Introduction to the special collection of papers on the San Luis Basin Sustainability Metrics Project: a methodology for evaluating regional sustainability

J Environ Manage. 2012 Nov 30:111:272-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.03.055. Epub 2012 May 4.


This paper introduces a collection of four articles describing the San Luis Basin Sustainability Metrics Project. The Project developed a methodology for evaluating regional sustainability. This introduction provides the necessary background information for the project, description of the region, overview of the methods, and summary of the results. Although there are a multitude of scientifically based sustainability metrics, many are data intensive, difficult to calculate, and fail to capture all aspects of a system. We wanted to see if we could develop an approach that decision-makers could use to understand if their system was moving toward or away from sustainability. The goal was to produce a scientifically defensible, but straightforward and inexpensive methodology to measure and monitor environmental quality within a regional system. We initiated an interdisciplinary pilot project in the San Luis Basin, south-central Colorado, to test the methodology. The objectives were: 1) determine the applicability of using existing datasets to estimate metrics of sustainability at a regional scale; 2) calculate metrics through time from 1980 to 2005; and 3) compare and contrast the results to determine if the system was moving toward or away from sustainability. The sustainability metrics, chosen to represent major components of the system, were: 1) Ecological Footprint to capture the impact and human burden on the system; 2) Green Net Regional Product to represent economic welfare; 3) Emergy to capture the quality-normalized flow of energy through the system; and 4) Fisher information to capture the overall dynamic order and to look for possible regime changes. The methodology, data, and results of each metric are presented in the remaining four papers of the special collection. Based on the results of each metric and our criteria for understanding the sustainability trends, we find that the San Luis Basin is moving away from sustainability. Although we understand there are strengths and limitations of the methodology, we argue that each metric identifies changes to major components of the system.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Carbon Footprint
  • Colorado
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Decision Making
  • Environment
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Time Factors