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A “Measure” for Sustainable Development

by Dora Gacsi | Feb 20, 2015

According to Somogyi, Daniel and Redey’s (Hungarian professors in Veszprem at University Pannon) perspective on Sustainable Economies, sustainable development includes more than protecting the environment.[1] (For a brief history on sustainable development, see Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, Volume 47, Number 3, pages 8–21. Robert W. Kates, Thomas M. Parris, and Anthony A. Leiserowitz, 2005). [2]

So what do Somogyi, Daniel and Redey mean by sustainable development? 

First, it should encompass a sustainable economy, which supports global economic growth while still protecting natural resources. [3]

Second, it should also embrace society including politics, economics, cultural values, and human rights. [4]

These Hungarian scholars believe that two types of sustainable development exist: fragile and robust.  

Fragile sustainable development occurs when society and economic development are the main drivers at the expense of the environment. Thus, society and the economy would develop while harming and eventually completely depleting the environment (see Figure 1 below). In this scenario, the globe would be “without a natural world” or without the environment. The only purpose of natural resources would be to feed economic and social development, making this system a weak one.

Fragile Sustainable Development
Figure 1: Fragile Sustainable Development
Adapted from Somogyi, V., Daniel, Z. and Redey, A., (2012) Fenntarthato gazdasag. [1]

In robust sustainable development, economic and social captial are influenced by existing natural assets (and current technological advancements.)  In this way, such a robust model ensures that constant environmental capital will exist to feed future economic and social growth (see Figure 2 below).  Economy and society depend upon a strong environment and natural resource foundation, where each one builds upon the other and supports development in a holistic manner.

Robust Sustainable Development

Figure 2: Robust Sustainable Development
Adapted from Somogyi, V., Daniel, Z. and Redey, A., (2012) Fenntarthato gazdasag. [1]

So how would one measure fragile and robust sustainable development systems?

Somogyi, Daniel and Redey suggest that Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a main economic performance indicator, alone is not adequate for measuring economic growth in sustainable development, and that new indices are needed. They suggest a few different measurement tools to supplement the GDP.  Although many indices have been developed and are being used, here I will mention three of them:  the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) and the Ecological Footprint.

The Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) goes beyond the GDP by balancing consumer expenditure with environmental and sustainability (or unsustainability) costs, such as environmental degradation and depreciation of natural capital. This index has since developed to include other costs.[3] The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) developed as an extension of ISEW, which emphasizes societal progress and monitors the ecological sustainability of the economy. Together ISEW and GPI include social, economic and environmental costs. [5] Ecological footprint measures the impact of humans on earth. It quantifies the intersection of the earth’s assets to provide for human demands. [6]

It is clear that measuring for sustainable development is not an easy task. The above mentioned indices show how difficult it is to balance economic, social and environment factors for sustainable development. What we do have now is more information in order to make better decisions individually, communally, nationally and globally, and work toward scientific and technological advancements that will enhance our lives today yet provide for future generations.  It is a “measure” in a sustainable direction.

[1] Somogyi, V., Daniel, Z. and Redey, A., (2012) Fenntarthato gazdasag. (Accessed online DATUM: - d6e13)

[2] Kates, R., Parris, T. and Leiserowitz, A., (2005)  Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, Volume 47, Number 3, pp. 8–21 (Accessed online on February 5, 2015:

[3] Daly, H. E. (1994). For the common good: Redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future (No. 73). Beacon Press. (Accessed online on DATUM:,+H.+%26+Cobb,+J.+(1989),+For+the+Common+Good.+Beacon+Press,+Boston&ots=oBsdAFQpP8&sig=UGURLIngJlLucOUyGmuted4lXjI - v=onepage&q&f=false)

[4] Brown, Lester Russell. Saving the planet: How to shape an environmentally sustainable global economy. WW Norton & Company, 1991. (Accessed online on February 14, 2015:,+H.+%26+Cobb,+J.+(1989),+For+the+Common+Good.+Beacon+Press,+Boston&ots=oBsdAFQpP8&sig=UGURLIngJlLucOUyGmuted4lXjI#v=onepage&q&f=false)

[5]  Baker, L. (1999). “Real Wealth: The Genuine Progress Indicator Could Provide an Environmental Measure of the Planet's Health.” E Magazine, May/June 1999, pp. 37–41. (Accessed online on February 14, 2015:

[6] Wackernagel, M., and Rees, W. (1998). Our ecological footprint: reducing human impact on the earth (No. 9). New Society Publishers. (Accessed online on February 14, 2015: