I came across a few cool projects today that made me wonder when we’ll have a currency for sustainability. I’ve written a bunch about how our conceptualization of “money” and “currency” is being expanded as we find new ways to measure and make transparent aspects of wealth that were previously hidden. For example, services like PeerIndex and Klout seek to measure influence, authority, trust, and how well your message resonates with an audience, hence establishing online reputation currencies.I’ve also read before about the weakness of GDP in determining the actual health or wealth of a nation, as it misses out on major indicators of human and environmental well-being – which are arguably more important than the measurement of consumption. Other systems have been proposed, like the Genuine progress indicator (GPI), which attempts to measure whether a country’s growth have actually resulted in the improvement in the well-being of the country’s people.Another fun one is Gross National Happiness (GNH), which attempts to measure quality of life or social progress in a more holistic way, focusing on sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance. This idea was further fleshed out a few years ago as follows (from Wikipedia):

  1. Economic Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of economic metrics such as consumer debt, average income to consumer price index ratio and income distribution
  2. Environmental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of environmental metrics such as pollution, noise and traffic
  3. Physical Wellness: Indicated via statistical measurement of physical health metrics such as severe illnesses
  4. Mental Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of mental health metrics such as usage of antidepressants and rise or decline of psychotherapy patients
  5. Workplace Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of labor metrics such as jobless claims, job change, workplace complaints and lawsuits
  6. Social Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of social metrics such as discrimination, safety, divorce rates, complaints of domestic conflicts and family lawsuits, public lawsuits, crime rates
  7. Political Wellness: Indicated via direct survey and statistical measurement of political metrics such as the quality of local democracy, individual freedom, and foreign conflicts.
So how do you begin to get these metrics?Today my pondering was specifically around sustainability, after reading a post on our Next Net google group by Robert Steele, suggesting we needed some time of global database that would reveal “true cost” of products and services. He pointed out a cool Kickstarter project (which sadly didn’t get funding) called Data-Hacking the Cotton TShirt: True Cost, which attempted to bring attention to what really goes into that white tee. The project owner envisioned a day when all products and services would be labeled with the costs to produce them.

Reading through that project’s wiki led me to discover a lot of interesting resourcesfor other projects working to define the true cost of things. A few of note:How Stuff Is Made project at NYU – a “visual encyclopedia documenting the manufacturing processes, labor conditions and environmental accounts of contemporary products.”
The Cheeseburger Footprint project by futurist Jamais Cascio – an exercise in determining the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger
The Story of Stuff project – great 20 minute video exploring the underside of our production and consumption patterns.
Sourcemap project – open source platform for mapping the carbon footprint of a product and learning about its supply chain.
Project Label – striving to raise corporate social responsbility by creating people-powered “social nutrion label” so consumers can make more informed decisions when choosing between product A or product B
With all these great initiatives out there, it seems only a matter of time before these things gain traction and a series of metrics is developed to assess the true costs of the products and services out there, and to know who’s exploiting the system (the planet’s resources and its people). These scores will essentially be currencies, which will be displayed to gain business and customer loyalty. When this information becomes more available, hopefully it will lead to more intelligent and responsible decision making on the consumer side of which businesses to support, or not.
It’s exciting to think about, as I was just invited recently to serve as an Advisor for the Earth Dashboard Project, an interactive multimedia installation of key global indicators that’s set to premier at the United Nations Headquarters in NYC, so my head is buzzing with the possibilities. I can imagine a combination of global streaming metrics, real-time updates on the supply chain side, combined with the social layer of sentiment powered by something like Facebook….. giving us a global snapshot of the state of the planet at any time. Big vision, I know. 🙂

other bits:

51 Great Sites for Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability