Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 49–62

Sustainable nations: what do aggregate indexes tell us?


    • Faculty of Business, Economics and Policy StudiesUniversity of Brunei Darussalam
  • Jeroen C. J. M. van den Bergh
    • ICREA
    • Institute of Environmental Science and TechnologyAutonomous University of Barcelona
    • Department of Economics and Economic HistoryAutonomous University of Barcelona
    • Faculty of Economics and Business AdministrationVrije Universiteit
    • Institute for Environmental StudiesVrije Universiteit

DOI: 10.1007/s10668-008-9179-7

Cite this article as:
Pillarisetti, J.R. & van den Bergh, J.C.J.M. Environ Dev Sustain (2010) 12: 49. doi:10.1007/s10668-008-9179-7


What is a ‘sustainable nation’ and how can we identify and rank ‘sustainable nations?’ Are nations producing and consuming in a sustainable way? Although several aggregate indexes have been proposed to answer such questions, comprehensive and internationally comparable data are not available for most of these. This paper quantitatively compares three aggregate indexes of sustainability: the World Bank’s ‘Genuine Savings’ measure, the ‘Ecological Footprint,’ and the ‘Environmental Sustainability Index.’ These three indexes are available for a large number of countries and also seem to be the most influential among the aggregate indexes. This paper first discusses the main limitations and weaknesses of each of these indexes. Subsequently, it shows that rankings of sustainable nations and aggregate assessments of unsustainable world population and world GDP shares vary considerably among these indexes. This disagreement leads to suggestions for analysis and policy. One important insight is that climate change, arguable the most serious threat currently faced by humanity, is not or arbitrarily captured by the indexes.


Adjusted net savingsEcological debtEcological FootprintEnvironmental Sustainability IndexGenuine SavingsSustainability

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008