The TH Köln index provides information on societies sustainability
How are people, nature and the economy doing around the world? The Sustainable Society Index of TH Köln – University of Applied Sciences has been answering this question for 213 nations based on 21 indicators since 2000. The index is freely available and is used in research and teaching, economic and political consulting.
Now the data for 2018 are available and reveal: While social and economic conditions have tended to improve for many people worldwide, the environment is suffering.
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In its analyses, the interdisciplinary research team from TH Köln draws on data inter alia from the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, the US Department of Energy, and the International Monetary Fund to construct 21 indicators - these include access to food and drinking water, income distribution, biodiversity, share of renewable energies or national debt. A score between 1 and 10 is determined for each indicator, with 1 corresponding to particularly poor and 10 being an excellent score for the respective indicator.
The state of the environment is deteriorating throughout the world
"We summarise the 21 indicators in seven categories, which in turn form the basis for our final three dimensions: Human Well-being, Environmental Well-being and Economic Well-being," says Prof. Dr Susann Kowalski from the Schmalenbach Institute of Economics at TH Köln. Germany, for example, ranks 20th out of 213 countries in terms of human well-being with 8.8 points - between the leader Bermuda with 9.7 and, at the bottom of the scale, Equatorial Guinea with 2.7.
While the well-being of people and that of the economy are often in tandem, the environmental and economic dimensions are usually in opposition, as the example of Germany shows: While the country is among the top 15 per cent, scoring 7.5 points when it comes to the economy, it ranks towards the bottom of the pack with 3.3 points and 147th place on environmental issues.
Globally, the state of the environment deteriorated from 4.7 to 4.4 between 2000 and 2018, hitting a low of 4.1 in 2013. This contrasts with gradual positive developments: The human well-being score has risen from 6.2 to 7.1. "In minimum basic services, countries have converged, which is first of all good news. Here we face the important task of adapting the indicators for human well-being along the lines of a current understanding of sustainability in order to continue to reflect major global differences in the future," says Prof. Dr Babette Brinkmann from the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences at TH Köln.
Fields of application
The SSI is used by the TH Köln team, among other things in consulting, research, and teaching: "Companies can, for example, monitor their procurement channels with regard to the new Supply Chain Law (Lieferkettengesetz) and assess the social, ecological and economic risks of their international activities," says Prof. Dr Wolfgang Veit from the Schmalenbach Institute of Economics at TH Köln.
The team also analyses how resilient societies are or what values people hold with regard to sustainability. Numerous student projects are also based on the data material. Last but not least, countries use the index - for instance the French Ministry of the Environment in a study on sustainability in France. Country comparisons and time series since 2000 can be found on the SSI website. Editable data is available on request.
The Sustainable Society Index was initiated by the Dutch Sustainable Society Foundation. In 2020, TH Köln assumed responsibility for the further development of, and support for, the project. The European Commission has had the index audited and included in its "Composite Indicators & Scoreboards Explorer". Since the data basis for individual indicators is sometimes only published by the responsible organisations after considerable delay, the complete index always comes out more than three years later. Preliminary data, however, for example for the year 2020, is already available on the SSI homepage.