Sustainable Cities launches a paper on indicators for sustainability

How cities are monitoring and evaluating their success

The call for cities to engage in best practices for sustainable planning has increased. Sustainability is no longer a buzzword but a reality that must be addressed by cities all over the world.

Sustainable city planning is a relatively new concept that many cities have embraced. However, many still struggle combining or adapting their strategic plans to incorporate the sustainability aspects. Some cities have opted for having a new department for sustainability, whereas many others have decided to take a more holistic approach and integrate a strategic, sustainable plan for their cities.

Whatever the approach taken by a city is, the challenge still remains in translating those plans into tangible actions and setting up indicators that will reflect their progress towards success, considering the specific conditions and socio-cultural environment of the city.

With that in mind, we have done research in 12 cities across the globe to examine how they have established sustainability indicators to monitor the success of their sustainability plans. The paper reviews the methodologies or frameworks that these cities are using, outlines the indicators that each city is using and provides an analysis looking for commonalities and key findings that can support other cities that are in the same path.

In summary, we found that GHG emissions and the environmental aspects of sustainability are top priorities for most cities, on the other hand we found that indicators related to food issues (food security, access and use) were hardly addressed at all. We also found that projects that are more “visible” to the public take precedence, meaning infrastructure projects such as green space areas, roads, green buildings and bike paths. The paper also identifies that actions such as using backcasting in the planning process, creating public/private partnerships, institutionalizing the process and the plan, and engaging stakeholders were key success factors to advance and measure their sustainability planning efforts.

SCI would like to thank all the volunteers that were involved in producing this paper. We hope it will be a useful resource for your city. If you want to learn more about what SCI offers to support cities in their planning process or indicator setting process visit our website or contact Edna Aguiñaga ( or Pat Gordon (

This paper was made possible with financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).


Click here to download the document





About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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