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The global green economy: a review of concepts, definitions, measurement methodologies and their interactions


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Over the past decade, the green economy has emerged as an important policy framework for sustainable development in both developed and developing countries. It presents an attractive framework to deliver more resource efficient, lower carbon, less environmentally damaging, more socially inclusive societies. There are tensions between competing green economy discourses and a number of different definitions exist, all of which have major shortcomings. This is further complicated by the different underlying concepts of the ‘weak’, ‘transformational’ and ‘strong’ green economy. Several important definitions focus on the aspirational ‘transformational green economy’. To enable and to track this ‘transformation’, economic and environmental measurement is essential. Current approaches are still in development, lack available data or show inconsistencies with proposed definitions, and thus may neither support effective decision-making nor efforts to transform economies. This review identifies these current shortcomings and makes four overarching recommendations for improving measurement for green economy transformations, including cheaper, faster and more widely available data, and broader frameworks for measuring economy–society–environment interactions. We suggest that proper measurement of the green economy needs to move beyond GDP as the central measure of progress and to better track the ‘transformational green economy’. This will enable the green economy to become relevant again at national and international levels, given the emerging Sustainable Development Goals and post-COP 21 frameworks.
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The global green economy: a review of concepts,
definitions, measurement methodologies and
their interactions
Lucien Georgeson
, Mark Maslin
and Martyn Poessinouw
Over the past decade, the green economy has emerged as an important policy framework for sustainable
development in both developed and developing countries. It presents an attractive framework to deliver more
resource efficient, lower carbon, less environmentally damaging, more socially inclusive societies. There are
tensions between competing green economy discourses and a number of different definitions exist, all of which
have major shortcomings. This is further complicated by the different underlying concepts of the weak,
transformationaland stronggreen economy. Several important definitions focus on the aspirational
transformational green economy. To enable and to track this transformation, economic and environmental
measurement is essential. Current approaches are still in development, lack available data or show inconsistencies
with proposed definitions, and thus may neither support effective decision-making nor efforts to transform
economies. This review identifies these current shortcomings and makes four overarching recommendations for
improving measurement for green economy transformations, including cheaper, faster and more widely available
data, and broader frameworks for measuring economysocietyenvironment interactions. We suggest that proper
measurement of the green economy needs to move beyond GDP as the central measure of progress and to better
track the transformational green economy. This will enable the green economy to become relevant again at
national and international levels, given the emerging Sustainable Development Goals and post-COP 21
Key words green economy; green growth; sustainable development; policy assessment; measurement; indicators
Department of Geography, University College London, Pearson Building, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT
kMatrix Ltd, Greetham House, Greetham, Rutland LE15 7NF
Revised manuscript received 20 February 2017
Geo: Geography and Environment, 2017, 4 (1), e00036
It is widely accepted that only collective economic
adjustment on a global scale can avert the dangerous
consequences of environmental degradation and
climate change (Stern 2006). The concepts and
discourses of the green economy represent a radical
transition for more efficient, environmentally friendly
and resource-saving technologies to reduce emissions
and mitigate the effects of climate change (Jänicke
2012), and tackle resource depletion and serious
environmental degradation. Its discourses have
strategic merit in reframing a negative debate around
constraints into a positive one about opportunities
(Bowen and Fankhauser 2011). The green economy
concept also has the potential to ensure that, when
national, regional and international implementation
plans are designed, the Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs) and the post-2015 development agenda can
overcome inherent conflicts between the goals.
The green economy concept has gained popularity in
international, regional and national policy circles:
initially as a response to the financial crisis (Bina and
La Camera 2011), but also a motor for growth and
development. It is an operational policy agenda to
achieve measurable progress at the environment
economy nexus (Schmalensee 2012), as a pillarof
sustainable development implementation to lead the
The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical
Society (with IBG). ISSN 2054-4049 doi: 10.1002/geo2.36 © 2017 The Authors. Geo: Geography and Environment
published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd and the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
Open Access
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any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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transition to low carbon, green economies. As of today,
green economy concepts and frameworks have
influenced discourses and policy in many countries.
These include the UK, France and China with a greater
focus on growth (Bailey and Caprotti 2014), a number
of countries in Africa (such as Rwanda, Morocco,
Ethiopia, Senegal and South Africa) with emphasis on
its ability to deliver transformations that leapfrog
current high-pollution development paradigms (United
Nations Environment Programme 2015, hereafter
UNEP), and perhaps with a greater link to
socioeconomic challenges and resilience in the Asia-
Pacific region (United Nations Economic and Social
Commission for Asia and the Pacific et al. 2012,
hereafter UNESCAP). Green economy discourses are
also gaining traction in various sub-national
jurisdictions, such as the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil
(UNEP 2016). In its scale, the green economy is
becoming a significant part of the global economy;
revised estimates of global investment in clean energy
alone in 2015 suggest a figure of $348.5 billion
(Bloomberg New Energy Finance 2016a, hereafter
BNEF), with global investments between now and
2040 projected to be $7.8 trillion (BNEF 2016b).
Green economy frameworks and practices are highly
relevant to ongoing debates on the types of economic
and societal reorganisation necessary to achieve
environmental sustainability, emissions reductions,
social justice, and stable economies. For example, to
reduce global carbon emissions, radical changes in
energy policy are required. The International Energy
Agency (IEA) suggested that globally we only have until
2017 to shift to a 450 ppm CO
trajectory before the
lock-in effect of existing infrastructure would require
all investments made between 2020 and 2035 to be zero
emissions options (IEA 2007). This entails a
fundamental shift in resource use, which has not
previously been a significant factor in policy. Moreover,
progress towards achieving such transitions at national,
regional and international levels must be measured, so
future policies can be developed as required.
The SDGs, officially announced in September 2015,
create a new imperative for the green economy. Though
only partially successful, the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) established the principle that measuring
key indicators can improve our ability to tackle major
issues. With the SDGs, the process begins to deliver
significant positive changes by 2030. In negotiations,
green economy discourses had a lesser role than during
Rio+20; we suggest that it must be realigned as a major
part of SDG implementation. With this review, we seek
to create a new imperative for clarifying the aims of
green economy concepts and discourses, and
measurement of green economy practices.
A balanced framework for green economy actions
must be complemented by comprehensive, relevant
frameworks for measuring progress. Policies need
effective measurement and indicators can improve the
level of debate on the green economy and inform the
wider public (Vossenaar 2013). The Green Growth
Knowledge Platform (GGKP), an initiative of various
international organisations, noted the importance
of measuring green growth-related economic oppor-
tunities and transitions, and the assessment of
environment-related policy tools in the measurement
agenda (GGKP 2013). The United NationsSystem of
Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA), a global
effort to implement agreed accounting standards, states
that measuring the financial commitment of an
economy to environmental protection can evaluate the
influence of environmental protection costs on
international competitiveness (United Nations 2014b).
However, there are many examples of unintended
consequences of policy performance measurement
(Smith 1995; Bevan and Hood 2006; Fukuda-Parr
2014); therefore measurement and indicators should
be analysed in concert with green economy concepts
to understand whether they support or constrain efforts
to implement these visions.
The global green economy cannot be simply GDP
growth driven by a green stimulus, because GDP
growth containing some greennesscannot be proved
to deliver the necessary and urgent changes in resource
use, emissions and consumption patterns required to
negate environmental degradation, resource depletion
and climate change. However, the greeningof
economies is not necessarily a drag on growth
(Schmalensee 2012). The rapid pace of development
in emerging economies presents great opportunities
for green economy transitions. Sierra Leone aims
to transition to middle-income status based on a
green growthstrategy, envisaging the next five
years as the most transformative in its history
(African Development Bank 2014, hereafter AfDB).
Transformation emerges as an important term for the
green economy. In relation to adaptation, Pelling et al.
describe transformative actions as those that have the
reach to shift existing systems (and their component
structures, institutions and actor positions) onto
alternative development pathways(Pelling et al. 2014,
114). Such an understanding of transformation has
great relevance for framing green economy responses
to national and global challenges.
This review evaluates major international and
national efforts to define green economy concepts and,
uniquely, current efforts to measure the practices and
impacts of the green economy. Green economy concepts
have great potential for emerging sustainable
development discourses but could be side-lined by the
SDGs and the Paris Agreement. The review assesses
the development of green economy concepts and visions,
and the typologies of competing concepts. It proposes a
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realigned definition of the transformational green
economy. The review then explores key programmes
and standards relating to measuring the impacts and
practices of the green economy, how measurement
interacts with concepts and visions. Without effective
measurement, it will be difficult to assess policy efficacy,
define and measure the potentially transformative role
of green economy concepts in this new policy space, or
achieve green economy goals for sustainable
development and climate action. Finally, we make four
recommendations to improve measurement for green
economy transformations.
The development of the green economy
The aftermath of the 20089 global financial crisis
represented a perfect storm for the green economys
international rise; The combined forces of global
economic recession, humanly induced environmental
change and stark social inequalities have led to
international calls for a radical transformation of
current development practices and transitions towards
agreen economy(Davies 2013, 1285). However, the
concept itself first emerged with Pearce et al.s (1989)
Blueprint for a green economy for the UKs Department
for the Environment.
The green economys conceptual foundation
recognises that the separation of economic
development and environmental policies is artificial
(Barbier 2013). The United States, China and South
Korea labelled their stimulus packages as Green New
Deals(Zysman et al. 2012); the rationale was that
green fiscal stimuli provide a boost to the economy,
whilst also laying the foundations for sustainable and
more stable growth in the future (Bowen et al. 2009).
Such measures recognise that economic recovery and
climate change responses are not in opposition (Bowen
et al. 2009). Green growth was positioned as a more
attractive alternative to economic recovery than
returning to browngrowth (van der Ploeg and
Withagen 2013). Although they were one-offpolicies,
temporary interventions can deliver sustainable long-
term growth when the sustainability of the inputs is
assured (Acemoglu et al. 2012).
The size and number of Green New Deals
notwithstanding, the green economy already existed at
scale; green technology firms alone were worth $284
billion globally in 2008 (Caprotti 2010). By way of
context, fossil fuel subsidies reached $523 billion
globally by 2011, compared with $88 billion for
subsidies for renewable energy (IEA 2012). The two
new agreements that mark the start of the SDG and
Habitat III era can function as a moment of
realignment (Caprotti et al. 2017). A moment of crisis
can also represent an opportunity to act; the green
responses to financial crisis partially represent a return
to greater levels of statism and the re-legitimisation of
intervention (Death 2015). Therefore, a crisis event
may create a window of opportunityfor new strategies
or radical reform (Aberbach and Christensen 2001).
After 2009, the green economy evolved into a
broader policy framework. In 2012, the United Nations
Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or
Rio+20) was a focal point for the green economy
internationally. There was qualified hope in the build-
up that Rio+20 would generate enough progress to give
the concept the necessary political and financial
backing, or at least recognition of a more central role
in international policy debates (Damon and Sterner
2012; Martinelli and Midttun 2012; Sierra 2012;
Zysman et al. 2012).
Clark commented that Rio+20 emphasizes that
economies must be made both green and inclusive. It
singles out poverty eradication as the worlds most
pressing challenge(2013, 19). However, many
commentators concluded that the UNCSD was a
missed opportunity to make the green economy central
to international policy debates (Clémençon 2012; Halle
2012; Powers 2012; Barbier 2013). Although the green
economy was a theme, the conference lacked a vision
(Bernstein 2013) and its outcome document, The future
we want, failed to lay out a coherent roadmap
(Clémençon 2012).
The green economy must coexist with other
sustainable development concepts. The Economics of
Ecosystem and Biodiversitys (TEEB) green economy
report describes a clearer hierarchy (ten Brink et al.
2012), represented in diagrammatical form in
Figure 1. Following this hierarchy, there is no
conceptual inconsistency with sustainable development,
challenging the artificially imposed barriers around
policy debates. However, these terms are not frequently
used in alignment with this hierarchy.
In some ways, public support for the green economy
has faltered since the Green New Dealswith their
strong focus on economic growth (Barbier 2015) and
the immediacy of the financial crisis. The SDGs could
shape the green economys development post-Rio+20
(United Nations 2014a). The goals and targets,
announced at the UN General Assembly in September
2015, could bring greater attention to the practices of
the green economy after Rio+20s relative lack of
success. However, green economy discourses were
absent from most delegationsstatements during
negotiations. As analysis begins on how to achieve the
goals, green economy discourses need to gain a key
position within SDG implementation. Moments of
agreement on shared goals and collective action also
present opportunities to move beyond goal setting to
implementation in a way that can be transformative
(Stevens and Kanie 2016), creating the spaces to deploy
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Institute of British Geographers)
green economy discourses in national and sub-national
contexts. A greater understanding will also be required
of how to differentiate NorthSouth and national
priorities in the implementation of green economy plans,
exemplified by the role of green economy discourses in
state-led transformation in China, given its unique
institutional structure (Gupta and Wong 2014). Other
reports demonstrate how national green economy
visions vary between different continents (UNEP 2011;
AfDB 2012; UNESCAP et al. 2012). While recognising
the shortcomings of green economy concepts, there is
the capacity for green economy discourses and
initiatives to bring genuine benefits to citizens of the
global South(Caprotti and Bailey 2014, 199).
Current green economy definitions
Several studies have analysed international
organisationsgreen economy or green growth
definitions. Bina and La Camera (2011) analysed six
international-scale responses to the double crisis
(climate change and the financial crisis), concluding
that these policies uphold mainstream economics
interpretation of the environment and they are
primarily concerned with economic recovery. Borel-
Saladin and Turok (2013) examine the green economy
definitions of the UNEP, the Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
and the World Bank. They conclude that, a few caveats
notwithstanding, the green economy provides the tools
required to transform economic activity for healthier
environments and more inclusive economies. Their
criticisms of green economy concepts are: being too
closely aligned to current systems, not considering
potential limits to growth, oversimplification, misplaced
optimism and questions over the models used. While
comprehensive comparisons, neither study discusses
the measurement of green economic activity. Other
studies that have assessed some green economy
definitions and discourses are Brown et al. (2014) and
Death (2015).
Fergusons (2014) study of green economy
discourses concludes that green growth discussions
must be separated from green economy discussions.
Ferguson identifies many tensions in green economy
discourses. His study also identifies three categories
of green economy discourse: weak,transformational
and strong. Part of this categorisation includes
assessing measurement, focusing on their relationship
to GDP.
Thereis a growing bodyof literature on theimportance
of transformationconcepts to address deep-rooted,
complex challenges; herein we aim to further Fergusons
conceptualisation of transformational. As Meadowcroft
concludes, the state has been forced to accept that an
ever more profound transformation of economic activity
and of political and legal obligations will be required if
environmental problems are to be managed
(Meadowcroft 2012, 69). The work of Pelling and others
on transformation and adaptation suggests a potential
relationship for transformation and the green economy.
Transformation can be an enabling focus for approaches
that address underlying causes and create the potential
for dynamic and inclusive change, as opposed to other
risk management formulations that aim to reduce
stresses on the status quo (Pelling and Manuel-
Navarrete 2011; Pelling et al. 2014). Death (2015,
2216) recognised four green economy typologies, one
of which was green transformation, characterised by
calls for the model of economic growth to be
transformed in ways that involve explicitly political
interventions into transforming the structure of the
economy. Deaths typologies are based on a more
specific focus on national strategies from the global
South, which represents a very important contribution
to the literature, but differs from the aims of this review.
We have focused on building on Fergusons three
typologies as we believe that it represents an effective
evolution of the weak/strongdichotomy from
sustainabilitydefinitions, providing a useful basis for
a framework for this review of green economy visions
and their interactions with efforts to measure progress.
The reports analysed in this review are summarised
in Table I. Reports were selected as key reports from
international organisations, and important regional,
national and academic conceptualisations of the green
economy, from a literature review focused (but not
exclusively) on the period of build-up to and aftermath
of Rio+20 (201013). We find that, in agreement with
Ferguson, the strong green economy generally only exists
within academic literature. We have also included
reports labelled as green growthas the difference in
Figure 1 The hierarchy of green economy concepts
(based on the conceptualisation of TEEB in ten
Brink et al. 2012)
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Table I Green economy and green growth reports
authors Title
Green economy
typology Key aspects of definition Measurement agenda Key shortcomings
Europe 2020: a strategy for
smart, sustainable and inclusive
growth (2010)
Operationalisation of the green economy
paradigm at EU level. Green economy
broadly defined as smart, sustainable and
inclusive growth. Defined by Flagship
Initiatives(Resource efficient Europe,An
industrial policy for the globalisation era).
National and EU level
indicators, aligned with
Thematic areas are broad (resource
efficiency, headline emissions targets)
but do not cover the full spectrum of the
green economy.
OECD Towards green growth (2011) Weak Good economic policy at the heart of green
growth. Economy must be flexible,
dynamicand more resource efficient
Economy and environment as mutually
reinforcing. Innovation is key.
30 OECD green growth
indicators. Furthers
OECDs work to
identify other indicators
to accompany GDP.
Unequivocal support for potential of
unlimited greengrowth. Economic-
policy-as-usual scenario (innovation,
productivity, technology) with added
environmental benefits.
UNEP Towards a green economy
Transformational Moving towards a green economy can be
profitable, it is possible to combine healthy
living with strong economic growth.
Economic growth will be healthier, stronger
and more vigorous with this transformation
than without it. (Brockington 2012). More
focus on social aspects of green economy.
Questions role of GDP in
assessing well-being.
Focuses on indicators
for decision-making
and policy design.
Solutions offer little innovation. Despite
initial critical assessment of current
production and consumption, only
proposes mainstream sustainable
development based on markets,
technology and regulation (Brockington
HM Government Enabling the transition to a
green economy (2011)
Weak Based on need for strong, sustainable and
balanced growth and strong economic
arguments for immediate action on climate
change. Green economy defined by its
benefits to the UK economy: new
international markets to be captured and
opportunities for growth.
Government to provide
information on expected
impacts of climate
change and resource
risks. Measurement not
on Policy Timeline.
Social imperatives of the green economy
are absent. Regulation framed as solely
a burden on businesses and businesses
positioned the ultimate beneficiaries of
green economy policies.
World Bank Inclusive green growth (2012) Weak Inclusive green growth is the pathway to
sustainable development(World Bank
2012, xi). Growth itself is good, but it has
not been green or inclusive enough.
How green policies affect
conventionally measured
GDP. Incorporating the
environment into
Insistence that growth must be green but
not slower. Narrow range of economic
perspectives considered. Heavily reliant
on existing solutions.
GGKP Moving towards a common
approach on green growth
indicators (2013)
Weak Claims existing definitions have a lot in
common. States no definition of its own for
its common approach.
Approach based on
communication need,
not monitoring. Adopts
OECDs headline
indicators. Wealth
accounting as
Masks green economy under green growth.
Bases indicators on natural assets as
input to a production function only.
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Institute of British Geographers)
Table I (Continued)
authors Title
Green economy
typology Key aspects of definition Measurement agenda Key shortcomings
United Nations
Economic and
Social Commission
for Asia and the
Green growth, resources and
resilience: environmental
sustainability in Asia and the
Pacific (2012)
Transformational Explicit focus on the green growth objectives
of the Asia-Pacific region. Highlights
connection between green growth and
poverty reduction, and importance of
resilience and mitigation for many countries
in the region.
Indicator-based approach,
different issues to
Focus on green growth, no criticism of
growth. Highlights difficulties in
comparisons between regions.
Global Green
Growth Institute
Various (the GGGI, has not
released a comparable report;
it focuses on green growth
implementation across various
national contexts)
Weak Green growth seeks to fuse sustainable
developments economic and
environmental pillars into a single
intellectual and policy planning process,
thereby recasting the very essence of the
development model so that it is capable of
producing strong and sustainable growth
simultaneously(Samans 2013, 3). Policy
frameworks will be context specific.
Resilience, equity and inclusivity are
Based on GDP. Set by
particular national
Economic growth should remain a driver
of welfare improvements and poverty
reduction(GGGI 2014).
Barbier Various publications
(Barbier 2011 2015)
Policies need to deliver economy-wide
innovation and structural transformation.
Rising ecological scarcity shows current
economic development is unsustainable.
Full environmental
valuation and
accounting for natural
capital depreciation.
Better information on
the environment is vital.
Transformational agenda requires much
more data. Political will for institutional
transformations may be lacking.
Cato, Jackson and
Various (Cato 2009; Jackson
and Victor 2011)
Strong Academic strong green economy literature
varies from green and ecological economics
to de-growth and no growth perspectives.
Rejection of GDP.
measures of welfare
and the environment.
Limited influence on policy-making so far.
Difficulty in communicating de-growth
and no growth positions more broadly.
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discourse is perhaps deliberately obscured. The
majority fall between weak and transformational.
UNEPsTowards a green economy has perhaps
received the most critical attention. Its profile was
heightened by its association with Rio+20 and it is
more clearly transformational. UNEP makes an explicit
attempt to model future green economies and questions
whether existing measures of economic performance,
such as GDP growth, are adequate for assessing human
wellbeing. The report provides a detailed study of the
enabling conditions required for green economy
transitions (UNEP 2011). It makes the economic case
for shifting public and private investment to transition
to a green economy, offering greater support for
heterogeneous economic thinking and the strongest
criticism of current modes of production and
consumption. UNEP comments significantly on the
importance of national GE and NorthSouth
differences, which is important for mobilising green
economy concepts to respond to different national
challenges and influence transformations.
However, their modelling was criticised by Victor
and Jackson (2011) because the green economy futures
model assigns more funding to the green economy than
the business-as-usualscenario; calling into question
the conclusion that a green economy would grow faster.
Victor and Jackson also question whether the policies
proposed would reduce emissions sufficiently by 2050
to achieve the 450 ppm CO
target suggested by the
fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) report, if global temperature rise were to be
kept below 2°C (IPCC 2007).
The OECD and World Bank reports show that
certain ideas of environmental economics and policy
have now reached international policy-makers. The
OECD recognises natural capital as a factor of
production and its role in enhancing well-being
(OECD 2011, 20). Inclusive green growth draws
strong conclusions on the barriers to green growth,
the short-term foci required and the need to
recognise local contexts (World Bank 2012). These
conclusions, while not new, are now more central
in global policy debates and thus have greater
influence over policy-makers.
The World Bank demonstrates most clearly weak
green economy discourses and their uncritical
assumptions of the role of economic growth in
development. Their reasoning is that growth is good,
but it has not been green or inclusive enough:
Over the past 20 years economic growth has lifted more
than 660 million people out of poverty and has raised the
income levels of millions more, but growth has too often
come at the expense of the environment Growth has
not been inclusive enough sustained growth is necessary
to achieve the urgent development needs of the worlds
poor and that there is substantial scope for growing cleaner
without growing slower.
(World Bank 2012, xi)
Growth has not been consistently positive for poverty
reduction. Just 1.2% of global GDP growth between
1999 and 2008 went to the poorest 30% of global
population (Woodward 2013). While growth may have
lifted 660 million out of poverty, 1.2 billion people still
lived on less than $1.25 a day in 2010 (World Bank
2013). Rate is not necessarily key; to deliver lasting
change, growth that is environmentally sustainable
(i.e. green) and can be sustained over the long term
would be a better aim for green growth policies. Weak
green economy and green growth frameworks rely on
merely harnessing the green economy for economic
growth. This is a source of significant criticism of
certain green economy discourses and, more broadly,
general scepticism about green economy concepts
(Brockington 2012; Brown et al. 2014; McAfee 2016).
UNESCAPs report demonstrates the tension
between national priorities and international discourses.
UNESCAP states the links between environmental and
social challenges, such as water security and access to
clean water. Compared with the EU, national-level
priorities are very different within the region. This
presents challenges for measuring the green economy,
requiring additional indicators (UNESCAP 2012).
There are signs that green growth and green
economy concepts are left deliberately imprecise. The
UKs report suggests a narrow definition of green
economy practices, conflicting with its own rhetoric that
A green economy is not a sub-set of the economy at
large our whole economy needs to be green. A green
economy will maximise value and growth across the
whole economy(HM Government 2011, 4). An
unresolved tension persists between attempts to
describe a green economy transition for the whole
economy and the concurrent existence of descriptions
of green economy practices as a subset of the economy.
The example of the UK also demonstrates that
nationally defined green economy policies, even where
they respond to national contexts, still need to be
analysed critically. The UKs narrow focus may not
deliver the necessary transformations. Here we can
contrast the UKs approach with the assessment of
Chinas green economy by Gupta and Wong (2014).
The lack of green growth/economy differentiation
and the weak/transformational green economy overlap
(where definitions appear transformational but have
the same basis on economic growth) may be deliberate.
UNEP and the World Bank are trying to make
economic cases for the green economy to governments
sceptical of calls to abandon the growth paradigm,
especially in developing countries.
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Institute of British Geographers)
The green economy concept has been criticised for
significantly overlapping with sustainable development,
or attempting to replace it. Brand (2012) calls the green
economy the next oxymoronafter sustainable develop-
ment because neither can be precisely defined. The
green economy is an attractive term for powerful
socioeconomic actors and thus has the potential to be
hijacked. It must reflect differing social, economic and
cultural contexts. However, it is too simplistic to call
both terms oxymora. Lorek and Spangenberg (2014)
argue that the green economy concept does not support
the original Brundtlandsustainability criteria and
relies on optimistic predictions of future technologies.
The green economy is not conceptually without flaw;
however, it could generate action at scale in policy
and industry. It goes further than sustainable
development to confront the artificial separation of
environment and economy, by creating a policy
framework to achieve economic progress with lower
environmental impacts.
It has been suggested that definitions are aligning
(World Bank 2012), however there are still
organisations interpreting it differently for their own
goals (Schmalensee 2012). This could demonstrate that
green economy aims are universal and its framework
flexible enough for different contexts. Or, it could be
open to the same crisis of interpretation as sustainable
development. The establishment of the GGKP appears
to suggest that UNEP, OECD, the World Bank and the
GGGI are coalescing around a shared definition. This is
positioned as a genuine effort to align the disparate
reports already produced on monitoring green growth
(Kamp-Roelands 2013; OECD 2011; UNEP 2012a
2012b 2014b). However, this also serves to maintain
the green growth/green economy ambiguity, crowd out
strong discourses and post-growth concepts, and
obscure transformational green economy discourses
amongst commitments to an economic growth as usual.
There may be some agreement on broad greenaims
and the hierarchy of TEEB (Figure 1) stands up in
theory, however these terms are often used
interchangeably. The green economy represents
contested discourses and concepts (Ferguson 2014),
however the World Bank and GGKP might attempt to
airbrush out the differences. Greater collaboration is
taking place, but these concepts still compete as
different organisations seek to gain influence in the
international green economy domain.
Contemporary drivers of the green
economy: SDGs, climate change and
national priorities
UNEP argues that achieving sustainability almost
entirely depends on getting the economy right(UNEP
2011). The green economy could be interpreted as
an appropriate means of refocusing sustainable
development upon the most important means of
delivering it and the intrinsic links between economy
and environment. In this way, positioned between
societal goals and outcomes, the green economy can be
conceptualised as an enablerfor sustainable
development (Figure 2). Achieving societal goals can
lead towards sustainable development as an outcome.
The enablersillustrated are examples of the many
things required to achieve sustainable development,
and there are certainly interactions between them (the
green economy is aided by natural capital valuation,
and requires sustainable urbanism as both a foundation
and a co-process, for example). Green economy
strategies can align with sustainable development as
the outcome to be achieved (or in Rio+20 terms, The
future we want).
The green economy has received less attention since
Rio+20, but there are two major contemporary
opportunities to refocus efforts on global
environmental challenges and the contribution green
economy concepts can make. The SDGs provide a
platform for reintegrating the green economy into the
sustainable development agenda. As the Secretary
Generals synthesis report indicates by linking the
SDGs to the UN Charter, and the Declaration on the
Right to Development (Omilola 2014), the SDGs will
become central to international development.
However, potential conflicts exist between the
proposed SDGs (Waage and Yap 2015). For
example, there are challenges where the different
targets for energy, water and climate change overlap
(Georgeson and Maslin 2014). Green economy
frameworks can prevent perverse outcomes from
implementing the SDGs, which work at cross pur-
poses. The green economy can regain its momentum
from pre-Rio+20 and become a key enabler for
achieving the SDGs.
The COP 21 negotiations in Paris in 2015 (under the
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change)
delivered a binding treaty that comes into force in
2020, providing another imperative for successfully
renewinggreen economy concepts. Limiting warming
to below 2°C (with a high probability) would require
global emissions to peak in 2020, reach zero emissions
between 2060 and 2080, then negative annual emissions
until 2100 (and CO
emissions from fossil fuel
combustion and industry would need to reach zero
between 2045 and 2065) (Hare et al. 2014). Although
current emissions reduction commitments do not
represent sufficient reductions to limit temperature
rises to 2°C (Evans and Yeo 2015), recognition of low
carbon transition opportunities could be a powerful
tool for stronger reduction commitments (Stern 2014)
under the agreementsambitionmechanism. Green
economy approaches could also demonstrate the
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economic opportunities of low carbon transitions ahead
of the 2025 deadline for agreeing a new collective
carbon finance goal (United Nations 2015).
As previously noted, there are significant differences
in national and NorthSouth priorities and
understandings of the green economy (Death 2015;
Morrow 2012); therefore green economy responses
could be deployed for national and sub-national
transformations where discursive spaces are created.
There are numerous examples of green economy
concepts being deployed to respond to national
priorities on environmental and social challenges
(AfDB 2014; Gupta and Wong 2014; Republic of
Rwanda 2011; Sonnenschein and Mundaca 2015).
Refocusing green economy definitions
There has been an institutional embrace of the green
economy, but without a detachment from conventional
growth discourses (Ferguson 2014). While recognising
that it is highly complex (Bailey and Caprotti 2014),
the critiques of differing definitions demonstrate that
there should be an effort to delimit the green
growth/green economy concepts, to prevent its arbitrary
use (Stepping and Stoever 2014). As the strong green
economy generally only exists within academic
literature, and the weak green economy offers little that
differs from conventional development paradigms, the
transformational green economy appears as the
contemporary definition that is both possible and
forceful enough to deliver genuine progress (and
perhaps significant transformations would render strong
green economy discourses feasible in the future). The
green economy should be growth agnostic; while
economic growth may occur, it is neither a goal nor an
indicator of wellbeing. While growth is often used as a
synonym for wellbeing, the transformational green
economy could use the frame of economic security
(Ferguson 2014).
Furthermore, transformation has already been
deployed as an organising concept in relation to
climate change adaptation in particular (Pelling et al.
2014), notably for its abilities to recognise various
needs across different scales and point towards
dynamic changes to a system to allow it to thrive a
changing environment. The processes of incremental
improvement deployed in earth system governance
since 1972 are no longer sufficient (Biermann et al.
2012); more radical transformation through structural
change is required.
However, as seen in Table I, even some
transformational definitions do not fully embrace
alternatives to a conventional growth paradigm.
Moreover, the SDGs adopted the title Transforming
our world by 2030, but continue to support an
economic-growth-as-usual paradigm. Therefore,
staking out what a transformational green economy
should entail across different scales is required. With
the SDGs, the transformative potential contained
within agreeing goals is not the end point but the start
of influencing action (Stevens and Kanie 2016).
Therefore, to redirect definitions of the
transformational green economy and to ensure that
measurement options and policy proposals exist to
ensure the viability of transformational approaches,
we put greater emphasis on alternative, more inclusive
measures of social, environmental and economic
progress. This aligns with the broader measures of
progress required by the SDGsindicator agenda and
the ecological and social rearticulations of the green
economy outlined by Ferguson, but moves beyond
debates relating to GDP. The beyond GDPdiscourse
is very relevant and remains an important argument
for the transformational green economy and its
Figure 2 Visualising the green economy between societal goals and outcomes
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measurement, based on significant discussions of the
inadequacies of GDP for measuring wellbeing and the
need to reform or reject economic growth as a target
to transform the green economy concept (Ferguson
2014; Fioramonti 2014; Stiglitz et al. 2009). Therefore,
the rest of this review will focus on other areas of
Measurement of the transformational
green economy
The definitional discussion shows that the green
economy is a wonderful slogan; but wonderful slogans
do not always lead to wonderful actions (Schmalensee
2012). The grand vision must be underwritten with
policy frameworks that balance the competing demands
of the economy and environment (OECD 2011), and
this policy agenda requires monitoring and evaluation
to be efficient and effective (Figure 3). The feedback
loops throughout this process mean that we must
analyse every step carefully and understand the
interactions. Although goals influence decisions on
measurement, targets and indicators, the availability of
data and the types of indicators considered desirable
or feasible can affect both decisions about goals and
the nature of progress towards those goals, often with
significant unintended consequences. There are
numerous examples from different fields (Bevan and
Hood 2006; Fukuda-Parr 2014; Hood 2012; Smith
1995; van Thiel and Leeuw 2016) that demonstrate
how data availability affects indicator choice, how
targets can affect actions taken and lead to narrow
progress towards an indicator target, not the original
goal. We also aim to suggest where different
measurement approaches are linked to or obstruct
different green economy visions; given the importance
of understanding how measurement interacts with its
political and bureaucratic context (Hood 2012).
This requires comprehensive approaches for
transformation and accurate, measurable and relevant
indicators (Stepping and Stoever 2014). This is vital to
analyse progress made, and opportunities and risks
inherent in transformations, which seek to change rather
than protect systems. The MDGs provide a clear example
of how the characteristics and limitations of
measurements and indicators can affect progress itself.
Targets and goals can become irrelevant, or obstructive,
when inappropriate indicators are used, indicators are
based on inadequate assumptions or incomplete data,
or implementation focuses too narrowly on the target
rather than the goal it is intended to reflect (Attaran
2005; Satterthwaite 2003). Measurements are not
value-neutraland contain embedded assumptions
about the nature and purpose of the activity measured
(Fukuda-Parr et al. 2014). Such information can also
communicate the need for policies to the public (GGKP
2013); but a lack of data is problematic for effective
communication. International organisations are
devoting considerable efforts to assisting countries in this
regard, requiring analysis and discussion to assess
whether such efforts contribute towards the
measurement of green economy transformations,
potentially deliver unintended consequences, or uphold
current economic paradigms that may obstruct
transformative green economy visions. Performance
measurement has intended and unintended
consequences on political decision-making, including
before data are measured; the construction of the
evaluation process can have impacts on how political
decisions are made and operational performance goals
risk leading to reductionism when tackling complex
problems (Bjørnholt and Larsen 2014). Management
approaches that put heavy emphasis on performance
measurement may influence the types of political goals
set; Bjørnholt and Larsen comment that if you want to
exert control over the policy-making process in the era
Figure 3 The role of measurement in delivering green
growth/green economies
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of performance governance, the most important part of
the process might be the translation of political objectives
into operational performance goals(2014, 408).
Here we will assess the measurement approaches of
the OECD (the green growth monitoring framework),
UNEP (green economy indicators for policy-making),
the World Bank-led WAVES Partnership and the
UNs international environmenteconomy accounting
standard. When possible, we analyse both the
approaches and data availability; weaknesses in the
approaches and a lack of available data both present
challenges for aligning measurement with the potential
of transformational green economy concepts.
Measurement informed by weak green economy
approaches or that does not sufficiently embody the
process of transformation risks steering green economy
actions towards weaker visions. Studies across several
disciplines note the relevance of the much-used phrase
What gets measured, gets managed(Barnett 2015;
Bevan and Hood 2006; Heal 2012; Hood 2012).
However, the complete, original quotation reads What
gets measured gets managed even when its pointless
to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the
purpose of the organization to do so(Drucker, as cited
in Barnett 2015, 5). Performance measurement often
has unintended consequences in public and private
situations; these examples suggest that measurement
with limited data and poorly chosen indicators can
either corrupt the original intention behind the goals,
or reflect political ideologies and their influence over
societal goals. Bjørnholt and Larsen (2014, 407)
concluded that the goal-setting and performance
measurement processes are just as important for the
outcome of public policy as the political process,
informing our approach to consider the interactions of
green economy concepts and measurement approaches.
OECD green growth monitoring framework
The OECDs green growth monitoring framework
(OECD 2011) has been used by some nations to
experiment with monitoring progress towards green
growth (Czech Statistical Office 2011 2014; Destatis
2012; Slovak Republic 2014; Statistics Korea 2012;
Statistics Netherlands 2011). Its 30 indicators cover
sustainability and equity, environmental and resource
productivity, natural assets, environmental quality of
life, and economic opportunities and policy responses
(OECD 2011). Not all of these indicators are currently
measurable. The framework is adaptable; the indicators
have been used to frame debates around standards of
living by connecting this to the environment and green
growth opportunities (GGKP 2013). The question
remains: can it assess the interactions between
economic, environmental and social factors, beyond
presenting such information side by side? Difficulties
arise when data for first choiceindicators are
unavailable, or when a green growth national definition
may ignore an issue (such as social inequality). This is
problematic for the transformational green economy
as substituteindicators are lower in relevance and
utility, and the frameworks flexibility also permits
countries to not measure important transformational
issues such as inequality or environmenteconomy
interactions. The OECD framework is also heavily
reliant on GDP-based indicators.
A number of countries have produced reports using
the OECD indicator framework (Czech Statistical
Office 2011 2014; Destatis 2012; Slovak Republic
2014; Statistics Korea 2012; Statistics Netherlands
2011); 23 according to a recent report (OECD 2014).
These acknowledge that data are not currently available
for all the indicators. Statistics Korea, for example,
report on 23 of the OECD indicators (Statistics Korea
2012). However, in several cases Statistics Korea uses
proxies, whose relevance to green economy
measurement is questionable: Annual rainfall per
capitaand Contribution of aquaculture to fish
productionare weak indicators of sustainability in
freshwater and fish resources. It is difficult to agree with
the statement that:
Most indicators related to natural assets among OECD
green growth indicators are not included because
natural asset indicators decisively governed by natural
circumstances cannot ascertain the policy performance
and the implementation level of green growth.
(Choi 2014, 42)
Despite the transformationalaims of South Koreas
green economy approach, it is uncertain whether such
measurements can aid in delivering transformations.
Weak links between policy performance measurement
and the environment is unlikely to lead to
transformational effects.
The Czech Republics report includes coal reserves
and cumulative coal mining (Czech Statistical Office
2011). No justification is given for using coal reserves
as a green growth indicator, nor is any trend established
on the sustainability of extraction. In the Netherlands
report, indicators covering society and inclusivity are
omitted (Statistics Netherlands 2011). While adoption
by 23 countries by 2014 is impressive, these alterations
mean that the frameworks flexibility creates difficulties
for international comparisons. The frameworks
limitations may reflect the inherent weaknessof the
OECD green growth/green economy paradigm.
UNEP green economy indicators and
UNEP conducts significant work on incorporating
green economy indicators into policy-making. Many
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policy issues, such as the prevalence of water-borne
diseases among rural farmers, have strong connections
to environmental issues, requiring environmental as
well as social and health policies (UNEP 2014b).
UNEP highlights that well designed indicators benefit
the entire policy process as each stage (from issue
identification, to policy formulation, to monitoring
and evaluation) requires different indicators. This
issue-driven approach is practical, but requires
sufficient data to correctly prioritise critical issues
and assess policy impacts. It risks focusing heavily on
short-term issues under resource constraints with the
potential to miss spillover effects, affecting the ability
of indicators produced to contribute to lesson
learningbetween countries. Timely, relevant and
transparent information could contribute to the ability
of indicators to influence cross-border policy learning.
Policy learning is a complex, multi-tiered process that
impacts state officials, policy networks and policy
communities (Bennett and Howlett 1992), in ways that
range from voluntary and collaborative to coercive
(Shen 2014). As policy transfer opportunities move
from hardtransfer between national policy-makers
to softtransfer in spaces of multi-level collaboration
and networked governance (Benson 2009), greater
transparency of indicators for policy-making will be
important for effectively sharing positive (and
negative) experiences.
Wealth Accounting and Valuation of
Ecosystem Services Global Partnership
The World Bank leads the Wealth Accounting and
Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES) Global
Partnership. Currently, 70 nations have signed up, of
which eight are core implementing partners (WAVES
Partnership 2014). It aims to develop internationally
agreed methods for accounting for natural capital and
ecosystem services, assist nations in adopting accounts
and incorporating them into policy-making, and
provide technical support for SEEA implementation.
Holistic natural capital measurement is fundamental
to green economy measurement; without the
appropriate inclusion of the environment in decision-
making, development has little hope of being
sustainable. WAVES seeks to extend accounting
methodologies beyond traded natural resources such
as timber into harder-to-measure, non-marketed
ecosystem services.
There is some progress in implementing national
natural capital accounts.According to a WAVES
Partnership report (2012), 24 countries have recognised
natural capital accounting programmes. The accounts
produced at this stage only partially represent the value
of natural capital, even when countries have moved
beyond pilot programmes. Many harder-to-measure
areas are not covered; partial coverage of natural
capital may skew policy decisions. The UKs natural
capital accounts have begun to demonstrate the
economic and societal value of natural capital (Office
for National Statistics 2014, hereafter ONS). A GLOBE
study (2013) examined accounts in eight countries and
saw encouraging signs of progress across five different
regions; however no country is advancing
comprehensively in all areas. World Bank studies also
show the importance of moving from pilot to full
programmes in developing countries (WAVES
Partnership 2012). This has more potential to
contribute towards transformational approaches.
However, it could entrench economic growth-based
concepts or lead to unintended consequences if partial
natural capital valuation is used in policy decisions.
UN System of Environmental-Economic
The UN Statistics Division has led to the development
of the UN SEEA, now formally adopted (United
Nations 2014b). Described as a multipurpose
conceptual framework for understanding the
interactions between the economy and the environment,
and for describing stocks and changes in stocks of
environmental assets(United Nations 2014b, x), it
builds on three previous Handbooks of national
accounting(United Nations 1993 2000; United Nations
et al. 2003) and the 2012 white cover (European
Commission et al. 2012). As an international standard,
the SEEA is highly relevant to how the green economy
will be measured. The SEEA assesses trends in natural
resource use, the extent of emissions and discharges to
the environment resulting from economic activity and
the amount of economic activity undertaken for
environmental purposes. This is, arguably, a narrow
approach to measuring environmenteconomy
interactions that may favour weak green economy
concepts. Indicators can be derived from these accounts
to better inform decision-making and more complete
data collection may better inform transitions, but it
may not correctly measure trade-offs or sufficiently
inform decision-making for green economy
transformations of socioeconomic systems.
There will be benefits if it is applied as an
international statistical standard. But will this
happen? And if the significant barriers are overcome,
when will it happen? Policy targets have a 20-year
horizon, but this measurement agenda may take a
similar amount of time to produce results. Moreover,
this does not confront the significant limitations to
environmentaleconomic accounting for measuring
social, as well as environmental, outcomes. For
example, the SEEAs socio-demographic data (relating
to employment and population) is significantly less
comprehensive than UNEP and OECD approaches
(United Nations 2014b).
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Beyond the Central Framework, the SEEA also
contains the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem
Accounting and the SEEA Applications and Extensions
(European Commission et al. 2013 2014). The former
provides a synthesis of current knowledge on ecosystem
accounting aligned with the SEEA, not a statistical
standard. Applications and Extensions describes
potential outputs for presenting or analysing data
collected through the Central Framework. Both
indicate future research directions, further examining
the interactions between environment and economy.
Future work may provide greater levels of insight for
policy-makers. However, they may still be too limited
to support the transformational aspects of the green
economy, due to the rigidity of data collection.
Climate change adaptation is not covered by the
SEEA Central Framework, raising questions of its
appropriateness. It only notes that information on this
activity may be of particular interest(United Nations
2014b, 90). We argue that it should be included; impacts
of climate change will have significant social impacts.
Adaptation and climate risk management are especially
important for green growth in Africa and Asia-Pacific
(AfDB 2012; UNESCAP 2014). Several documents
(the outcome document of Rio+20, and World Bank
and UNEP reports) argue for inclusivityin green
economy approaches. Moreover, the United Nations
Global Compact (UNGC), UNEP, Oxfam and World
Resources Institute collaborated on Adapting for a green
economy, which emphasises the close connection
between businesses and communities for climate
change adaptation and the green economy, with
examples from mangrove forests to affordable drip
irrigation (UNGC et al. 2011). Environmental
expenditure measurement is not fulfilling its role, if it
cannot fully measure the progress and opportunities of
the green economy. Limited data collection may
contribute to strengthening stability in existing systems
to preserve them, not moving them to a new state,
which is indicative of approaches to protect the status
quo not foster transformative change (Pelling and
Manuel-Navarrete 2011).
These approaches are still in their infancy and there
are positive effects for better understanding
environmenteconomy interactions, and designing and
measuring better green economy policies. These
approaches recognise the need to at least complement
GDP, without embracing beyond GDPdiscourses.
However, given this inherent tendency towards weak
green economy management concepts in these
measurement approaches, it is not certain that they will
sufficiently advance a progressive measurement agenda
for transformational green economy visions. Although
perhaps the most difficult aspect, further progress on
measuring environmenteconomysociety interactions
is required, beyond presenting indicators side by side
and developing partial measurements of natural capital.
Approaches based on current measurement and data
have the potential to entrench weak green economy
visions and limit the transformative potential of the
green economy.
Limitations of current economic
measurement of the green economy
Previous reviews of this subject appear not to fully
engage with the problems of economic measurement
of the green economy. One important aspect of
economic measurement not previously assessed is
measuring the scale of the response to environmental
and climate challenges; measuring the aggregate
environmental impact of economic activities and using
supply-side measurement to track the transformation
of economies. Current efforts to monitor the green
economy frequently extend to collecting data on
traditionalenvironmental sectors (such as wastewater
It is important to assess the major attempts to
measure the economic impact of the green economy
frameworks and practices. As the GGKP (2013) notes,
presenting balanced messages is key; many indicators
focus on challenges or minimising risks, not identifying
opportunities. The quality and coverage of opportunity
indicators is frequently poorer. To explore this need for
balance and given the huge range of indicators required
for green economy measurement, we will examine
indicators of economic opportunities: due to
weaknesses in implementation, as an example of wider
challenges, and for their role in generating green
economy policy adoption. More importantly, economic
measurement has some potential to measure the green
transformation of economies; how the composition of
economic activities is changing and the dynamics of
environmenteconomysociety interactions both need
to be measured.
In 2009, Eurostat produced a reporting framework
for EU countries for the Environmental Goods and
Services Sector (EGSS), covering environmental
protection and resource management activities
(Eurostat 2009). It addresses the difficulty that standard
national accounting methods neither account for
environmental impact, nor a products end purpose. It
covers a narrow definition; goods and services to
prevent, measure, control, limit, minimize or correct
environmental damage and resource depletion
(Eurostat 2009, 19). Measuring the environmental
sectorin this way does not necessarily align with more
expansive and transformational green economy
definitions reviewed previously, which are more
inclusive of nature, ecosystem services and social
aspects of a green economy. However, it has been
adopted in the SEEA. EGSS is therefore positioned
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to have a role in measuring green economy transitions,
although it captures neither all aspects of the green
economy nor its potential for creating new economic
pathways or restructuring economic activity. Thus it
should be critiqued.
EGSS provides a framework for supply-side data
collection, which can provide a measurement of the
economic response to environmental and natural
resource challenges, and seeks consistency with existing
frameworks and classification systems (European
Commission et al. 2012; Eurostat 2002a 2002b 2008;
United Nations 2008 2014b). Existing systems do not
capture the true complexity and economic contribution
of the green economy since it is not possible to identify
and classify EGSS producers exhaustively using
exclusively standard statistical classifications(Eurostat
2009, 71). Therefore, its potential for measurement of
a transformational green economy is already limited.
If treated as a target, EGSS could lead to output
distortion(Hood 2012); government departments
could focus on improving the measured performance
of the narrowly defined EGSS, rather than structurally
transforming the green economy.
However, Statistics Netherlands (2011) suggests that
an increasing share of EGSS in employment and output
indicates a transition to an economy that is more
dedicated to reducing environmental and resource
pressures. If defined in an internationally comparable
way, it could permit country-by-country comparison,
and assessment and dissemination of best practice.
However, the framework is flexible enough that statistics
agencies can use different methodologies to collect
EGSS data; A UNEP report (2014a) highlights five
different ways of compiling data and eight different types
of data sources. This could affect comparability.
Furthermore, significant variation exists in experience
of applying the EGSS methodology across Europe; some
countries use it to produce statistics (Czech Statistical
Office 2011; Statistics Netherlands 2011; Statistik
Austria 2014a 2014b 2014c 2014d), whereas others have
produced feasibility reports (Livesey 2010) and
experimental statistics (ONS 2015). The ONS report,
and particularly its proxy methodologies for organic
agriculture and forestry management, demonstrate the
challenge in producing robust, comparable EGSS data;
where the approach can be tailored to reflect available
data (or estimates), rather than encouraging the
measurement of what matters to green economy visions,
its transformative potential is reduced.
The process involves the identification of the entire
EGSS population as the first step, regrouping the
activities under Standard Industry Classification (SIC)
codes, because EGSS cannot be established a priori
using standard statistical classifications(Eurostat
2009, 71). For it to be used globally, significant data
collection difficulties must be overcome. Data issues
may prevent consistent measurement across countries
being possible (Bishop and Brand 2013). The resources
for conducting the required surveys may be too great
for many national statistics offices. International
comparison would be useful to compare performance
of policies between countries. Such benchmarking
would be a first step towards identifying the policies
that can contribute to green economy transformations.
A contradiction exists between the wider purpose of
the policy visions and the narrowly defined sectors of
reporting frameworks; this is problematic if we need
to measure opportunities and transformations, not just
clean-upactivities. As suggested in the performance
measurement literature, the choice of performance
goals and measurement can impact upon political and
policy processes (Bjørnholt and Larsen 2014). Thus
current measurement approaches can contribute to
the tension between defining the green economy as part
of the whole (a weakapproach that considers the
green economy a leverfor economic growth) versus
greening(or transforming) the whole economy by
addressing underlying structural issues in the economy.
Measurement using national statistics
The EGSS methodology seeks to measure a countrys
green economy performance with national statistics
but, as we will show, this is challenging. Comparing
the greening of the economies of different countries is
an even greater challenge. National statistics are
compiled using SIC codes, which do not record how
something is made, (an important factor in how green
a product is), and thus do not record greenness. Using
data compiled with SIC codes therefore has limited
potential for identifying the greening of economic
activity, as the production of environmental goods
and services cuts across the whole economy and will
often only represent a fraction of an organizations
output, being a secondary or ancillary activity(Livesey
2010, 52).
Many studies have questioned the utility of SIC
codes for research across a number of fields (Clarke
1989; Amit and Livnat 1990; Guenther and Rosman
1994; Kahle and Walking 1996; Fan and Lang 2000;
Bhojraj et al. 2003; Jacobs and ONeill 2003; Kile and
Phillips 2009). Kile and Phillipss study (2009)
highlighted the difficulties for emergent twenty-first
century industries and technologies and the limitations
of SIC codes are greater when attempting to partition
high-tech firms. SIC codes were established in the
1930s when the focus of the US economy was
manufacturing. Despite periodic updating, SIC codes
often fail to provide classifications for services and the
emerging industries of the twenty-first century (Kile
and Phillips 2009). Moreover, SIC codes are product
based, not process based, and reflect a focus limited to
a firms products and services, without consideration
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of markets or methods to market them (Fan and Lang
2000). Firms may have some incentives to misreport
their economic activities under the SIC system (Kile
and Phillips 2009). Importantly, they will also ignore
green economic activity of firms without an
environmental activity as their primary purpose.
As outlined by Eurostat, for measurement of EGSS,
activities recorded must satisfy the end purpose
criterion; their primary objective should be
environmental protection or resource management
(Eurostat 2009). This is broad, but it will not capture
all adapted goods
, supply chains that include goods
and services with other non-greenuses, or goods and
services directly from ecosystems and biodiversity.
There is a broader limitation to both economic
measurement and indicators for the green economy;
the social elements of UNEP and World Banks green
economy visions are particularly important for the
legitimacy and global relevance of the green economy
under the SDGs. Economic measurement should be
supported by other indicators and types of feedback
(such as non-quantitative assessments of governance,
inclusion in policy processes and patterns of inequality)
to ensure that the green economy can deliver
transformations for inclusive societies and shared
prosperity. Nevertheless, for economic measurement it
is not enough to merely record environmental
protection activities; this does not fully measure green
economy transformations and entrenches weak visions
of the green economy. Broader economic measurement
is required as part of broader measurement overall,
including non-quantitative assessments.
Data availability
For all aspects of green economy measurement, there
are significant capacity and data constraints to
overcome. However, data availability from official
sources for economic measurement of the green
economy causes some concerns. It demonstrates how
data availability can affect the measurement of progress
towards different green economy visions and entrench
path dependency towards weaker green economy
paradigms. Eurostats EGSS has the broadest
implementation, and thus serves as a good example.
From the Eurostat statistics database, the most recent
year for EGSS data is 2013 (Eurostat 2016). The most
recently published report covers environmental
protection expenditure only, up to 2013 (Eurostat
2015). There are few publically released Eurostat data
that can be compared between countries with
confidence; Table II demonstrates that for production
value of total EGSS, only up to seven countriesdata
are available in any year. The calculation of the EU-
28 aggregate figure must be questioned, given such
limited underlying data. Evidence from various national
contexts, such as Sweden, the UK, Poland and Canada,
Table II Eurostat EGSS data on environmental protection and resource management expenditure in the EU-28
Total environmental protection and resource management activities (EGSS): production value (million)
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
EU-28 393,439.00 428,661.00 478,579.00 520,582.00 570,514.00 552,467.00 615,753.00 678,864.00 689,113.00 697,456.00
Belgium 15,814.76 : : :::::::
Bulgaria : : : ::::900.80 1062.29 :
Germany : : : 28,288.00 : 81,039.11 128,636.01 144,118.53 145,948.09 :
France : : : : 47,014.00 63,730.00 56,947.00 76,437.00 : :
Lithuania : : : : : : 668.38 1541.06 : :
Luxembourg : : : : 1723.79 1405.22 1599.06 1725.56 1721.51 :
Netherlands : : : :::::33,182.00 :
Austria : : : : 31,047.53 30,844.37 31,618.49 32,622.54 36,000.98 :
Poland : : : 18,608.06 ::::::
Romania : 8448.80 9790.46 6344.21 7356.60 5741.56 6682.13 9246.00 9189.86 :
:indicates missing values.
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Institute of British Geographers)
shows that these traditionalapproaches require
extensive research, including surveys outside of existing
national statistics collection (Brolinson et al. 2006;
Statistics Canada 2006; Central Statistical Office of
Poland 2008; Livesey 2010). Current Eurostat data are
evidence that this is not happening.
By comparison, the US Department of Commerce
estimated the US green economy using narrow and
broad measures, where the primary purpose criterion
must be fulfilled in the former (US Department of
Commerce 2010a). However, the survey was
discontinued, last reporting 2011 data in 2013 (Barbier
2014). A major difference was the inclusion of all forms
of mass transportation (US Department of Commerce
2010b). In addition, other countries (such as the UK
and Germany) also collect data with different sectoral
definitions (the Low Carbon Economyand Green
Tech) that are not aligned with EGSS (Department
for Business Innovation & Skills 2015, hereafter BIS;
Federal Ministry for the Environment 2014). Along
with different discourses identified in the Asia-Pacific,
this highlights the challenge in generating inter-
nationally comparable measurement. We conclude that
global implementation of EGSS (and the SEEA) will be
difficult, due to different national accounting practices
and national capacity constraints, its potential lack of
universal relevance notwithstanding.
Overall, from this evidence we can identify two
areas of improvement required for measurement of
green economy transformations: better economic
measurement of green economy transformations and
improved measurement of broader environment
societyeconomy interactions. Taking into conside-
ration the need to move beyond GDP previously
discussed, there are therefore three major challenges
and a fourth that connects to all three (Figure 4): the
need for alternative measurement approaches, which
is exemplified by the difficulty of using national
statistics for economic measurement. These four areas
represent a pathway towards a realigned measurement
approach for the transformational green economy:to
better measure whether transformations are taking
place, where and how they are occurring, and how
policies can be better designed to deliver trans-
formational change.
Alternative measurement approaches
Alternative measurement approaches should be
explored, so that the green economy has the indicators
that better reflect progress towards transformation of
economies and so that indicator choice and data
availability alone do not continue to justify economic
growth-based green economy visions. From the analysis
above, we suggest that the data required should cover a
broader range of issues, and be produced more quickly
and more cheaply. Incorporating alternative mea-
surement approaches for the green economy is our
fourth key recommendation, shown in Figure 4; we will
discuss three examples that could contribute towards
the recommendations outlined previously for better
measurement of green economy transformations.
Composite approaches
Combining different measurements into a single
value or set of values is attractive for simplifying
complex realities. Composite approaches and indices
have advantages for presenting broader pictures of
progress, with benefits for communicating to a broader
audience the interactions in a complex system and the
state of transformational change. They have the
potential to contribute to our recommendations of
improving broader measurement of economysociety
environment interactions and offering better measures
of societal progress to move beyond GDP. However,
composite approaches must balance simplicity with
detail; a methodology for selecting indicators needs to
consider more than just statistical criteria (Fukuda-Parr
et al. 2014) as it will reflect assumptions about the
interactions between indicators in an index and
between indicators and the phenomena under
The Genuine Progress Indicator uses 26 economic,
environmental and social indicators to weigh up the
positive and negatives of economic growth (Costanza
et al. 2004). It includes indicators that measure
environmental costs, inequality arising from
consumption and social factors that affect quality of
life. It is an imperfect measure of wellbeing but
Figure 4 Four key recommendations for improved,
expanded measurement of green economy transformations
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© 2017 The Authors. Geo: Geography and Environment published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd and the Royal Geographical Society (with the
Institute of British Geographers)
demonstrates important trends. Presenting indicators
side by side can create difficulties of interpretation, as
it is difficult to compare measures across different
sectors that are incommensurable.
Their simplicity makes composite indices a
powerful means for communication. However, they
hidedetail by expressing progress through one
number, require weighting and thus valuing of sub-
indicators, and no approach currently developed
captures all elements of sustainable development
(Statistics Netherlands 2015). For example, the
Inclusive Wealth Index seeks to provide countries with
a realistic understanding of their wealth and its long-
term sustainability. It is a valuable effort to combat
the narrownessof national accounts (by measuring
natural, human and health capital) and assess long-
term progress (UN UniversityInternational Human
Dimensions Programme and UNEP 2014). The
criticism of the index highlights the difficulty in
creating composite indices using currently available
data and in the value judgements required; Thiry and
Roman (2014) question the underlying utilitarian
welfare function, its strong reliance on shadow prices
and monetary valuations, and a narrow productivist
approach to areas like human or health capital.
Other composite approaches intended as better
measures of progress include the Index of Sustainable
Welfare, the Sustainable Net Benefit Index, the Better
Life Index and the New Economic FoundationsFive
Headline Indicators of National Success. While surveys
have suggested that composite indices have benefits for
both public communication and policy-making
(Böhringer and Jochem 2007), their benefits as a
communication tool appear to be stronger. The GGKP
(2015) questioned the use of composite indices in
developing countries, noting that they are frequently
subjective and ad hoc, and more research is required
into how they are constructed. Such problems amplify
the difficulties caused by limited data availability.
Finally, the Ecological Footprint (EF) approach has
been applied across a wide variety of contexts and
scales. It is well established for assessing the scale of
an economys environmental impact. A powerful use
of EF studies is to assess the international distribution
of inequalities of ecological footprints (Teixidó-
Figueras and Duro 2015). As with indices, EF
approaches are important for communication but
may have a limited policy role and cannot cover all
relevant issues at once, remaining most useful when
used alongside other approaches (Wiedmann and
Barrett 2010).
Earth Observation data
Earth Observation (EO) has huge potential for global,
cost-effective monitoring in many areas of green
economy measurement. EO can provide huge
quantities of relevant data quickly and cheaply to
decision-makers and policy-makers; it therefore
contributes towards our recommendation of improving
measurement of economysocietyenvironment
interactions by providing more comprehensive and
cheaper inputs of data. Remote sensing technologies
are constantly improving but another major
development has been increasing data availability;
NASA and the US Geological Survey made 40 years
of Landsat archives freely accessible in 2008, the
European Space Agency gives open access to data from
Sentinel satellites and the Group on Earth
Observations (GEO) led the Global Earth Observation
System of Systems (GEOSS) project to integrate
thousands of different EO technologies into a
comprehensive, global system (Stone 2010).
EO data can aid the green economy and SDG
measurement agendas in traditionalearth system-
related applications such as forest cover (Da Ponte
et al. 2015), disaster risk management (Briggs and Ward
2012) and wetlands (Jones et al. 2009), and social
applications such as public health (Weng et al. 2013)
and sustainable urban development planning (Musakwa
and Van Niekerk 2014). The growing availability of data,
continuing technological progress and commitment to
EO from organisations like the GEO and the Global
Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (2015)
mean that EO could have a significant role in measuring
green economy transformations.
Transactional data
Correctly measuring the economic scale and impact of
green economy activities (not only environmental
clean-upactivities) can measure the opportunities of
green economy transformations. The size and location
of these opportunities are important signals to policy-
makers and businesses to accelerate this transition.
Within the SEEA, the only section that explicitly
relates to green economy opportunities is EGSS.
Within the OECD framework, there are several
measures (EGSS, green R&D, green patents and
environmentally related innovation) (OECD 2014).
Our analysis concluded that EGSS neither accurately
reflect the scale of green economy opportunities nor
track key green economy transitions. Other OECD
indicators do not measure opportunities sufficiently
and only partially track policy responses.
Due to difficulties in measuring EGSS, between
2007 and 2013 BIS used the Low Carbon
Environmental Goods and Services (LCEGS) dataset
to monitor the low carbon economyand the
environmental sector in the UK. The most recent
report, covering 2011/12, was released in July 2013
(BIS 2013). The underlying data were produced by
kMatrix. The data acquisition and analysis
methodology, outlined in several studies (Georgeson
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© 2017 The Authors. Geo: Geography and Environment published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd and the Royal Geographical Society (with the
Institute of British Geographers)
et al. 2016; Maslin and Poessinouw 2012), is based on
a system originally developed at Harvard for
triangulating transactional and operational business
data to estimate economic values for industries when
government statistics were not available (Jaikumar
1986). Originally developed to track industrial,
technological and market changes, it records how
goods are made. It is more powerful than SIC data
collection to define a products end purpose, by
drawing on data from procurement, logistics,
insurance and other sources, not just sales data. BIS
used LCEGS as a proxy for statistics, while changes
to industry classifications were considered. The data
can be broken out at sectoral level; the greenness
of sectors, industries and countries can be compared,
providing a means of exploring green economy
transformations across different scales and the
influence of different national and sub-national
contexts and priorities. Therefore, transactional data
have the potential to contribute significantly to our
recommendation of better economic measurement of
green economy transformations.
The green economy is an important concept at multiple
levels of governance. This was first examined by Pearce
et al. (1989) and continued through the Green New
Dealsand progress at Rio+20. It is widely used in
national policy frameworks in countries as diverse as
the UK and Sierra Leone. However, tensions still exist
between competing discourses and actors. Green
economy definitions are broad, requiring broader
approaches for more effective measurement, including
broader definitions for economic measurement than
currently used.
This review has identified four key recommendations
for improving measurement of green economy
transformations. These are:
better measures of progressbeyond GDP;
broader measurement of economysociety
environment interactions;
better economic measurement of green economy
alternative measurement approaches: new
methodologies and sources of data.
It is acknowledged, even by those who advance weak
green economy visions that better measures of
progress and development, analysing the quality and
composition of growth (OECD 2011) (and whether
growth is positive), are required. Accurate
measurement of economic activity is important for
sound decision-making, including measuring the
composition and growth of the green economy. We
need to appreciate the key relationships between the
flow of national income and a nations stock of wealth,
including natural and social capital (Nellis and Parker
2004), and the green economy needs ways to measure
the transformation of economies.
Recording and reporting green economy activities is
essential so they can be encouraged and, if appropriate,
subsidised. Some evidence suggests that the global
situation improved under the MDGs because these
indicators of development and poverty reduction were
measured (Sachs 2012), although not all targets will be
met and there is evidence of a number of unintended
consequences from MDG measurement choices
(Fukuda-Parr 2014). Clear green economy mea-
surement between countries would force governments
to take note, and this may cause the greennessof
economies to improve. This may help to define a role
for green economy in the post-2015 agenda: to alleviate
inherent conflicts when governments attempt to achieve
different SDG targets and COP 21 commitments, and
their own national priorities.
Developing measurement of interactions between
the environment and economy is also vital. There is
significant international effort to coordinate and
support national-level action, and progress has been
made. Across all areas examined, challenges remain:
for example, there are significant limitations of national
accounting for the green economy, and measurement
frameworks must account for different national
contexts and data collection difficulties. Alternative
approaches may be able to provide data more cheaply
and more quickly, supporting national statistics
agencies and filling gaps in data collection.
Finally, metrics that go beyond GDP are urgently
required; there will be a real impact on delivering the
green economy without them. To understand and to
accelerate global transitions to the green economy and
to deliver genuine green economy transformations, we
must assess what useful metrics can be measured now
and in the future.
The authors would like to thank the anonymous
reviewers for their feedback, and the editors of this
journal for their supportive and constructive editorial
assistance. The authors would like to thank the
following organisations for providing funding support:
the Economic and Social Research Council and the
Natural Environment Research Council (grant number
ES/J500185/1), and the Royal Society.
1 Adapted goods are defined by Eurostat as goods that are
less polluting or more resource-efficient than equivalent
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