Ecocity Insights: Preliminary Comparison of IEFS with ISO 37120

by Jennie Moore, Director, Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship, British Colombia Institute of Technology

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has just released ISO 37120 Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life (http://www.iso.org/iso/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=62436). The purpose is to advance a holistic and integrated approach to sustainable development through uniform measurement of standardized indicators. The hope is that the indicators will be used to track and monitor city performance towards the goal of achieving sustainability. However, conformance to the standard does not confer sustainability status.

The ISO 37120 indicators are categorized as “core” (mandatory), “supporting” (voluntary), and “profile” (descriptive). The Ecocity Framework and Standards (IEFS) groups headings of indicators according to “Urban Design,” “Bio-Geo Physical Features,” “Socio-Cultural Features,” and “Ecological Imperatives.” Both IEFS and ISO 37120:2014 are intended to be applicable to any city, municipality or local government regardless of size, location, or level of development. Using standardized indicators helps to make the performance of these cities comparable. A key consideration for both is that the methodology for measurement of indicators is consistent and verifiable. The IEFS indicators emphasize ecological sustainability and social equity in an attempt to distinguish the achievement of a minimum ecocity standard of performance, meaning a city that exists in balance with nature. ISO37120 indicators emphasize city services and quality of life. In the future these indicators could also be used with ISO37101: Sustainable development in communities – Management systems – General principles and requirements anticipated for release in 2016 (http://www.iso.org/iso/home/news_index/news_archive/news.htm?refid=Ref1856). Anyone interested in participating in this standard can send an e-mail to harjung@iso.org.

In a preliminary comparison of the ISO37120 with the IEFS (see Table 1), several important similarities and distinctions are noticeable. Both ISO37120 and IEFS present commonality in addressing topics related to education, economy, and energy. However, there are no headings in the ISO37120 to address food or soils, arguably important gaps where sustainability and resilience are concerned Whereas ISO37120 captures multiple indicators under the heading of “Environment,” the IEFS breaks these down into more refined categories including: “Ecological Carrying Capacity,” “Ecological Integrity,” “Clean Air,” etc. On the other hand, ISO37120 introduces multiple category headings to deal with “Water and Sanitation,” as well as “Wastewater.” The IEFS captures these under one heading: “Clean and Safe Water.” Similarly, ISO37120 introduces multiple category headings for “Health,” “Safety,” “Recreation,” “Urban Planning,” “Telecommunication and Innovation,” and “Finance.” Most of these issues are grouped within the IEFS under two headings: “Healthy Culture,” and “Well Being/Quality of Life.”

There are also differences in terms used for headings that seem to approach measurement of similar phenomenon, e.g. ISO37120 identifies “Transportation” whereas the IEFS identifies “Access by Proximity.” In the case of the latter, the IEFS includes access to shelter within this category, whereas ISO 37120 establishes a separate heading for “Shelter.” Similarly, ISO 37120 introduces “Governance” as a heading, whereas IEFS addresses this topic under the heading “Community Capacity Building.” Where ISO37120 identifies “Solid Waste,” the IEFS identifies “Responsible Resources/Materials.”

These distinctions reveal important nuances in the values and thought-processes that contribute to the emergence of different indicator groupings. The evolution of indicators to measure city performance is an important step towards sustainable community development and specifically what can be defined as an ecocity.

Table 1: Comparison of IEFS and ISO37120 Categories and Headings

British Columbia Institute of Technology School of Construction and the Environment is Lead Sponsor of the International Ecocity Framework and Standards Initiative

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