What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is about protecting and improving the health of both people and the planet. Living sustainably means meeting all of the basic needs of people today, but within our environmental limits.  All people share fundamental human needs, including those for sustenance, safety, participation, purpose, and autonomy. Sustainable actions help achieve these fundamental needs in ways that are both equitable and protect environmental quality and natural resources. 

What is the Sustainable Communities Index?

The Sustainable Communities Index (SCI) is a tool to track progress towards a livable, equitable and prosperous city. The SCI includes over 100 performance indicators designed to measure diverse sustainable community objectives organized under seven sections: Environment, Transportation, Community, Public Realm, Education, Housing, and Economy.  The measures not only look at the city as a whole, but also expose the variation in environmental quality and livability among various city neighborhoods. The data and methods for the SCI Indicators are all publically available. 

Who created the Sustainable Communities Index?

In 2007, the Program on Health Equity and Sustainability at the San Francisco Department of Public Health along with numerous governmental, non-profit, academic, and business partners, developed the SCI (originally named the Healthy Development Measurement Tool) to support a comprehensive vision for a healthy city that was developed by group of businesses and community organizations with the support of public agencies.  Since that time, the SCI team has improved and updated the measures based on both lessons from local applications and international best practices. For more information on the background of the SCI, see the history of the SCI.

Why Measure Sustainability?

The purpose of sustainability indicators is to support the achievement of important shared goals.  Effectively designed to reflect local needs and global priorities, the indicators allow for an informed public debate that is necessary for an inclusive and democratic society. Indicators identify our current assets and future challenges.  They point to differences among groups or areas in both resources and outcomes.

Sustainability and Health

Sustainable places provide the resources for health. The resources necessary for optimal health and wellbeing include fundamental human needs such as adequate and good quality housing; access to public transit, good schools, and parks; safe routes for pedestrians and bicyclists; meaningful and productive employment with fair wages; unpolluted air, soil, and water; and, cooperation, trust, and civic participation. Better access to these resources increases the chance of living healthy, fulfilling lives and avoiding preventable the diseases and injuries. On the other hand, differences in these resources which currently exist among neighborhoods, cities and countries are the greatest contributors to grave inequities in health and well-being. 

Using the SCI

Information in the SCI can be used for policy, planning, advocacy, and research, and education.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health has used SCI measures to prioritize and focus San Francisco initiatives on social and environmental factors that affect human health. This has led to a number of changes in the way the city works, including new policies to address priorities such as air pollution, noise, and traffic safety.

San Francisco’s Planning, Transportation, Housing, and Economic Development agencies have all used measures in the SCI in the development of community plan and the design of infrastructure projects.  These plans and projects all take actions to improve the outcomes measured in the SCI.

Community groups in San Francisco have used SCI measure to both understand neighborhood conditions and advocate for resident needs and interests.  The SCI has supported agreements among residents and developers that provide diverse community benefits.

A number of cities including Denver, Colorado, Galveston, Texas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Geneva, Switzerland have applied or adapted the SCI methods for community health assessment or land use planning.

Researchers are also using the SCI to better understand the connections between neighborhood conditions and health outcomes.

For more specific examples of SCI uses within San Francisco, see the Applications within San Francisco page. For examples of how the SCI has been adapted to other locales, see the Adaptations Elsewhere page.

The Department of Public Health can help you interpret SCI Indicator data and maps, advise you on how to use the SCI to evaluate a development project or plan. The Technical Resources section of this website provides a number of resources, tools and case studies that will help you use and apply the SCI.