Good News: Canada (and by extension BC) is Sustainably Competitive

June 12, 2013
Denise Mullen

Whether we like it or not, today the wealth of a nation is primarily measured by its Gross Domestic Product, which is an annual summation of the value-added of the goods and services produced within a country's borders in a specific time period. However, what about the value of things that are uncounted in GDP but still integral to the functioning of our economic, social and governance systems? In a recent publication entitled Sustainable Competitiveness Index (SCI), and despite criticism from those who love to hate the policies and approaches we use to manage our natural resource heritage in Canada and BC, Canada in particular is doing quite well. In fact, overall we rank 7th behind a handful of countries that are normally lauded for their achievements in balancing the environment-social-economic equation – Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Germany.

Arguably this could be viewed as a marketing document from a company looking for new business. One could (should) also be concerned that data can be manipulated to show a picture that is preferred over one that is less flattering. With that in mind, the report’s authors compare their own work and the structure of their index to the Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) produced by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum. Given that the results and analysis of the SCI use a minimum of opinion research that are data-driven from reputable sources like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and United Nations, it is hard to argue with the conclusion --- Canada is doing quite well relative to the 170+ other countries in the world.

The SCI uses the standard definition of sustainability, more or less: the ability of a country to meet the needs and basic requirements of current generations while sustaining or growing national and individual wealth into the future without depleting natural and social capital. Competitiveness is a measure of relative performance.

The four pillars of the index are:

  • Natural capital: a measure of the natural endowment of natural resources and their rate of depletion; this pillar is worth 22.5% of the overall score (Canada ranks 5th).
  • Resource intensity and efficiency: a measure of available resource use as a proxy for operational competitiveness under constraints; this pillar is worth 20% of the overall score (Canada does poorly on this pillar).
  • Sustainable innovation: a measure of a country’s ability to innovate, add value and generate wealth and jobs; this pillar is worth 35% of the overall score (Canada is 19th).
  • Social Cohesion: a measure of the social safety net, including health, equity, security and freedom; this pillar is worth 22.5% of the overall score (Canada is 13th).

A note on the methodology: a country can score very low on one pillar but overall do quite well because each pillar is not weighted equally (as noted above); within each pillar there are between 14 and 21 indicators, and 73 indicators overall; and the weight and relevance of each indicator within a pillar depends on the integrity of the raw data and the time value of the data. For example, more current data accounts for a higher proportion of a score (between 60% and 80%), while the historical trend of the data counts for less (between 40% and 60%). Pages 39 to 47 of the report provide a more in-depth explanation of the method used.

We can make the leap here that because BC tends to be ahead of the curve relative to Canada on many of the sustainable development indicators used by Environment Canada – air quality, water, climate, protected areas – we would likely score well against other provinces if there was a Canadian SCI. For example, we have great air quality and it is improving, we have set aside 15.6% of our land base and have the biggest spread between total land area and quantum of land protected in some form, we have a plethora of marine areas that have some sort of management regime over them, and we are aware of water management issues and are in the process of trying to advance a new Water Act.

There is always work to be done, and BC/Canada are no exceptions; but we really can stop beating ourselves up for not being progressive enough. In many ways BC is a leader. Let’s recognize our successes and vow to do even better in the future.

How Canada Scores on Four Pillars of Sustainability

Source: The Global Sustainable Competitiveness Index 2013 (pg 86)

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