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Resource wisdom indicators

Kuva: Lilli Linkola


Resource-wise cities reduce their emissions and consumption of natural resources, while enhancing the well-being of local residents. Resource wisdom will be monitored through four key indicators selected by Sitra in co-operation with the Finnish Environment Institute and the National Institute for Health and Welfare. These indicators will be used to promote the realisation of the resource wisdom principles in accordance with which a resource-wise city: 1) avoids generating climate emissions; 2) avoids generating waste; and 3) avoids overconsumption, but lives within the earth’s carrying capacity. These principles will enable the building of the foundations of ecologically, economically and socially sustainable well-being.

Indicator 1: Greenhouse gas emissions per resident

Principle: Zero climate emissions

  • A resource-wise city aims to minimise its climate emissions, or greenhouse gas emissions. The unit used for this indicator is the carbon dioxide equivalent per resident.

The indicator for consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions per resident describes the city’s progress towards carbon dioxide neutrality. This indicator monitors greenhouse gas emissions issuing from energy production and consumption, industrial processes, agriculture and waste management. In consumption-based emissions accounting, direct electricity, heating and fuel-based emissions are calculated on the basis of the energy consumed rather then that produced by a city. The most commonly used emissions accounting models at municipal level are KASVENER (greenhouse gas emission calculation model for municipalities) and the CO2 report, which can also be used to calculate this indicator. The raw data required for accounting is generally available. Monitoring of the indicator enables the detection of changes in the energy sector, in particular.

Monitoring the development of energy efficiency, on the other hand, assists in the monitoring of climate emissions. Energy efficiency should be enhanced as energy production shifts towards the use of renewable sources.

Indicator 2: Material loss in tonnes

Principle: zero waste

  • A resource-wise city aims to minimise the amount of waste placed in landfills, taken to incinerators or exported. The unit used for this indicator is one tonne.

The material loss indicator describes how well materials remain in circulation. This indicator takes account of both communal waste and industrial waste flows. Material losses are calculated based on three different material flows, which are then added up as mass units. These three material flows are waste flows into landfills, the incineration of waste (non-renewable materials) and the export of waste for final disposal. With respect to the incineration of waste, only non-renewable materials are taken into account, which means that the burning of bio-based materials (e.g. wood burning) is not included.  In the export of waste, the focus is on the level of waste flows exported from cities for final disposal. These flows are calculated in tonnes and summed up without weightings. It is therefore assumed that the various flows are of similar value. Such accounting is based on information collected by the municipality and the companies responsible for its waste management, and gathered from environmental administration waste databases. If accurate information is unavailable, the focus is on the largest waste flows in the first week.

If necessary, a broader image of a city’s material efficiency can be established when the accounting of material losses is extended to form a material balance sheet. In material balance sheet accounting, the Finnish Environment Institute recommends using the material flow indicator based on Raw Material Consumption, RMC. RMC reveals the amount of material consumed within the economy. This indicator is highly suitable for monitoring purposes, but is limited by its complicated accounting methods, including input–output analyses. The indicator is not suitable for accounting related to small economic entities, since no data is yet available on flows in or out of such entities. RMC reviews require the use of a larger entity, in order to ensure the availability of data. However, RMC is not itself a resource wisdom indicator.

Indicator 3:  Ecological footprint per resident

Principle: zero overconsumption

  • A resource-wise city aims to live within the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity. The unit used for this indicator is one global hectare (gha).

The ecological footprint gives a rough idea of how large an area of land and water is needed for the production of food, material and energy consumed in cities, the management of waste generated and the binding of carbon dioxide emissions. Ecological footprint accounting is conducted in accordance with the standards of the international accounting organisation, the Global Footprint Networking. The ecological footprint is expressed in global hectares. One global hectare refers to an area of one hectare (farmland and pasturage, forest, built land, waterways and land required for binding carbon dioxide emissions), the productivity of which equals the average productivity level of the earth.

Comparing the ecological footprint to the productive land area available for use (bio-capacity) provides an indication of whether the region is living within the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity. The ecological footprint is widely used as an indicator of sustainable development. Because applying such accounting at city level can be challenging in some respects, national coefficients are often used. It should be noted that the ecological footprint does not cover the depletion of non-renewable natural resources or the availability of water.

Monitoring of bio-capacity provides a picture of how well natural productivity is preserved in a region.  In every case, the ecological footprint is compared to the earth’s bio-capacity. Monitoring of local bio-capacity provides information on developments in a city’s land and forest resources. However, bio-capacity is not a resource wisdom indicator.

Indicator 4: Perceived well-being

Principle: yes to sustainable well-being

  • A resource-wise city aims to enable the economically, ecologically and socially sustainable well-being of its residents. The unit used for this indicator is the share of residents who perceive their quality of life to be good.

Development of well-being is monitored using the indicator on how large a share (%) of people perceive their quality of life to be good (WHOQOL-8). This indicator was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is based on a set of questions that measures four aspects of the respondent’s quality of life: the psychological, economic, physical and social quality of life, as well as the environment. For example, the survey examines the respondent’s quality of life and how satisfied the respondent is with his or her physical health, social relationships, conditions in the residential area and his or her financial situation. The National Institute for Health and Welfare collects well-being information from various regions and the largest cities, by means of ATH (regional health and welfare survey) and HYPA (The Well-being and Services of Finns) surveys. 

Naturally, in addition to these four indicators and the monitoring indicators supporting them (energy efficiency, bio-capacity and material balance sheet), it is important to monitor economic and employment indicators as a component of resource wisdom indicators.

Table 1: Summary of main resource wisdom indicators. The indicators have been selected to correspond to the principles of resource wisdom. The units and accounting instructions of the indicators are listed in the table.




Accounting instructions

Zero climate emissions

Consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions

t CO2 eqv/res

KASVENER or CO2 report

Zero waste

Material losses


flows into landfills + incineration of non-renewables + export of waste for final disposal

Zero overconsumption

Ecological footprint


Global Footprint Network’s instructions and presumptions

Sustainable well-being

Share of residents who perceive their quality of life to be at least good

% residents

The World Health Organization’s quality of life indicator, WHOQOL-8

(National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) survey)

Finnish Environment Institute: Resurssiviisauden johtamismallin indikaattorit (PDF) (In Finnish: “The indicators of the Governance Model of Resource Wisdom”)



Resource wisdom

The decrease in natural resources, population growth and climate change is forcing global societies to become more efficient and cut emissions. Wiser use of resources is now an asset in international competition.



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