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Urban and Sub-National Applications

Demand for Smart-Scaling the EPI

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) provides cross-country comparisons by measuring environmental performance at the national scale. While assessment at this scale is important, it does not always account for the variations of environmental quality and performance relevant to decision-makers at the regional, provincial, or city level. The EPI supports a number of efforts to respond to the demand for more fine-grained data.

We have developed sub-national EPIs tailored to local needs in several countries, including China, Haiti, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Sub-national EPIs use many of the same methods as the global EPI and can help countries identify priority issues, assess data gaps, and work toward the improved environmental monitoring and performance most relevant to their needs. For those interested in developing their own sub-national EPI, the step-by-step manual “Measuring Progress” is available for free download.

In addition to sub-national assessments, the EPI team is now working on applying the EPI framework and methodology to the city scale. The aim is not to develop a new environmental performance index for cities, but to think critically about how performance indicators can leverage policy for improved environmental outcomes. The urban EPI work takes a holistic approach to understanding how environmental priorities link across urban sectors.

How does land use planning and transportation affect air quality and climate change? How can new sources of information, from satellites to low-cost sensors, help revolutionize the application of big data to improve ecosystem and human health in cities? How does wastewater treatment affect downstream ecosystems?

Ongoing Projects

Urban governance. The international sustainable development community is spotlighting cities as critical to addressing global environmental challenges like resource exploitation and climate change. The EPI team is researching how decisions regarding the environment and climate change are made in cities, in order to develop strategies for short- and long-term urban planning.

City peers and sustainable learning. No two cities are the same, but cities can be grouped by common characteristics, including geography, socioeconomic status, demographics, and the kinds of climate risks they face The EPI team is working to better understand how cities learn from one another in order to identify opportunities to shape or facilitate better policy diffusion and cross-city learning.

Civic science. There has been a surge of interest in civic, or citizen, science as an alternative source of information where data quality is poor or unavailable. The EPI team is working to test the policy applications of low-cost ground sensors for air and water quality in cities. We are hosting a workshop on civic science in spring 2015 at Yale. To get involved or suggest a speaker, please fill out this form.

Indicators in practice. There is a multiplicity of urban sustainability indices covering a wide range of environmental issues, including Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emissions, STAR Communities Index, and a round-up of city-level indices and indicator frameworks. The EPI team is developing a clearinghouse of these indices and measurement tools to better understand their scope, depth, and how they are applied in practice.

Research into action. To bridge academics, practitioners, and communities, the EPI team is participating in a number of international and national research and policy initiatives. These include Habitat III and the potential Urban Sustainable Development Goal, United Nations climate change negotiations (UNFCCC), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency environmental resilience indicators, and the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) research consortium. 

Outcomes and Outputs

-An Interactive Air Pollution Map, The Atlantic, 11 June 2014.

-India admits Delhi matched Beijing for air pollution threatening public health, The Guardian, 8 May 2014.

-Mobilize citizens to track sustainability, Nature, 30 March 2014.


The EPI urban work is part of several ongoing and developing partnerships with the Urbanization and Global Change Lab at Yale University under Professor Karen Seto, Yale - National University of Singapore (NUS) College, RICCR (Research Institute for Climate Change Response), World Resources Institute, Climate Disclosure Project, as well as the C40 Climate Leadership Group.

As the EPI team develops this body of work, we welcome your input and feedback. Please contact the Urban Research Fellow, Alisa Zomer ( // @azomer) for more information.


The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is constructed through the calculation and aggregation of 20 indicators reflecting national-level environmental data. These indicators are combined into nine issue categories, each of which fit under one of two overarching objectives. Click on "Learn More" to explore the complete methods.

Data Explorer

The EPI Data Explorer allows users to dynamically investigate global data: Compare environmental performance with GDP, population, land area, or other variables; create a chart that highlights all 178 ranked countries, only those in a specific region, or a custom-defined group. There's a lot more to the data than rankings, so dive in.