May 31, 2007


The JFS Indicator Project -- Part 4: Sub-Indicators

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.57 (May 2007)


In the previous article, we summarized our efforts to review the linkages among our 20 categories of indicators, while conducting a general re-examination. Now, we would like to describe our selection of sub-indicators, one of the major achievements of the second stage of the JFS Indicator Project.

Headline Indicators and their Shortcomings

In the first stage of the project, we selected 20 headline indicators as symbolic of each of the 20 categories identified by dividing four major areas - Nature, Economy, Society and Human well-being - into five categories. The 20 headline indicators were intended as one way to visualize Japan's overall sustainability. We adopted this 20-indicator model for its simplicity, after studying sustainability indicators used in other countries. The use of 20 headline indicators has been one of the defining characteristics of JFS's model.

JFS's headline indicators
( Nature, Economy, Society, Human well-being )

However, there are two major shortcomings to having only one indicator for each category.

First, a single indicator is sometimes not comprehensive enough to measure sustainability in the relevant category. The "Safety" category in the area of "Society", for example, is represented by the headline indicator of "Incidence Rate for General Crimes (per 100,000 people)," meaning that safety is measured in terms of crime rates alone. Other factors such as traffic accidents and natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods remain outside the scope of evaluation. In this case, the headline indicator covers only a fraction of the essential factors in this category.

The second shortcoming is that having a single headline indicator could cause a significant difference in evaluation results should the original headline indicator be replaced with a different indicator. In the category of "Gender Minority," for example, the headline indicator of "Percentage of National Diet Seats Held by Women" has been used to measure the level of women's participation in social activities. Other possible indicators include the percentages of women attending college or of women attaining the rank of manager in private corporations. If the original headline indicator were replaced with one of these other indicators, this could cause a significant difference in the overall results.

Sub-Indicator Characteristics

To deal with these shortcomings, part of the project's second stage involved setting up several sub-indicators for each headline indicator.

Sub-indicators have one of the three following types of relationship with the headline indicator. They

  1. Complement the headline indicator by covering an area that the headline indicator does not cover,
  2. Elaborate further the content covered by the headline indicator,
  3. Serve to include both an outcome indicator and a process indicator.

Sub-categories of the first type attempt to deal with the issue of comprehensiveness, the first shortcoming noted above. The purpose of second type of sub-category is to reduce fluctuations caused by the replacement of original indicators, the second shortcoming noted above. The adoption of the third type of sub-category is based on our conclusion that measuring the process of progress in a particular category is just as important as measuring outcome. As most headline indicators are outcome indicators, we decided to add process indicators as potential sub-indicators.

For example, the "Percentage of People Satisfied with Their Present Lives" is an outcome indicator, while the "Percentage of People Owning Homes" is regarded as a process indicator because buying a home can be one of the processes for achieving satisfaction in life.

Selection of Sub-Indicators

In choosing sub-indicators, we tried to use basically the same selection standards used for headline indicators, while paying particular attention to the linkages among indicators and categories. First, JFS Indicator Project Team members discussed in workshops what kind of additional indicators were needed. Then, based on an investigation of statistical data bearing on potential new indicators, three to five sub-indicators were chosen for each category. Some examples:

(Headline indicator: Proportion of species in the Accipitridae Family in Danger of Extinction)

  • Number of endangered species (animals)
  • Number of wetlands designated for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites)
  • Percentage of natural vegetation
  • Budget for eco-friendly public works projects
  • Number of Asiatic black bears hunted or captured and disposed of

Global warming and climate change
(Headline indicator: Greenhouse Gas Emissions per capita)

  • Japan's total greenhouse gas emissions
  • Number of cars owned
  • Household electric power demand in total
  • Number of missing and dead from weather-related natural disasters
  • Deviation of mean annual temperature from the average

(Headline indicator: Calorie-Based Food Self-Sufficiency Ratio)

  • Production value-based food self-sufficiency ratio
  • Grain imports
  • Percent of food wasted
  • Agricultural worker population
  • Agricultural income per farm that sells its products

International cooperation
(Headline indicator: Aid as Percentage of Gross National Income (GNI))

  • Number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to international cooperation
  • Ratio of technical cooperation to total amount of Official Development Assistance (ODA)
  • Ratio of environmental ODA to total ODA
  • Sales of fair trade products, such as coffee and tea
  • Number of refugee status (certificates awarded by the Japanese government)

(Headline indicator: General Crime Incidence Rate (per 100,000 people))

  • Number of juvenile crimes (number of juveniles arrested)
  • Security awareness (Percent of people who feel that security in Japan has worsened in the last decade)
  • Number of traffic deaths
  • Ratio of urban areas with disaster-prevention problems

Academic Performance and Education
(Headline indicator: Academic achievement measured by Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD))

  • Percent of education-related expenditures in household budgets
  • Number of bullying cases
  • Percent of college and graduate school graduates
  • Number of alternative schools

Future Tasks

Our next task is to estimate practical figures for these sub-indicators and incorporate them into the results calculated for the first stage. In the next, third stage of the project, we plan to re-calculate Japan's national sustainability, shuffling and/or adding headline indicators and reviewing target values. We hope to include sub-indicator in these results.

We also plan to develop new indicators that will allow us to compare sustainability levels in Japan with other countries, and undertake such comparisons. In addition, we want to develop and promote the use of sustainability indicators not only for the entire country but also those appropriate for individual municipalities or companies.

With the aim of realizing a sustainable Japan, the JFS Indicator Project will continue its research into a sustainability vision and sustainability indicators, while publishing information on the project. We appreciate your continued support.

(By Hitofumi Yamanoshita, team leader of the second-stage JFS Indicator Project)