Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sustainable calculations

Last week saw not only the launch of Adam Werbach’s new book Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto, but also the launch of the Happy Planet Index 2.0. This report, from the London-based New Economics Foundation (NEF), commenced in 2006 with the goal of showing that “good lives don’t have to cost the Earth”. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) measures two sets of data: the well-being of our lives and our rate of resource consumption. In other words, this dovetails with the inspirational dream of Saatchi & Saatchi S: “To build a global movement of happy people living on a healthy planet”.

The index is not a ranking of the happiest countries in the world. It crunches known data on life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth, and ecological footprint per capita. NEF’s goal in doing so is to challenge the usual metrics of development, such as GDP and the Human Development Index. And they surely succeed on that front – no first world country is in the top ten ranked countries. Instead, the top three are from Central America/Caribbean: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. Some of these rankings will surprise you because countries with mediocre well-being but very low environmental impact, like Vietnam, place ahead of those with higher environmental impact. New Zealand came in at 103rd just ahead of Belarus. The United States ranked 114th out of 143, below the Congo, while Tanzania, Botswana, and Zimbabwe ranked at the very bottom.

We could argue endlessly over the leaderboard, but what’s useful is rethinking what constitutes a happy and healthy society. Contrast this index with the one recently put out by Monocle magazine on the top 25 most livable cities. The top three spots were won by cities you might expect: Zurich, Copenhagen, and Tokyo. None of these cities are in countries within the top 50 of the Happy Planet Index.

The Happy Planet Index is more than just an exercise in research. Their website lays out a manifesto for a happier planet with these recommendations:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Improve healthcare
  3. Relieve debt
  4. Shift values (to promote social interaction and a sense of relatedness)
  5. Support meaningful lives
  6. Empower people and promote good governance
  7. Identify environmental limits and design economic policy to work within them
  8. Design systems for sustainable consumption and production.
  9. Work to tackle climate change
  10. Measure what matters
Good food for thought. All of us will have different ideas on how to get there, but we can all agree that our goal is “happy people living in a healthy planet”.

Read the full report, add your ideas, sign the Happy Planet Charter, or calculate your own HPI at