Sustainability indicators for Australia

Sustainability indicators for Australia

Sustainability requires that the wellbeing of society - the combination of community liveability, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity - is maintained or improved over time. Measuring sustainability is about monitoring how each of these is tracking over time. Put another way, it is about measuring our stocks of social and human, natural and economic 'capital' and ensuring that the resources inherited by future generations allow for the same (or greater) levels of wellbeing as enjoyed by Australians today.

As part of the Measuring Sustainability program, the Australian Government has developed a set of sustainability indicators for Australia that will provide information about our:

  • social and human capital (skills and education; health; employment; security; institutions, governance and community engagement)
  • natural capital (climate and atmosphere; land, ecosystems and biodiversity; natural resources; water; waste)
  • economic capital (wealth and income; housing; transport and infrastructure; productivity and innovation).

The sustainability indicators have been designed to reflect both stocks (quantity and quality of resources) and flows (uses or drivers of change in stocks) of social and human, natural and economic capital.

Development of the sustainability indicators for Australia

The development of broader-based and more effective measures of progress and sustainability is a subject of considerable and growing effort, both domestically and internationally. For example, the United Nations, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and several other countries have significant programs underway. A number of community and local government organisations in Australia are also active in this area.

The development of Australia's sustainability indicators has taken into account domestic and international best practice, and has included consultation with state and local governments, academic and research institutions, business and industry, and non-government and community organisations.

National level data can mask important differences in the way sustainability issues play out in different communities. However, there are often constraints around the availability of data at more local levels. The sustainability indicators will provide information at the most appropriate level according to the available data.

Set of sustainability indicators for Australia

The set of sustainability indicators for Australia comprises:

  • headline indicators, divided into themes, to provide information on key sustainability issues
  • supplementary indicators for each theme, to provide additional information and support a more detailed understanding of the issues represented in the headline indicators
  • cross-cutting, contextual indicators covering key demographic information.

The set of sustainability indicators for Australia (headline and supplementary) consists of the following:

Type of Capital Theme Indicator*
Social and Human Capital Skills and Education icon

Skills and Education

Educational attainment
Primary education (literacy and numeracy)
Early development
Research and development
Health icon


Self-reported physical health
Life expectancy
Mental health
Institutions, Governance and Community Engagement icon

Institutions, Governance and Community Engagement

Level of trust in core institutions
Cultural activity attendance
Participation in sport
Community engagement by persons with a disability
Employment icon


Hours worked
Employment to population ratio
Security icon


Feelings of safety
Incidence of personal crime
Incidence of household crime
Natural Capital Climate and Atmosphere icon

Climate and Atmosphere

Air quality
Greenhouse gas emissions
Observed climate change
Energy intensity
Carbon stored in the landscape
Land, Ecosystems and Biodiversity icon

Land, Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Extent of native vegetation
Ground cover
Ecosystem protection (protected areas)
Water icon


Water quality
Water consumption
Water availability to meet demand
Waste icon


Waste disposed to landfill
Recycling rate
Natural Resources icon

Natural Resources

Fish stocks
Timber resources
Mineral and fossil fuel reserves
Economic Capital Wealth and Income icon

Wealth and Income

Household net worth
Income disparity
Financial stress
Housing icon


Housing supply
Housing affordability
Transport and Infrastructure icon

Transport and Infrastructure

Vehicle and passenger kilometres travelled
Travel time to work
Mode of transport to work
Broadband internet connections
Productivity and Innovation icon

Productivity and Innovation

Business innovation

* - bold denotes a headline indicator.

The contextual indicators covering key demographic information are:

Topic Indicator
Population Population size
Population density
Gender and age profile
Cultural Diversity Proficiency in spoken English
Indigenous population
Country of birth
Regional Migration International migration
Domestic migration
Land Use Land use change