitoring and crowd sourcing. They should also be able to reflect the new and old limits of natural-human systems.

The main goal of this track is to discuss new approaches, concepts, methods and frameworks or case study applications that deal with assessing and reporting sustainability through indicator initiatives. Therefore, we invite contributions of both theoretical and empirical papers.


Contributions from the followings areas are sought-after

  • The performance of sustainability indicators; the role of meta-evaluation approaches;
  • The effective societal impacts of sustainability indicators;
  • Questioning indicator development and selection approaches: improve the utility, accuracy, validity, feasibility and redundancy;
  • The role of sustainability indicators in assessing impact/follow-up processes of polices, plans and projects;
  • New indicator approaches involved in estimating the physical, ecological and social limits of sustainability issues;
  • The reliability/uncertainty of sustainability measurements and estimates provided by indicators;
  • The implications of easy, friendly/simplistic indicator approaches to assess and communicate sustainability limits;
  • Indicator approaches for assessment and reporting of new sustainability challenges and non-traditional aspects;
  • Scale effects on sustainability assessments and carrying capacity evaluations at local, regional, national and transnational levels and their relationships;
  • Methods to define the thematic scope of sustainability assessment and reporting;
  • How stakeholders could be engaged to assess and report sustainability issues for incorporation into policy: volunteer collaborative contributions to data selection; gathering and assessment; and crowd sourcing.



Tomás B. Ramos is Professor of Strategic Environmental Assessment and Planning at Universidade NOVA de Lisboa and senior researcher at CENSE, Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research. His research activity is centered on sustainability assessment and reporting, including impact assessment, management and stakeholders engagement. In particular, he has been working for more than 20 years with sustainability indicators. He is Subject Editor of the Journal of Cleaner Production and member of the Editorial Board of the journals Sustainable Development and Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management. He is also member of the Board of the International Sustainable Development Research Society.