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Measuring Sustainability

Posted: 3:21PM March 8th, 2016 | Comments

By: Yuwen Chang

We may be thinking about a thousand different concepts when we talk about sustainability, from global climate adaptation to organic local harvest in our plates. But how do we measure these concepts and their true impacts in our life? More specifically, as a program evaluation intern in Sustain Dane, how do I make sure that our work is really contributing to a more sustainable community?


A major challenge of evaluation is to clarify the theory of change and the expected outcomes. For example, we may want to know the effect on carbon mitigation after promoting bike to work with our partner businesses. This can be difficult for several reasons, one being whether this outcome is a direct result of our action. Especially when we are only a part of the solution, it may be hard to specify individual impacts. In certain cases, we may use experiments to test the impacts of our work. But most of the time, we may need to seek alternative paths. Another reason would be whether there are other omitted outcomes that we did not consider. Then comes the challenge of finding the suitable data to perform the examination and measure what we want to measure.


Finally, we need an interpretation of the results that integrates sustainability into our daily life. For example, instead of how much CO2 is saved, do we feel more energetic and save more money by biking to work? It is your turn! Think about your definition of sustainability. What does sustainability mean to you? What have you done to achieve that goal and what has changed? Can you specify the causation and the exact outcomes in your daily life?
 

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