Sustainability indicator project on local level

Logo WattenmeerstiftungThe WSF has launched a project to analyze sustainability indicators in the Wadden Sea Region on local level.
The project is mainly financed by the “Niedersächsische Wattenmeerstiftung”.



Indicator local 300

In 2016 the WSF cooperated with the universities Tilburg (NL) and Kiel as well as with the Dutch Wadden Academy to build on the WSF indicator tool, using the Dutch approach to provide an attractive and valuable instrument for stakeholders and policy makers on local and regional level. An analysis of the data should meet the requirements of the target groups and their specific needs. The instrument should provide evidence of the different sustainability trends and their causes on regional and local level to get better insights in developments. A sound analysis and interpretation of the data should provide assistance in decision and policy making to strive for more sustainability.

With the support of two master students from the university Kiel, a data set for more than 60 defined indicators for more than 500 municipalities in the German Wadden Sea Region (WSR) was compiled.

Contents of the project development and analysis of sustainability indicators

The first step in this project will be to assess the defined indicators with regard to their importance and relevance for the WSR. For this purpose, dialogues with the municipalities are necessary to take their requirements into account and to achieve acceptance for changes in policies and management.

In a second step the data will be analyzed with regard to causes and consequences of recent developments. The knowledge of causes is crucial in order to react and to change developments with impacts on sustainability.

Following, it would be necessary to discuss established standards of the indicators to adapt the assessment criteria to local and regional characteristics. Standardized norms do not reflect particularities of municipalities with an emphasis of specific developments. Therefore, the given norms have to be discussed on local level and finally tuned. Also the weight of single indicators in the overall sustainability assessment has to be defined to reach valuable statements. A low rate of unemployment might be of greater importance for a sustainable society than a short distance to a railway station. This means, not all indicators will have the same weight in their analysis.


The project will be carried out in cooperation with the municipalities. For this two-year project (2017-2018), indicators will be analyzed for 7 municipalities to keep the workload to a realistic level. Bilateral talks with representatives of the chosen municipalities and workshops will play an important part to implement an applicable project. Furthermore, the ICZM group of the WSF will be a valuable partner in defining and fine-tuning norms and weighting of the indicators. 

Project output

The project will have direct impacts on the sustainability situation in Lower Saxony. The project will be a pilot with selected municipalities, also to demonstrate that indicator instruments are valuable tools, which will take into account local particularities, supporting the implementation of measures to enhance the sustainability of the society.

Following, the experiences with the project can be used to attract further municipalities to analyze the regional and local developments with the aim of being more sustainable in their future dealings.

Analysis of sustainability indicators on municipality level


Several indicators build a stock (theme) and a number of stocks are added to one of the three capitals. The three capitals are summed up to the overall sustainability, e.g. for a municipality.


Capital is Economy

Stock is Competitiveness

Indicators are GDP, share starters, bankruptcies, capacity universities

First, a scale for indicators is defined. In concrete, this resulted in 4 categories with indicator scores between 0 and 100% of the long term achievable goal:

Desirable (75- 100%)

Acceptable (50 – 75%)

Alarming (25 – 50%)

Unacceptable (0 - 25%)

In a second step values or norms are attached to the individual indicators. Norms can be given by national or regional policies but also by agreements within e.g. a municipality, deviating from national standards. Example of the indicator “persons in need of care”: If more than 300 people per 10.000 inhabitants need care, it is scored as unacceptable on national standard. But if a municipality decided to invest in health care to attract people in need of care, also to provide jobs, a high number of these people is wished. In such a case the norms have to be changed. Another possibility would be to put a low weight on this indicator not to falsify sustainability achievements (see also further below).

Applying this assessment method, each actual indicator score is expressed as a percentage of the sustainability goal achieved.

Following, a total score for each stock is determined by adding the weighted scores from the indicators involved. If there are 4 indicators of a stock and all are weighted equally, each indicator has a weight of 25%. Depending on the agreements and strengths and weaknesses of a municipality, one indicator can be weighted with 40% and the 3 others with 20% each. Important is that the weighting of the indicators of a stock sums up to 100%.

Example of the indicator NOx emissions. The data is collected on Nuts 2 level and a single municipality has almost no influence to control the emissions on this Nuts 2 level. A Wadden Sea island or a municipality along the coast does have clean air conditions and region wide measured emissions do not mirror the real conditions. In this case, the weight of this indicator within the stock air will be calculated lower.

Indicator local aA possibility to visualize the results is to use the spider net presentation.

A – G are different stocks and the scores in percent are plotted from inside out. The outer circle has a value of 100%.

In a further step, the results of the stocks of a capital are added with equal weight to calculate the capital score. (Adding the results and then divided by the number of stocks)


Indicator local bThe results are presented with a triangle. The edges represent the 3 capitals economy, ecology and social-cultural.

The outer boundary of the triangle has a value of 100%. The inner colored triangle is the result of the sustainability calculations.

Finally, the three capitals are weighted equally to calculate the overall sustainability score for a municipality, expressed as the average percentage of the overall sustainability goal achievements (Adding the results of the capitals divided by three).


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