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Risk management and sustainable development: mutual lessons from approaches to the use of indicators

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Risk management and sustainable development are frameworks for studying and managing the environmental impacts of human actions; as such each requires indicators for monitoring, decision-making and communication. This paper compares the two frameworks as used in practice, and their experience of using indicators. Sustainable development is a systems-based concept with a long time horizon, a tendency to apply precaution in decisions, and a positive normative 'mission' (development). Risk management focuses on specific, linear chains of cause and effect over short time periods, is typically associated with cost-benefit decision-making, and concentrates on avoiding negative outcomes. However risk management is also potentially a tool for informing and implementing sustainability. Both risk and sustainability are multidimensional constructs which can be indicated in varied ways. The selection of indicators in both fields depends on technical (e.g. robustness, problem-orientation) and communicative criteria (e.g. truthfulness, informativeness, relevance, clarity and resonance). Lessons from risk indicators include a better understanding of communicative criteria such as resonance, and greater awareness of communication pitfalls. Sustainability indicators demonstrate the advantages of a participatory approach to selection for incorporating different values, echoing the experience of the US states' comparative risk assessment approach, as well as the need for a systematic perspective on problems leading to the use of multiple indicators. Risk management and sustainable development have much mutual relevance and could each benefit from more intensive exchange both generally, and regarding the use of indicators.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1999-07-01

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