By Katie Terpstra

Sustainable development is a strategy by which communities seek economic development approaches that also benefit the local environment and quality of life.  It has become an important guide to many communities that have discovered that traditional approaches to planning and development are creating, rather than solving, societal and environmental problems.

Efficient and Integrated?  Once the strategy is implemented, it is important for a community to be able to measure the degree to which its economic, environmental, and social systems are efficient and integrated.  This can best be measured through the use of sustainability indicators.

These indicators can incorporate several broad categories such as Economy, Environment, Society/Culture, Government/Politics, Resource Consumption, Education, Health, Housing Quality of Life, Population, Public Safety, Recreation, and Transportation. 

To measure the degree of efficiency and integration, a set of numerous indicators is often required.  One example of an environmental indicator is the analysis of CO2 emissions from transportation sources to measure air quality.  To view a list of indicators currently in use in communities across the country, go to 

Organize and Research.  A community could select many sustainability indicators, but the trick is in selecting the best ones.  Developing a strong list of indicators combines these factors: what type of audience the indicator report will have, how much time and resources are available to research the data, how many issues are involved, and what specific needs the community should consider.  For further information on organizing indicators, see 

Once the list of indicators is selected, it’s time for the fun part—the research!  For a list of indicator data sources so your community can start measuring the area’s sustainable development, go to

Make Tom Proud.  Implementing, measuring and researching sustainable development in your community can be a large task, but it is also a very rewarding one when you keep the end goal in mind.  In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Then I say the earth belongs to each generation during its course, fully and in its own right, no generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence.”

Sources & Links:

º U.S. Department of Energy—“Smart Communities Network”

º Sustainable Measures is an organization that develops sustainability indicators for communities, companies, regional organizations and government agencies.

º United Nations Sustainable Development

º International Institute for Sustainable Development.