Sustainability Science

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 973–1000 | Cite as

Comparing sustainable development measurement based on different priorities: sustainable development goals, economics, and human well-being—Southeast Europe case

  • Noam Lior
  • Mirjana Radovanović
  • Sanja Filipović
Original Article
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Sustainability Science Innovation and Capacity Development


Sustainability analysis practice has so far proved that measurement of the level of sustainable development (SD) is associated with a large number of methodological difficulties and limitations, related mainly to the selection of indicators, data processing and interpretation of the results. This study is based on an assumption that SD should be measured in ways that depend on the level of development of the country, i.e., it is highly recommended to develop separate sets of indicators to be used for highly developed, medium-developed and poor countries. To that end, we carried out the study on a sample of 13 Southeast European (SEE) countries, and Germany and the Russian Federation for comparison—which are at different levels of development and overall political and socio-economic ambients. The research includes analysis by three different approaches to SD, each based on different sets of indicators: a “GDP approach” which is traditional, and in which economic and GDP-based indicators hold the dominant role; a “Beyond-GDP approach” that reduces the use of economic indicators while increasing the share of social indicators and those based on natural resources; and an “SDG-based approach” that is mainly using indicators of quality of life as defined by the United Nations (UN) SDG. The analysis was performed using the method of composite indicators. Groups of 20 indicators were selected according to their suitability to each of the 3 above-described approaches. The study objective leads to examining ways for measuring development, to suggest new ones, recommend approaches to sustainability planning for the considered SEE countries and beyond, to contribute to the analysis methodology (by assessing usability and reliability of certain indicators and of linkages between them), as well as to rank the countries’ levels of SD under these approaches. Some of the main conclusions are: (a) the indicators having the highest potential impact on the level of SD were foreign direct investments, public debt, energy imports, total natural resources rents, terrestrial and marine protected areas, vulnerable employment, and the Corruption Index; (b) use of the Inclusive Wealth Index is encouraged, so it is important to advance proper methodologies for its measurement; (c) Slovenia and Hungary were the highest-ranked SEE countries under all three approaches, just under Germany; and (d) the ranking order under the SDG-based approach could be used to identify the prioritization of development effort and funding that countries should apply and receive for meeting the SDG. Recommendations for further sustainability measurement were made based on the study’s findings.


Sustainable development goals Sustainable development quantification Human well-being Beyond GDP Southeast Europe 



The work of co-authors Radovanović and Filipović on this paper was for a study that is part of the projects supported by the Ministry of Science and Technological Development of Serbia for the period of 2016–2020.


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Noam Lior
    • 1
  • Mirjana Radovanović
    • 2
  • Sanja Filipović
    • 3
  1. 1.University of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of Security StudiesEducons UniversitySremska KamenicaSerbia
  3. 3.Economics InstituteBelgradeSerbia

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