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Indicators in Practice

Feb 15, 2015

Canada’s Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI)

Screenshot of CESI’s interactive data explorer. http://maps-cartes.ec.gc.ca/indicators-indicateurs/default.aspx?mapId=17&lang=en

Canada's Environmental Sustainability Indicators (CESI) illustrate an example of how governments are choosing to communicate environmental progress through the use of data.

Scope: Canada

First Released: 2004

Intended Audience: the public, environmental managers, policymakers within Canada

Potential Application: Provide Canadians with indicators to track progress on the state of environment in Canada, and the progress of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy.

Developer: Environment Canada

Website: http://www.ec.gc.ca/indicateurs-indicators/default.asp?lang=En


Although Canada started designing national environmental indicators in 1991, the government has sought to continually improve them. The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy set out to make environmental decision-making and reporting more transparent and accountable. Included within this plan is the expansion of its environmental sustainability indicators (CESI) as a way of tracking progress for its Federal sustainable development strategy.

Indicators are organized in three thematic areas: Air and Climate, Water, and Nature. Included within these areas are measures of greenhouse gas emissions, particulate pollution levels, protected areas, and water quality, among others. From the dashboard, a user can select from these categories which national-level indicators to view. Many of the indicators have regional or provincial-level data, allowing for a user to explore more detailed sub-national data. In some cases, such as air quality indicators, the CESI provides international comparisons between select cities in Canada and internationally. An interactive map (see above image) allows for spatial exploration of where data and environmental indicators are monitored. 

What’s intriguing about the CESI is Environment Canada’s process of stakeholder engagement to improve the indicators’ content and presentation. When Environment Canada was charged in 2004 with the task of developing and presenting national environmental indicators, it started by consulting a range of actors, including external experts from abroad to provide input based on the experience of other countries. Members of the EPI team were included in the external review process for the most recent CESI.

Who the target audiences are and how the information can best be presented to reach those demographics are questions Environment Canada is asking to optimize the outreach potential of the CESI. With the rise of social media and growing Internet accessibility, CESI has the ability to reach more audiences than ever. Whether Environment Canada chooses to invest in infographics or more interactive presentations of its data depend on what the ultimate aim of the CESI is – to raise public awareness of Canada’s environmental performance, or to serve as primarily a tool for managers or decisionmakers within the government. This challenge illustrates a key design decision of any indicator suite or index (see Measuring Progress: A Practical Guide from the Developers of the EPI for more information).

As the CESI website states, indicators “are added and updated as new, high quality data become available,” which means that this space will be interesting to watch as developments unfold.