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Setting Sights for a Sustainable Future

Posted by Josie | August 20th, 2007 | Filed under Environmental Change, Positive Change, Sustainability

If I asked five different people to define “sustainability” I’m positive I’d get five different — and correct — answers. Finding ways to set goals and measure something so slippery is difficult, but the Sightline Institute has developed a way to do it on a geographic scale. Their Cascadia Scorecard has defined and set achievable sustainability goals for the entire Northwest region.

Cascadia.jpegThis 4th annual publication summarizes seven trends which measure sustainability for the Cascadia region (which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and adjoining parts of Alaska, Montana, and California). Using real-world models as benchmarks, this report graphically projects when the Cascadia region will reach goals based on its existing data. The report is a quantifiable way to tell if we’re moving in the right direction and at what pace in health, economy, population, energy, sprawl, wildlife, and pollution.

The Sightline Institute was founded in 1993 and is a not-for-profit organization based out of Seattle. Sightline’s mission is to “bring about sustainability — a healthy, lasting prosperity grounded in place. Nonpartisan and wholly independent, Sightline’s only ideology is commitment to the shared values of strong communities, fair markets, and responsible stewardship.”


Based on the data they’ve collected so far, it will take approximately 43 years for Cascadia to reach achievable real-world goals representing a sustainable existence. For instance, Germany leads the march for its fuel and non-industrial electricity use in gallons per week at only 7.4. Our score? 14.5 gallons per week, and if we continue to improve our score at a constant rate, we’ll reach our target of 7.4 gallons/week in 91 years. Yikes. On the positive side, to maintain a healthy population, our target is based off the Netherlands and Sweden, who average 1.7 births per woman. With a current birthrate of 1.8, the Scorecard projects that we’re achieve our population goals in only 12 years.

The Sighline Institute isn’t the only non-profit which has put together a report summarizing the trends of a region using sustainability indicators. The Sierra Business Council recently published the “State of the Sierra” report covering similar trends for the Sierra Nevada region. Get more information by emailing sponcelet AT sbcouncil DOT ORG.

This kind of information and analysis is critical because it identifies exactly what we need to improve and will help ensure we get on track before it’s too late. I’m incredibly thankful for their effort.

One Response to “Setting Sights for a Sustainable Future”

  • August 22, 2007 at 7:52 pm | Tyler Cheung says

    I agree that “sustainability” is one of those large umbrella catch phrases that can refer to the human population on so many levels. I suppose we are used to thinking of it on ecological terms, i.e. trying to achieve some sort of thermodynamically stable/minimized entropy ecological model that is pleasing to us both aesthetically and morally. So, it’s interesting, and refreshing that Sightline has broadened the definition to include publich ealth/epidemiology, economic disparity and other trends besides the traditional ones we usually associate with the term.

    I suppose at some point, you can argue that sustainability is in danger of becoming a non-political euphemism for progressivism/liberalism but in this day and age, we are sorely lacking in that department so it can only be a good thing.

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