Measuring Our Progress

Charles Seaford, Head, Centre for Wellbeing, nef (the new economics foundation); Sorcha Mahoney, Researcher, Centre for Wellbeing, nef; Mathis Wackernagel and Joy Larson, Global Footprint Network;  and Réne Ramírez Gallegos, National Secretary for Planning and Development, Ecuador.

Paper Summary

For decades governments have allowed a single indicator, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to assume dominance as the critical measure of a nation’s progress. It is now widely recognised by politicians and officials across the world that we must move beyond GDP and recognise it for what it is – a measure of economic exchange, which is itself a means to an end; the ‘end’ being the achievement of high well-being for all within environmental limits (‘sustainable well-being’).

Here, we focus on ways of measuring environmental sustainability and well-being, as well as offering a view from the global South which entails measures of both of these. We call for governments around the world to:

  • Amend their national accounting systems to align what they measure with what really matters, and
  • Use those measures as a guide for policy and political action.

First we outline the conceptual and measurement frameworks used, which draw on the work of nef, and in particular on the Centre for Well-being’s publication Measuring our Progress. Second, we address measuring environmental sustainability. Third we examine the measurement of human well-being. Finally, we present a proposal by René Ramirez Gallegos, National Secretary of Planning of Development in Ecuador, for the measurement of Buen Vivir, or Good Living.

Once governments move beyond GDP to measure what matters, they can turn their attention to the equally important business of ensuring that these new measures are used as the basis of policy and political action. Then, the global community can be hopeful that lives really will improve and that improvements are made within environmental limits.

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