Defra has unveiled a new set of sustainable development indicators (SDIs) against which the government will measure the UK's progress towards becoming a green economy

The 37 proposed indicators, which are subject to consultation, will replace the existing set of 68 SDIs published in 2010.

Unlike the current measures, the new SDIs are split between the three traditional pillars of sustainable development, with the 12 “headline” indicators and 25 “supplementary” indicators listed as either an environmental, economic or societal SDI.

Headline environment SDIs include the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted as a result of consumption and the natural resources used to generate gross domestic product, while supplementary indicators cover total waste sent to landfill and the status of protected species.

The indicators are generally aggregate or summary statistics, usually providing trends to show changes over time. Under the proposed SDIs, the government will not assess the UK’s total energy demand or water consumption, as it does now, but instead will measure “water availability” – the amount of water available for abstraction – and the proportion of overall energy consumption being generated renewably.

New indicators include: measuring climate change adaption; sales of low-carbon goods and services; and the UK’s impacts on global biodiversity as a result of imported goods.

“Rationalising the SDIs is useful and the new list covers important issues, such as measuring consumption-based GHGs,” said Martin Baxter, IEMA’s executive director of policy.

“However, given recent pushback from the Treasury on environment issues, questions have to be asked as to what extent its ministers see a strong environmental goods and services sector as being a real indicator of economic progress.

“The SDIs should enable us to see whether government policy is being directed to move the UK towards more sustainable development and if all departments are really committed to a green economy.”

At the same time as it is consulting on the new SDIs, Defra is also asking for feedback on its revised guidance on how organisations should measure and report their environmental impacts.

First published in 2006, the guidelines aim to help those businesses required to report on environmental issues in their annual reports, and provide advice on how to identify environmental key performance indicators (KPIs).

The revised guidance has been aligned with Defra’s guidelines on reporting GHG emissions, and replaces the 22 KPIs listed in the original text with chapters focusing on developing KPIs in five key categories: air pollution; water; biodiversity/ecosystems services; raw materials; and waste.