The Ecological Cost of Human Development: A Scientific Framework for Promoting Sustainable Development Policies

September 26, 2013 - 12:00pm - 1:00pm
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Sustainable human development will occur when all humans can have fulfilling lives without degrading the planet. This is the ultimate goal — and challenge — for humanity. But unless we develop a science-based method to measure sustainable development outcomes, this vision can never be fully realized. A metric that can be applied at the macro level for humanity and nations, to the micro level for projects and communities, will enable all to direct investments toward actions that are truly impactful, and away from those that are not. In short, a metric that will encourage nations and communities to take their fate into their own hands.


Social entrepreneur initiatives could be prime candidates for showcasing this possibility. It would both benefit social entrepreneur organizations by providing a framework for effectively communicating impact across various audiences; and it would strengthen the communities they work within by giving them the tools they need to make informed decisions that will lead to better outcomes.


In this presentation, Mathis Wackernagel proposes such a metric – one that is a simple, science-based tracking system of key outcomes, combining the Human Development Index of UNDP and Global Footprint Network’s Ecological Footprint accounting. This approach is not driven by moral obligation, but rather, by a need to fill a crucial gap in sustainable development efforts. By measuring outcomes at the local level, this metric will illuminate risks that affect the community, not just threats to humanity as a whole. Since this approach neither contains conditionality nor depends on international agreements, it encourages and enables immediate local action. The approach recognizes that human development cannot exist without access to ecological assets, and shows options that make both the communities and the world more resilient.

A recording of this seminar is available at:

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