Available online at www.sciencedirect.com
Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000
1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Peer-review under responsibility of IEREK, International experts for Research Enrichment and Knowledge Exchange.
Urban Planning and Architecture Design for Sustainable Development, UPADSD 14- 16 October
Developing a sustainability indicator set for measuring green
Parisa Pakzada, Paul Osmonda*
aFaculty of Built Environm ent, UNSW, Sydney 2033, Australia
An urban ecosystem is a dynamic system. Therefore, regular monitoring through the use of measurable indicators will enable an
assessment of performance and effectiveness. This paper presents a conceptual framework to facilitate the development of an
inclusive model for the sustainability assessment of green infrastructure. The framework focuses on key interactions between
human health, ecosystem services and ecosystem health. This study reviews existing models for assessing green infrastructure
performance and evaluates these models via a range of selection criteria proposed by the authors based on literature review and
interviews with stakeholders. This enables derivation of a novel conceptual framework that identifies and brings together the
criteria and key indicators. This integrated framework may then be applied to develop a composite indicator-based assessment
model to measure and monitor performance of green infrastructure projects and support future studies.
© 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Peer-review under responsibility of IEREK, International experts for Research Enrichment and Knowledge Exchange.
Keywords: sustainable development; green infrastructure; urban ecosystem; sustainability indicators; conceptual framework
Urbanization is a dominant demographic trend and an important component of global land transformation. It is
predicted by the United Nations that cities will be saturated from the forecast population growth expected over the
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +61-4 22 891 804.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Parisa Pakzad/ Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000
next four decades (U.N., 2012). This will impose a tremendous ecological burden both locally and globally. The rate
of urbanization is directly correlated with increased production and consumption of goods, services and
infrastructure. This leads to greater land consumption, landscape fragmentation, biodiversity loss, the creation of
urban heat islands, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and the destruction of sensitive ecosystems. The outcomes
are a decrease in human health and well-being among other negative impacts on society, which interact with and are
exacerbated by climate change ( Tzoulas et al., 2007).
As a remedy to some of these negative consequences of urbanization, the installation of green infrastructure as
opposed to grey infrastructure is identified as an alternative nature-based and cost-effective solution for improving
the sustainability of the urban development. Grey or technical infrastructure refers to the facilities that support social
and economic production such as roads, sewerage treatment, water treatment systems, and electricity supply
networks (Van de pol, 2010, pp 17). Green infrastructure is described as an integrated network of natural and semi-
natural areas and features which deliver a variety of benefits to humans (Naumann et al., 2011). Green infrastructure
has become increasingly valued in a wide variety of settings from water purification to climate change adaptation
and mitigation. Green infrastructure potentially has lower capital, maintenance and operational costs, has fewer
negative impacts on the environment and it significantly reduces carbon emissions compared to grey infrastructure
(Benedict & McMahon, 2006; Lafortezza et al., 2013). Where grey infrastructure tends to be designed to perform
only single functions, green infrastructure networks serve multiple functions and provide a wide range of
engineering, environ mental and hu man services, known as ‘ecosystem services’ (Ely & P itman, 2014) . Ecosystem
services are defined as ‘the benefits people obtain from ecosystem s’ (MEA, 2005). In this context, integrated
networks of green spaces at city scale, or green infrastructure, are seen increasingly as fundamental to the delivery
of ecosystem services for human and environmental health.
The ability to assess and regulate the sustainability performance of the built and natural environments, based on
measurable criteria at a variety of temporal and spatial scales is critical for sustainable urban development. A range
of models that assess the performance of specific aspects and elements specially related to green infrastructure have
been developed in response. However, there is no consensus on a model that is comprehensive and integrative
across all types and aspects of green infrastructure and ecosystem services.
The purpose of this study is to critically examine the existing frameworks for urban sustainability indicators and
to compare the existing green infrastructure conceptual models. This will lead to an outcome that proposes a new
framework to facilitate the process of selecting green infrastructure performance indicators to best reflect the
comprehensive and integrated function of green infrastructure.
2. Existing frameworks for assessing urban sustainability
Since the concept of sustainable development first became a major concern, a number of methods, frameworks
and tools have been developed to assess the state of, or changes to, urban areas in relation to sustainability
performance. The method mainly used to assess sustainability is indicator-based assessment, which has been applied
to many scientific fields from socio-economic science to environmental sciences. Comprehensive lists of urban
sustainability indicators have been developed by international and regional organizations, such as the European
Foundation (1998), the European Commission on Science, Research and Development (2000), the UN Hab itat
(2004), the European Commission on Energy Environment and Sustainable Development (2004), the United
Nations (2007) and the World Bank (2008).
In addition a number of composite sustainability indices have been developed more recently such as the
Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), the Environmental
Vulnerability Index (EVI), the Rio to Johannesburg Dashboard of Sustainability and the Wellbeing of Nations and
National Footprint Accounts (Ecological Footprint and Bio-capacity) (SEDAC, 2007).
The development and selection of urban sustainability indicators is a complex process. The most common
frameworks for selecting indicators is the Causal Network (CN) method. The CN framework is a combination of a
series of causal loops and feedback loops, such as the pressure–state–response (PSR) framework and its
transformations: the driving force–state–response (DSR) and the driving force–pressure–state–impact–response
Author name / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000 3
(DPSIR) (Niemeijer and Groot, 2008). The PSR was proposed by OECD (1993) and is based on the pressure
indicators that explain the problems caused by human activities, state indicators that monitor the physical, chemical
and biological quality of environment and response indicators that indicate how society responds to environmental
changes and concerns (Segnestam, 2002).
The European Environ ment Agency (EEA) extended the PSR frame wor k to ‘Driving force -Pressure-State-
Impact-Response’ (DPSIR) which is now the most internationally recognized framework. The ‘Driving force’
indicators underlie the causes (economic sectors and human activities) through ‘Press ures ’ (waste, e missions) to
‘States ’ (physical, chemica l and biological), and ‘Impact’ indicators which expres s the level of environmental harm
to human health, ecosystem health and functionality. Ultimately, the setting of indicators, targets and prioritizations
are politica l ‘respons es’ to these environmental proble ms. These causal networks exp lain the balanced interaction
between human activities and natural resources which demonstrate the sustainability level of urban development.
Sustainability assessment provides a fundamental approach to the efficient use of natural resources while adapting to
human activities and demands hence provides an essential tool to understand the physical and natural characteristics
of urban area and settlements activities in terms of their potential, weaknesses and risks in the urban planning
process (Lein, 2003).
Implementing the green infrastructure concept into the urban planning process has important influence s. It can
increase the resilience of ecosystems, contribute to biodiversity conservation and habitat enhancement and relieve
pressures on the environment such as land use change and intensification, fragmentation and climate change
resulting from human activities. Figure 1 demonstrates the DPSIR framework of the linkages between human
activities and green infrastructure performance. This framework helps to clarify the complex relationship between
cause and effect variables as well as understanding the issues that change the performance of green infrastructure
and identifying potential solutions. For example, connectivity is a key principle of green infrastructure. Any human
activities such as deforestation and land degradation that change the structure of GI will result in increasing the
percentage of impervious surfaces and consequently disturbing ecosystem functions and the overall impact on the
heath of ecosystem and human.
Figure 1 DPSIR framework of linkage between human activities and green infrastructure performance (Source author).
4 Parisa Pakzad/ Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000
3. Existing green infrastructure conceptual models
Numerous social science research models address the environmental effects on human mental and physical health
(Table 1). The clear consensus is that green open space and biodiversity contribute positively to improving mental
and physical health for urban residents.
Pickett et al. (1997; 2001) proposed an integrated human ecosystem framework for analyzing urban systems in
relation to their social, biological and physical aspects. The two interconnected parts of this framework are: (1) The
human-social system, which includes social institutions and cycles; (2) The resource system, wh ich consists of
cultural and socio-economic resources, and ecosystem structure and processes. Grimm et al. (2000) revised Pickett’s
human ecosystem framework based on outcomes of land use and land cover changes on the interactions between
social and ecological systems. Even though these two models help to explain the concept of green infrastructure in
general, they do not clearly address the relationships between ecosystems and public health (Tzoulas et al., 2007).
Another integrated frame wor k na med the “arch of health” was developed by the W orld Health Organisation
(WHO, 1998). This model illustrates the environmental, cultural, socio-economic, working and living conditions,
community, lifestyle and hereditary factors of public health. Paton et al. (2005) comb ined the “arch of health” model
with developmental principles (social, environmental, organisational and personal factors) and systems theory to
enhance application within organizations.
In 2003, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment body established a framework for assessing global ecosystem
changes and their impacts on human and ecosystem health. This framework links ecosystem services and human
wellbeing through socio-economic factors. Ecosystem services were classified into four categories: provisioning,
regulating, supporting and cultural; and human well-being was classified into five categories: security, access to
basic resources, health, good social relations and freedom of choice (MEA, 2003,pp 78). Even though this
framework is very broad and includes many parameters, it does not ‘explicitly distinguish between the biological,
psychological and epidemiological aspects of health’ (Tzoulas et al., 2007, pp 21).
A comprehensive and complex model developed by Van Kamp et al (2003) synthesized various factors that
affect the quality of life including personal, social, cultural, co mmunity, natural environment and built environment
as well as economic factors. However, the interrelationships between these factors were not clear. Tzoulas et al.
(2007) proposed a framework for green infrastructure in urban areas that provided the ground for linking ecological
concepts such as ecosystem health to social concepts such as individual or community health. On this basis,
Lafortezza et al. (2013) described a framework for green infrastructure planning with five interlinked conceptual
components: (1) ecosystem services; (2) biodiversity; (3) social and territorial cohesion; (4) sustainable
development, and (5) human well-being. In 2010 Abraham et al. conducted a scoping study reviewing over 120
studies examining the health-promoting aspects of natural and designed landscapes. The authors identified three
dimensions of human health linked to Green Infrastructure: (1) Mental well-being: landscape as a restorative
environment; (2) Physical well-being: walkable landscapes; (3) Social well-being: landscape as a bonding structure.
Table-1 summarizes the most recent frameworks which link ecosystem and human health.
Table 1 Models and theories linking ecosystem and human health aspects (Source: Tzoulas 2007; revised by author).
Green infrastructure aspect
Human health aspect
Model of Environmental
Effects on Mental and
Physical, social and cultural factors
Nervous system and illness
Psychosocial Stress and
Physical poor environment
Chronic anxiety, chronic
stress and high
Pickett et al. (1997,
Grimm et al. (2000)
Ecosystem structure and processes and
cultural and socio-economic resources
Author name / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000 5
Arch of Health
Environmental, cultural, socio-
Working and living
community, lifestyle and
Pat on et al. (2005)
Healthy living and working
Environmental, cultural, socio-
Living and working
Links between ecosystem
services and human well-
Provisioning, ecosystem services,
regulating and cultural
Security, basic resources,
relationships, and freedom of
Macint yre et al. (2002)
Framework based on basic
Air, water, food, infectious diseases,
wast e disposal, pollution
Health and human needs
social, and spiritual)
van Kamp et al. (2003)
Domains of liveability and
quality of life
Natural environment, natural resources,
landscapes, flora and fauna, green areas
Health all aspects (physical,
Life support system and
high-quality natural environment
(environmental capacity), Managing
surface waters ; biodiversity; climate
travel mode and impacts on
human health and wellbeing);
productivity (Sustaining jobs )
Tzoulas et al. (2007)
and Austin (2014)
and human health.
Ecosystem services and functions (air
and water purification, climate and
radiation regulation, etc.) and
ecosystem health (air quality, soil
physical and psychological
Abraham et al. (2010)
Human health and
wellbeing benefits of green
Aesthetically appealing rural green,
environmental aspects (air quality and
noise reduction), Biophilia, restorative,
social and cultural interactions
Physical, psychological and
social health and wellbeing
4. Developing a conceptual framework
The DPSIR framework (Figure 1) conceptualizes the interaction between human activities and green
infrastructure structure and performance. This framework provides the basis to establish a composite indicator-based
model for assessing green infrastructure performance (Figure 2).Frequently in green infrastructure literature, the
concept of ecosystem services is adopted to replace and explain the functions and benefits of green infrastructure
from the global to the local scales (Tzoulas, 2007; Mazza et al., 2011; Lovell et al., 2013; Austin, 2014; Hansen et
al., 2014; Ely & Pitman, 2014). The co mbination of both green infrastructure and ecosystem services theories into a
unified framework seems promising.
Figure 2 demonstrates the links between human health and wellbeing, ecos ystem health and ecosystem services.
This model respects both philosophical anthropocentrism and ecocentrism. The link between these three systems is
very clear. A healthy ecosystem within a green infrastructure environment has the ability to increase the delivery of
ecological and cultural services to improve human health and wellbeing at both individual and community scales.
This conceptual framework proposed in figure 2 helps to identify relevant indicators for assessing the performance
of green infrastructure.
6 Parisa Pakzad/ Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000
Figure 2 Conceptual framework of green infrastructure proposed by the author, derived from the integration of the approaches set out in Table 1
and the DPSIR framework in Figure 1.
5. Performance indicators of green infrastructure
Indicators reduce the complexity of data, simplify interpretations and assessments and facilitate communication
between experts and non-experts (Segnestam, 2002). Therefore, indicators can be used to highlight key informat ion
concerning ecosystem structure, function and services.
Ely and Pitman (2014) tabulate the ecosystem services that can be provided by green infrastructure based on the
“triple bottom line” of sustainable development, which represents the benefits of green infrastructure across the
categories of environmental, social and economic (Table 2).
Table 2 Ecosystem services that can be provided by green infrastructure (Source: Ely & Pitman 2014, p.28).
Temperature reduction (Shading; evapotranspiration)
Wind speed modification
Climate change mitigation
Carbon sequestration and storage
Avoided emissions (reduced energy use)
Air quality improvement
Water cycle modification
Flow control and flood reduction (Canopy interception; Soil infiltration and storage)
Water quality improvement
Waste decomposit ion and nutrient cycling.
Habitat and corridors
Productive agricultural land
Human health and well-
Social and psychological
Visual and aesthetic
Increased property values
Author name / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000 7
Value of ecosystem services
However, Austin (2014) explained the contribution of green infrastructure to ecosystem services by
demonstrating the interlinkages between ecosystem health and human health and wellbeing through the framework
proposed by Tzoulas et al. (2007). This framework has been further developed by the author by adding the natural
processes (energy, carbon, water etc.) as supporting functions and fundamental elements in providing services to
humans and nature (Table 3).
Table 3 Green infrastructure contributions to ecosystem and human health through ecosystem services. (Source: Noss and Cooperrider 1994;
Tzoulas et al. 2007 and Austin 2014 ; revised by author).
To derive a draft indicator set from the above conceptual model, a series of 21 semi-structured interviews were
conducted with Australian representative experts. Interviewees were asked to identify the main benefits of green
infrastructure. There was a strong recognition of the social and cultural role of green spaces in human health and
wellbeing, emphasizing that it:
is an imperative for national, regional and local policy regarding sustainable development
brings economic and health benefits
contributes to climate change mitigation and adaptation
can offset the negative environmental and social effects of development
improves the quality of life and the quality of place
Analyzing and coding the interviewees’ responses revealed nine major concepts and themes that were consistent
across all interviewees: These nine concepts can be classified into three categories: economic growth; environmental
sustainability; and health and wellbeing.
Concept 1: Climate change adaptation and mitigation
Concept 2: Human health and wellbeing
Concept 3: Healthy ecosystem
Concept 4: Biodiversity
Concept 5: Economic benefits
Concept 6: Alignment with political issues and city strategies
Concept 7: An active travel network
Concept 8: Water management
Concept 9: Food production
Based on the literature review and interviews, a set of 30 indictors in four categories including ecological
indicators, health indicators, socio-cultural indicators and economic indicators has been proposed (Table 4).
8 Parisa Pakzad/ Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000
According to DSE (2007) sustainability assessment is ‘a generic term for a method ology that aims to assist
decision making by identifying, measuring and comparing the social, economic and environmental implications of a
project, program, or policy option’ (DSE, 2007,pp1). Green infrastructure performance indicators play an important
role in successfully achieving the urban sustainability targets. They can be used for the proposing new sustainable
urban development plans and for improving the decision-making process based on the pre-established benchmarks.
This will allow the comparison of different practices and facilitate the identification of best practices among various
urban development scenarios.
This paper has proposed a conceptual framework which links green infrastructure performance into ecosystem
services, ecosystem health and human health and wellbeing. This framework (Figure 2) provides a conceptual basis
to establish a composite indicator-based model for assessing green infrastructure sustainability performance, which
are identified in Table 4. These 30 indicators have been selected (as shown in table 4) based on literature review and
semi-structure interview with 21 stakeholders in Australia. The proposed variables or the indicators are both
qualitative and quantitative
This research is essentially exploratory; the development of GI sustainability performance indicators, which in
future studies further investigation, is required in terms of the scale and applicability of these indicators in various
GI typologies, and also assigning weight to indicators based on the stakeholders’ perspective.
Table 4 Proposed green infrastructure performance indicator set
Climate a nd microclimatic modifications
(e.g. Urban Heat Island effect mitigation;
temperat ure modera tion through
evapotranspiration a nd shading; wind
speed modific ation)
Regula tion of solar radiation
(Armson et al., 2012; Picot,
200 4; Streiling & Matzarakis,
200 3; Akbari et al., 2001 )
Loweri ng air temperature
thro ugh evapotranspirati on
(Heidt & Neef, 2008; Rosenfel d
et al., 1998)
(Duryea et al., 1996)
Air qual ity improvement (e.g. Pollutant
removal; Avoided emissions)
(CNT 201 0; Nowak et al. 2006)
Carbon Emissions (e.g. direct carbon
sequestrati on and storage; avoided
greenhouse gas emissi ons through
Direct carbon st orage an d
(CNT 201 0; Nowak & Crane,
Cont rolling carbon dioxi de
emissions by cooling effect
(CNT 201 0; Akbari, 2002)
Reduc ed building e nergy use for heating
and cooling (through e.g. shading by
trees; covering building by green roof and
green wall s)
(Akbari & Taha, 1992)
Hydrological regulation (e.g . flow c ontrol
and floo d reduction; regulation of water
qual ity; water purification)
Regula tion of water quality
(Sanders, 198 6)
Increased rainwater retenti on
and floo ding
(CNT 201 0; Xiao et al., 2 000;
Grimmond et al., 1994)
Improve d soil quality a nd Erosion
preve ntion (e.g. soil fertility; soil
(McKinney, 2006; Zhu & Carreiro 2004 )
Was te decomposition and nutri ent
(Astbury and Rogers 2004)
Author name / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000 9
Nois e level attenuation
(CNT 201 0; Islam et al., 2 012; Nett le 2 009)
Biodi versity-protection and
enha ncement (e.g. Communities;
species; genetic resources; habitats)
(Adams, 1994 )
Improvi ng physical well-being ( e.g.
physic al outdoor activity; healthy food;
healthy environments )
(Schip perijn et al., 20 13; Li et al., 2011; Kent, Thompson et al. 2011;;
Abraham et al. 2 010;; Wilbur et al. 20 02; Ulrich, 1984)
Improvi ng social wel l-being (e.g. social
interaction; social integration ;
community cohesi on)
(Peschardt et al., 201 2; Wood et al. 2010; Maller et al.
200 6;Frumkin et al. 2004)
Improvi ng mental well-being (e.g.
reduced depression a nd anxiety; recovery
from stress; attention restoration;
Reduction of mental fatigue
(Arnberger & Eder, 2012; K uo &
Sull ivan, 2001; Kap lan & Kaplan,
Emotional and spiritual benefits
(Abraham et al. 2010; Milligan
and Bin gley 2007; Chiesu ra,
Food production (e.g. urban agric ulture;
kitchen gardens; edible landscape and
(Clark & Nic holas, 2013)
Opportunities for recreat ion, tourism and
social interaction (community li vabili ty)
(Gobster & Westphal, 2004; Nowak et al., 2001)
Improvi ng pedestrian ways and their
(e.g. increasing safety; quality of path;
connectivity and linkage with other
(Turrell 2010; Leslie et al. 2005; Titze et al. 2005)
Improvi ng accessibi lity
(Rundle et al. 2013)
Provision of outdoor sites for educati on
(McDonnell et al., 1997)
Reduc tion of crimes and fear of crime
(comfort ; amenity and safety)
(Kuo & Sull ivan, 2001)
Attac hment to place and sense of
belonging (cultural and symb oli c value)
(Kent, Thompson et al. 2011; Cohen et al. 200 8)
Enhanc ing attractiveness of cities (e.g.
enhancing desirable views; restricting
undesirable views )
Incre ased property values
(Donova n & Butry 20 10; Shoup and Ewi ng 2010)
Grea ter local economic activity (e.g.
tour ism, recreation, cultural activities)
(Wolf, 200 4 ; McPh erson & Simpson, 2002)
Hea lthcare cost savings
(Shoup and Ewing 2010; Bauman et al 2008)
Economic benefits of provision services
(e.g. raw materi als; timber; food
prod ucts; biofuels; medicinal products;
fresh water etc.)
(Baines, 200 0)
Value of avoided CO2 emissions a nd
(CNT 201 0; Scott et al., 1 998)
Value of avoided energy consumption
(e.g. reduced demands for cooling and
(CNT 201 0; Akbari & Taha, 1 992)
10 Parisa Pakzad/ Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 00 (2016) 000–000
Value of air pollutant removal/avoidance
(McPherson et al., 1999)
Value of avoided grey infrastructure
des ign(construction and management
(CNT 201 0; Girling & Kellett, 2 002)
Value of reduced flood damage
(Wong 20 11; CNT 2010; Xiao et al ., 200 0)
Reduc ing cost of using private car by
increasing walki ng a nd cycling (e .g.
shi fting travel mode)
(McPherson & Muchnick, 200 5)
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