Center announces new “Environmental Impact Index” – accounting for the effects of trade on the sustainability of countries’ economies

July 1, 2019

Global sustainability cannot be achieved without addressing international consumption and production practices. This summer, the Center will introduce a new index of environmental impacts from economic activity, a project made possible by generous support by Center Advisory Board Members Roberta Gordon and Marshall Ruben. The goal of the project is to create metrics aggregated into a sustainability index, which will enable financial markets to achieve global sustainability goals. This index will give policymakers, corporations, and investors tools for tracking the progress of international sustainable consumption and production practices. The project is jointly conducted through the Center and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

As part of the effort to establish a global agenda on social, environmental, and economic development, the UN General Assembly established 17 Sustainable Development Goals. One of these goals is “responsible consumption and production”. This goal, unlike many of the others, does not have a structure for gathering data or metrics for tracking progress. The new index will change this by clarifying how the sustainability of consumption and production could and should be measured. The project builds on the Center’s expertise with the Environmental Performance Index, in which impacts are quantified, turned into metrics, condensed into a single score, and aggregated as a ranking of countries. The index will take a global perspective by including impacts of domestic economic activity as well as international impacts from traded goods and services, penalizing countries for outsourcing harmful environmental activities.

The newly developed index will serve as a performance management tool for policymakers, companies, and investors. For policymakers, it will be an impetus to recast policy priorities, business arrangements, and regulatory agendas based on a country’s index results. This index will also be instrumental to develop the next generation of metrics for multinational companies. It will empower large corporations to account for the environmental impact of their local operations as well as the risk embedded in their supply chains on the ground. And critically, the index will aid investors who seek to avoid or scrutinize portfolio holdings where environmental damages present a risk.

A critical step in global sustainability is the decoupling of environmental damage from growth and prosperity. The Center’s index of environmental impacts from economic activity will be a novel, interdisciplinary framework for measuring key sustainability considerations.

The project has been made possible with the generous support of Center Advisory Board Members Roberta Gordon and Marshall Ruben. Roberta Gordon is an attorney with Bryan Cave and has a lifelong interest in environmentalism. Marshall Ruben is President of HHH Properties Corporation, a real estate development company, and President of Ruben/Horan, P.C., a law firm in Hartford, Connecticut.