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Economic Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management: Theory versus Practice Open Access


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Adamowicz, Wiktor
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forest management
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The assessment of progress towards sustainability through the use of indicators has been the focus of many forest management and environmental agencies worldwide. Many countries have developed and report on their own set of \"Criteria and Indicators\" (C&I) and forest certification schemes almost always involve the use of indicators as measurements of sustainability. Most of these indicator schemes have 3 \"pillars\"; environmental, social and economic. That is, the sets of indicators include ecological indicators, social indicators and economic indicators. The implicit notion is that sustainability on these three azes will result in some form of overall sustainability. In the economics literature there has also been a significant amount of effort devoted to defining sustainability and developing ways to measure sustainability (e.g. Heal, 1999; Nordhaus and Kokkelenberg, 1999). The sustainability of forest resources, as a component of the set of resources and a contributor to economic activity has also been examined (e.g. Vincent, 2000; Vincent and Hartwick, 1997; Kristrom 2001 Ocited in Kristrom and Skanberg); Kristrom and Skanber, 2001). In most cases economist adopt the concept of adjusted economic accounts as measures of sustainability. Vincent (2001) illustrates that national green account measures (and genuine savings measures) provide a good indicator of future economic \"performance\" of a country. Forest accounts are one subset of natural resource accounts and it is generally accepted that forest accounts be incorporated with other accounts to construct overall measures of sustainability. The challenges associated with measuring timber outputs, non-timber outputs and outputs associated with ecological services (as well as depreciating or appreciating productive capacity in these sectors) are well recognized but the conceptual framework continues to be to assess sustainability in terms of net national wealth or net national product (Heal and Kristrom, 1998). Given the relative level of agreement in the economics discipline with the use of wealth or product based assessments of sustainability, why do the indicator systems employed by countries, certification schemes and other agencies not also employ such schemes? When one examines the criteria and indicators promoted by the Montreal process or the Helsinki process one finds a very different array of economic indicators and an array that is not well linked to the underlying ecological aspects of the situation. In this paper I provide an overview of indicator systems as currently applied in forest management. I contrast these indicators with those that are developed int he economic literature. It appears that the divergence between the types of indicators arises from different concepts of sustainability and/or definitions of welfare/well-being. In addition, it appears that while conceptual economic indicators focus on integrating ecological and economic information into single indicators, the practice criteria and indicators literature keeps these items separate. I offer some reasons for the difference between these sets of indicators that better integrate the economic science underlying indicators and the concerns being implicitly voiced in the development of indicator systems in use today.
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