Measuring Progress - Not offered in AY 2022-23

Undergraduate Program Status

Environmental Sciences - Specialization
Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Description: 

Sustainability is a critical societal objective at the juncture of socio-economic, environmental and governance dimensions, cutting across scales and all types of public and private sector organizations. Turning the theories of sustainability into strategy and practice requires measuring and assessing progress towards established goals and targets. The course will offer a critical perspective on the history, present day practices and possible future directions of measuring progress using indicators. It will situate sustainability measurement in the political discourse about ‘Beyond GDP’ where the processes, tools and methods of measurement are conceptualized as instruments of power and as expressions of interests in maintaining the status quo that is often at the heart of essentially unsustainable patterns of growth and development.

Sustainability is not conceptualized as fixed destination but as a course to travel through continuous learning and adaptation, where indicators serve as critically important navigation instruments. The course will approach indicators through the high-level Bellagio Sustainability Assessment and Measurement Principles (BellagioSTAMP). It will review approaches related to the choice, design, quantification and use of indicators in planning, review and verification. Alternative approaches to measuring societal progress, whether through disaggregated indicator sets or composite indices will be reviewed, with their advantages and tradeoffs, including the review of some of the most common alternative metrics such as the Human Development Index, the Ecological Footprint, or Comprehensive Wealth accounting. The course will also cover the indicator and reporting system related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at different scales from communities to countries and corporations.

Learning Outcomes: 

Be familiar with the theories, conceptual approaches and critique of measuring sustainability;

  1. Be able to situate sustainability measurement not only as a technical exercise but as an instrument of political power and policy influence;
  2. Know several high-level indices and indicator systems that are put forward in the context of the ‘Beyond GDP’ discourse;
  3. Understand how to combine transdisciplinary social process with technical expertise in building measurement systems; and
  4. Be familiar with options for integrating sustainability indicators into other assessment tools and methods such as selected integrated models and scenarios analyses and using outputs in reporting on progress on various scales.

Class participation (10%), First assignment (40%), Second assignment (50%)