May 13, 2010

Measuring all that matters

I am a firm believer that only what gets measured gets fixed. Simply put, measuring and statistically reporting things draws peoples' attention to them, and society has a strong bias towards attending to problems that can be described objectively. It's a sensible enough bias—measurement allows us to know for sure whether our attempts at fixing a problem are achieving anything and good value for money—but it has terrible consequences when combined with another societal bias: our tendency to only measure things in dollars. Our society and media are obsessed with financial statistics at the expense of all others, and this leads policy makers and business leaders into the same tunnel vision, where anything that improves the financial bottom line is seen as inherently good. RFK expressed this better than I ever could, decades ago:

Over the past few years, we've seen some encouraging developments with the measurement and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions. More and more people are using carbon footprint calculators to understand their own emissions, business are starting to analyse and report their own, and with the climate bill about to go through Congress it may soon become compulsory for fossil fuel providers and major greenhouse gas emitters to measure and report their impact. But while this is progress, it's easy to get "carbon goggles" and focus on carbon emissions to the exclusion of all the other impacts that our activities have on each other.

This is why Sustainable Seattle started out as an indicator organisation, and our core is still a set of community-generated indicators that measure sustainability in a very broad, but still objectively quantifiable, sense. Our Sustainability Training And Resources program aims to give people the tools to understand and apply these indicators in their own lives and work. With this mission in mind, we've been working on developing material that introduces useful comprehensive ways of measuring impacts. The first two workshops will be in July:
We are also hoping to announce a Gross National Happiness talk in the near future, but details of that still need to be confirmed, so watch this space for another announcement.

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