April 30, 2007


The JFS Indicator Project -- Part 3: Linkages of Indicators and Categories

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.56 (April 2007)


In the previous article, we introduced the review we undertook of our vision of sustainability. This article summarizes a process of evaluation conducted in the second stage of the JFS Indicator Project that looked at the connections between the categories and indicators selected in the first stage of the project.

Four Areas Divided into 5 Categories Each

In the first stage, project members selected four areas - Nature, Economy, Society and Human well-being - as relevant for gauging progress toward sustainability. Each area was divided into 5 categories each, with a headline indicator for each category. (Sub-indicators were also selected, and will be considered in a future article.) Thus, 20 main categories represented by one headline indicator were chosen as key factors for ensuring Japan's sustainability. We recognize that there are also many other sustainability-related factors not covered by these 20 categories, some of which were introduced in last month's article in a discussion of the original vision.

Each paragraph of the vision read separately might lead to an interpretation that they can be considered independently of one another. But we think that these four areas are all connected with one another, and that a comprehensive consideration of all the areas, and all the elements represented by the indicators, is needed to give us the big picture of a "sustainable Japan."

One example is the relationship between Nature and Economy. Although most people around the world once thought that it will be impossible to achieve both economic growth and environmental protection at the same time, a growing number of people are beginning to believe that both Nature and Economy are essential for sustainability. It also goes without saying that we cannot think about sustainability without considering Society and Human well-being.

The 20 categories are also connected with each other. Some are directly linked to each other and some are linked to others via a third category, or via elements not represented by the 20 categories.

Objectives in Reviewing Linkages

One objective in examining the linkages among categories was to understand how and to what extent revisions are needed in each category, element, etc., to more comprehensively help push Japan toward sustainability. For example, we realized that in order to create a positive feedback mechanism between Nature and the Economy, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved resource productivity will be essential; this processes revealed the extent of revisions needed in these areas.

Another objective was to find new sustainability keywords through the process of reviewing linkages. For example, to promote "Security" such as regional crime prevention and "Civic participation" such as volunteer activities - both included in the original 20 categories - invigorating the "Community" is essential. Although we had discussed the concept of community in internal workshops, the process of examining links helped us identify it as an important keyword we had previously overlooked.

Types of linkages identified

While there are many types of links between indicators and many ways to categorize them, we chose the following four types (See note at the bottom of this article):

  1. Parallel Linkage
    When one indicator goes up or down, the other does the same.

  2. Inverse Linkage
    When one indicator goes up, the other indicator goes down (or vice versa).

  3. Direct Linkage
    The system group (see below) being measured by one indicator directly influences another system group being measured by the other indicator.

  4. Indirect Linkage
    The system group being measured by one indicator is influenced by another system group, which in turn influences the system group being measured by a second indicator. There can be multiple chains of indirect linkage.

Parallel and inverse linkages occur between two indicators that directly influence each other. Meanwhile, a "system group" is a linked group of several indicators or elements that are interrelated. Parallel and inverse linkages can lead to the creation of system groups, which in turn become linked directly or indirectly with each other, gradually creating a vision of an entire sustainable society.

System Groups

This time, we defined eight system groups, shown below, in order to focus on the linkages among the 20 categories, and examined which group(s) the 20 categories fall into. As you can see, some categories fell into multiple groups, that is, the categories are interlinked and interrelated in a complex manner.

Different people might create a different set of groups - we believe that these results are merely first step in a long process.

System Group 1: Natural Resource Sustainability
Categories linked: Biodiversity and forests; Water, soil and air; Resource cycling and waste; Resource productivity

System Group 2: Curbing Global Warming
Categories linked: Global warming and climate change; Energy; Resource cycling and waste; Mobility; Environmental education and systems

System Group 3: Environmental Protection and Agriculture
Categories linked: Biodiversity and forests; Water, soil and air; Food

System Group 4: Financial System Health
Categories linked: Finance; Money flow; Environmental education and systems

System Group 5: International Understanding
Categories linked: International cooperation; Food; Finance; Money flow; Gender and minorities; Tradition, culture and industry creation; Academic performance and education level

System Group 6: Technology and Intellectual Resources
Categories linked; Tradition, culture and industry creation; Academic performance and education level; Money flow; Finance

System Group 7: Quality of Life
Categories linked: Life satisfaction; Physical and mental health; Mobility; Education; Civil activities; Wealth gap

System Group 8: Community Revitalization
Categories linked: Security; Civil activities; Tradition, culture and industry creation


During the course of examining the interrelationships between categories during the second stage of the project, the JFS Indicators Team realized that the examination process itself is identical to the process of understanding that will be needed in order to realize a sustainable Japan as envisioned by the JFS vision. We did not specifically focus on the connections between the 20 categories during the first stage, and feel that the second stage re-examination process has brought us closer to visualizing a structure for a sustainable Japan. Our next challenge is to find what will be the leverage points - points where the application of only a small amount of force can change the whole picture drastically. We will study this carefully during the third stage.

In addition, we plan to examine the consistency of the indicator targets of all 20 categories based on the results of the second stage. For example, there is an interrelationship between the two categories, "Global warming and climate change" and "Energy." Energy is used to support our daily lives and economic activities, which in turn contribute to global warming and climate change. Whereas the target for the headline indicator for "Energy" is a 10 percent ratio of renewable and recycled energy in the total energy budget, the target for the headline indicator of "Global warming and climate change" is two tons of greenhouse gas emissions amount per capita per annum. We need to improve the accuracy and consistency of indicator targets for such closely-associated categories.

In the next issue, we will also report on the sub-indicators.

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

(Note) Reference: Townsville City Council Accelerated Sustainability Planning