Sustainability Science Program

Environmental Indicators

Environmental Indicators (State of the Nation's Ecosystem Project)

A second finding of our "Social Learning" study was the extraordinarily important role played by monitoring systems and metrics in linking knowledge with action. But measurement in the context of contentious policy matters was clearly never a purely technical enterprise. Power and politics, as much as reason and analysis, determine what we measure, what counts as data, and how we portray the results. Metrics in the sustainability arena are therefore born political, and are often perceived to be biased by the prevailing power structure. The White House initiated project on "The State of the Nation's Ecosystems" provided an opportunity to explore how a scientifically and politically viable system of indicators could be designed for evaluating changes in the state of the ecosystems of the United States. Based at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington, the project used insights from our environmental assessment study to design and implement a system for defining and measuring strategic indicators of the condition and use of the nation's lands, waters, and living resources. Bill Clark chaired the Design Group of this project.