Bending the Linear toward the Circular
Building a Sustainability Index for Our Times
3 min read

Building a Sustainability Index for Our Times

Building a Sustainability Index for Our Times

Building A Sustainability Index for Our Times

“Bending the linear economy towards the circular” is a nice way to visualize how humans must become far less wasteful and cognizant of how the damage we inflict on the Earth will destroy us in the end.

There are unequal challenges facing the 180 or so nations of the world in making any sort of progress to this goal. Wealthy nations, especially the United States, are major contributors to CO2 and related emissions, as well as linear, consumptive practices in how they eat things and buy other things.

The G20 nations, for example, represent more than 80% of the total global economy with about 60% of the world's population. The other 40% (about 3 billion people) must get by with less than 20% of the world's economic production.

Where it's mostly a matter of political and societal will for the world's wealthy nations to address Climate Change and create a more-circular economy, there are serious practical limits on what the developing world should be asked to do and will be able to do.

Measuring the Climate-Change Challenge
The good news is, this can be measured. We can calculate the percentage of a developing nation's GDP that would be required to bring its emissions to zero, while simultaneously installing enough new, sustainable digital infrastructure (electricity, computer systems and datacenters, networking, telecommunications) to bring its people up to a reasonable standard of living. (We can also calculate this number for developed nations.)

A few of my colleagues and I have been working on this problem for a few years, using the Tau Index I developed a decade ago as the foundation of creating a new Tau Sustainability Index. (I'll be speaking about this during #SB21, produced by, in San Diego October 18-21.)

All of my Tau Index work takes openly available demographic, socioeconomic, and technological data and integrates it into formulas (to use an old-fashioned word) that look at each nation on a relative basis. The question is always, how well is a particular nation doing relatively, given its current socioeconomic condition and resources?

Ongoing Work Requires Collaboration
But building a developing nation's road to true sustainability thus involves more than the relatively straightforward calculation of how high a percentage of its GDP will be required to build its digital infrastructure. The relative approach to viewing these nations levels the playing field for them a little, thus bringing more optimism to dynamic places such as the nation of Georgia, Vietnam, Rwanda, and many others than may seem apparent from mere, raw statistics.

Nonetheless, I do not view this as an ivory-tower exercise. Realizing the ongoing, very serious potential danger and actual ugly violence facing much of the world's population, and the real political instability in even the most advanced nations (eg, the UK, US, France), we carry no illusions about how our little research project is going to influence something as large as the entire world and the enormity of its climate and economic challenges.

So creating the actual Tau Sustainability Index is an ongoing project. We have holes to fill in our formulas, holes that will often be filled with subjective data about political environments, social strife, and zeitgeist rather than the objective data about economies and technology development we've used to build our core Tau research.

Much more research and collaborative insight is needed to make it a truly useful tool. We are always seeking informed voices and the attention of governments worldwide in our quest to contribute something of value to the world's most important discussions.

Contact us to learn more, to contribute, or to consider inviting someone from our team to speak at your organization or event.