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2946 Views 7 Replies Last post: Feb 23, 2012 4:03 PM by Bob Bloomfield RSS
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Nov 4, 2011 4:21 PM

How can we judge whether our economy is getting greener?

What do you think a ‘green economy’ is? Is it possible to improve our quality of life as well as protect the environment in the current economic climate?

How do you think we can (or should) take sustainability, wellbeing and social equality into account to measure success, failure and progress within such an economy?


A panel of experts will discuss the issues and potential solutions at the Natural History Museum on 22 February 2012. Your questions and comments will feed in to this debate, and you’ll be able to watch the live debate online here.

  • I was interested to read in the Guardian recently that Niu Wenyuan (a senior economist, chief scientist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a government advisor in China), has apparently just launched a 'GDP quality index' in an attempt to do just this, and it combines 1. Economic quality, 2. Social quality, 3. Environmental quality, 4. Quality of life, 5. Management quality. You can read a summary of what it takes into account in the news article (


    Do the panel think something similar could work in Britain?

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    Jan 18, 2012 9:39 PM (in response to Natural History Museum)
    Growth is not the only answer

    There was an interesting article in the Metro yesterday exploring the idea of looking beyond economic growth (measured by a rise in a country’s GDP) to measure success. We are obsessed with growth and where has it got us? GDP is apparently growing slightly in Britain according to official figures but unemployment is at its highest since 1994, a lot of sectors in the economy are suffering and consumer confidence is low so people aren’t buying things. GDP doesn’t take into account the health, wealth or well-being of individuals or the environment.


    However, alternative ideas like the Happy Planet Index (HPI), introduced by the New Economics foundation are emerging. The HPI combines environmental impact with human well-being. This gives a measure of relative environmental efficiency for different countries, showing how happy people of that nation are within environmental limits. Apparently the HPI says Britons are 74th happiest people in the world. People from Costa Rica are the happiest.


    Maybe if we worked less, produced less and consumed less we would have more balance in our lives and we would be placing less of a burden on our planet.

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  • National Welfare Index


    Need to concentrate on relatively easy to collect and reliable, consistent statistics - preferably collectable on same or similar basis in other countries and which could also be compared to previous years when similar data would be available.  An alternative index should be attractive to  Government at a time when GDP is likely to be stagnant and resistant to public policy.  As with GDP there is a mixing of ‘apples and oranges’ but an expert panel could adjust amalgams in each categories and the positives and negatives between categories to arrive at an overall welfare index. Reliance placed on the national census, surveys and existing data sets.


    Economics: Activity/Unemployment: –ve score for inactivity/lack of paid work but also a score for average hours worked with –ve for more than 35hrs/week.

    Homelessness: -ve scores for lack of permanent accommodation and both overcrowding and under-occupation (including second homes).

    Food: +ve score for proportion of food consumed in UK which can grow well in the UK; -ve for imported food in same categories; -ve score for level of obesity.

    Water: +ve Drinking water available in the home. –ve score for average consumption over 100litres per capita per day.

    Education: +ve score for numbers with higher education; -ve score for those without 5 GSCEs; +ve for places on adult education classes per capita.

    Environment: score for carbon emissions per capita (allowance for imported food and manufactured goods) and for changes; -ve score for decline of endangered species +ve for increases of same.

    Inequality: score for ratio of top 10% over bottom 10% measured by household incomes.

    Culture: +ve score for community choirs, cinema, concert hall and theatre seats per capita.  +ve score for café/restaurant/bar seats per capita.

    Law and order: -ve scores for prisoners and reported crimes per capita

    Welfare: score for infant mortality and -ve score for level of consumption of tranquilisers and anti-depressants per capita.





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  • I think one important factor in changing our assessment of "progress" is to stop talking about "jobs" and insist on talking about "livelihoods."  One "livelihood" is sufficient for secure sustenance of two adults and two children.  Taxation could then be keyed to how many livelihoods an individual earns AND how many livelihoods a corporation produces. 

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  • It's great that NHM is asking this question and holding the on-line debate on wider measures than GDP.  You are getting some good suggestions for ways of judging progress.  Can I just wave a flag for the Office for National Statistics programme of Measuring National Well-being!  This has exactly the aim of wider measures of progress.  It covers the 'triple bottom line' of the economy, the environment and people's quality of life.


    Unfortunately the media sometimes characterise the programme as 'Mr Cameron's Happiness Index', which is wrong on all three counts - we're doing this to meet a range of national and international requirements for wider measures; it is more than measuring happiness (we are collecting data on people's assessment of their own well-being as part of the programme); and we're not attempting to summarise this all as a single index yet.  We are also working with colleagues who are refreshing the UK's sustainable development indicators.


    There's more on the programme at


    Welcome views, including from the panel, on how we can involve as many people and organisations as possible in coming up with a accepted and trusted set of measures of progress, well-being and sustainable development that we can all use.  It would be good to have a manageable set of measures so that we debate the issues, not designing yet more measures!




    Paul Allin

    Director: Measuring National Well-being Programme

    Office for National Statistics

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  • My question for the panel: How do we ensure broader participation from civil society in the debate on new indicators?

    And how do we leverage expertise from civil society actors and bring it to bear on the international stage, especially in connection with large summits such as Rio+20?


    When designing quality-of-life indicators there are several areas that are important to consider. It is expressed in the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) that any new indicators must include such things as factors that contribute to individuals capabilities and skills, tools that are sensitive to policy impact and provide timely data, and are formulated in a manner that makes them accessible to a wider audience. Furthermore, they should provide a clear means of comparison across countries and time periods.

    Thank you.


    Stefan Hall

    On behalf of the European Economic and Social Committee (EU advisory body)

    Our website and Rio+20 portal:

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  • A dominant theme of the debate was certainly not the point that GDP is a limited tool which when misapplied can give a hugely misleading impression of the overall ‘health of a state’, that was taken as self evident.


    Much more significant was the issue of what can be used to complement it. What could be relatively accessible, meaningful and set benchmarks against which governments would want to conform and improve. In this respect the links to the intentions of the Millennium Development Goals was well made. I’m mindful of those energy efficiency bars you see on white goods like fridges and washing machines. Could any country’s overall performance be easily compared with others using four or so colour-coded scales…


    • A bar for wealth creation… which unlike GBD is actually reduced by ‘bad growth’ – the point being made in the debate that GDP does not distinguish good from bad so that by its measurement, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico “positively” contributed to the economy just like the many good and services that people actually want or need.
    • A bar for the equity of wealth distribution… 0 where the wealth is in the hands of the top 1% and 10 where there is a perfect distribution of wealth! [would such a scale also reflect the relative distribution of health, child mortality etc across a country?]
    • A bar for Environment impact (this might need to start in the negative (deep red) where there is significant depreciation of natural capital through the overuse of resources moving into the amber where there is no-net loss of environmental services and into green when there is significant restoration of environmental services and biodiversity? [If all the fish in the sea are caught and sold tomorrow, global GDP would see a big boost while the fishing industry itself would completely collapse].
    • A bar for social responsibility [a reflection on the amount of volunteering, caring and investments in education and research]
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