Qualitative Growth

How do we measure progress, sustainability and resilience?

Despite decades of critique Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is, and has long been, the dominant indicator used for measuring the progress of a nation. However, the measure only represents the flows of exchange of goods and services in the formal economy, but does not illustrate the nature and quality of the goods and services, nor the flows in the informal economy.

What gets measured, gets done, and the unidimensional focus on increasing the economy has devastating impacts on our natural environment and our social relation.

In this light, we need to challenge the current measurement of progress, and develop a more inclusive and multidimensional measure that takes into consideration what really matters in life. At the same time it is crucial to recognise that not everything can be measured – the intrinsic value of a beautiful landscape, the value of family and friendship. Therefore, it is also a valid point to consider what the objective with measuring is, and if we should measure at all.

This topic will address questions like:

  • How can we develop a transparent measure for our common social well being that incorporates various indicators and evaluates qualitative societal improvements, positive technological development, ecological welfare and socio-economic stability – with respect for the planetary boundaries?

The plenary session related to this theme will be led by Charles Eisenstein, who will also lead the Solution Labs.


To prepare well for the workshop we recommend the following texts:

Eisenstein, C. (2011): Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, Evolver Editions, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, USA.

  • a powerful book that traces the history of money from ancient gift economies to modern capitalism, revealing how the money system has contributed to alienation, competition, and scarcity, destroyed community, and necessitated endless growth.

Jackson, T. (2011): Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, Routledge.

  • a book that shows that, beyond a certain point, growth does not increase human well being. Prosperity Without Growth analyses the complex relationships between growth, environmental crises and social recession. It proposes a route to a sustainable economy, and argues for a redefinition of “prosperity” in light of the evidence on what really contributes to people’s wellbeing.

Sedlacek, T. (2011): Economics of Good ad Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street, Oxford University Press, UK.

  • a book that radically rethinks the economic field, challenges our assumptions about the world. Economics is touted as a science, a value-free mathematical inquiry, but Sedlacek sees it as a cultural phenomenon, a product of our civilization. To grasp the beliefs underlying economics, he breaks out of the field’s confines and explores myths, religion, theology, philosophy, psychology, literature, and film, ranging from the epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament to Matrix and the consumerism of Fight Club.

Abdallah, S., Michaelson, J., Seaford, C. & Stoll, L. (2011): Measuring our Progress: The Power of Well-being, New Economics Foundation, London, UK.

  • this report presents New Economics Foundation’s contribution to the current debate about how well-being can be measured and how the data can be used to bring about more effective policy-making.

Abdallah, S., Michaelson, J., & Stoll, L. (2011): Happy Planet Index: 2012 Report, New Economics Foundation, London, UK.

  • this report presents the Happy Planet Index: a new measure of progress that focuses on what matters: sustainable well-being for all. It tells us how well nations are doing in terms of supporting their inhabitants to live good lives now, while ensuring that others can do the same in future. New Economics Foundation’s contribution to the current debate about how well-being can be measured and how the data can be used to bring about more effective policy-making.

Eisenstein, C. (2014): Development in the Ecological Age, KOSMOS Journal, Spring/summer 2014, Massachusetts, USA. 

  • article by Eisenstein that questions the distinction between developed and developing nations and the implicit assumption that there is one ‘normal, inevitable and generally desirable’ path for nations to follow. He reflects upon the distinction between a society based on a gift economy and a society based on a growth-dependent debt-based financial system. Further, he explores how considering the universe and all its elements (land, rivers, plants, etc.) sacred and living things, can lead to an alternative to ‘development’.


Eisenstein, C. (2014): Living without Economic Growth

  • in this video Eisenstein asks if we as society can live without economic growth and how our lives could look like.


Links to explore the topic of measuring progress:

Happy Planet Index

  • a measure developed by New Economics Foundation in cooperation with Friends of the Earth and Soil Association. The index combines life expectancy, experienced well-being and ecological footprint.

Better Life Index

  • developed by OECD, the index allows individuals to rate eleven indicators according to own preferences for what matters most, and then rank countries accordingly.

Gross National Happiness

  • an index developed by The Centre for Bhutan Studies.

Measure What Matters

  • an initiative lead by the Green Economy Coalition to bring alignment between corporate, national and global actors to find better ways to measure progress.

Beyond GDP

  • initiated by the European Commission, the initiative seeks to developed alternative indicators to GDP including social and environmental aspects.

Any questions?

Contact us at info@omstilling.nu