Recycling, Statistics and GDP

In an article that mashes together two vital issues Wired News tells us about Nova Scotia's recycling program.

The article fascinates in two ways. Firstly, it reports on a study which shows that Nova Scotia's highly proactive recycling strategy saves the province between CAN$25-125 million each year. Good news in its own right, a traditional analysis would just have seen the cost in starting up a programme which recycles nearly 50% of all the province's waste.

The second theme in the article explores the growing use of alternative indicators to measure progress. GDP just doesn't have the nuance or breadth to properly reflect issues such as sustainability, voluntary work and the time wasted in commuting. The Genuine Progress Index (GPI) as used in the Nova Scotia report tries to integrate these softer factors into a numeric index. This kind of work is vital for pushing sustainability and quality of life up the agenda. As study co-author Sally Walker says “If there's no number associated with something, it's assumed to be zero.”