Background of the

Foundation for research on Sustainable National Income

(Text provided by FSNI)

The use of SNI, as a sustainability indicator, has been gradually accepted as being of great scientific and political significance. Its theoretical and practical framework has been developed and evaluated step by step since 1965. In 1969, Dr. Roefie Hueting founded the Department of Environmental Statistics at Statistics Netherlands with the objective to collect relevant physical and monetary data for adapting a standard national income for environmental losses. In 1974, Hueting published New Scarcity and Economic Growth, his seminal study about the greening of national income, with a special focus on the problem of valuation. [1] In 1991 Jan Tinbergen and Roefie Hueting published a first rough estimate of Sustainable World Income in a paper for the Rio conference in 1992. [2] In 1992, Dr. Hueting’s Methodology for the Calculation of SNI was published. [3]

An International Symposium on SNI was held at the Academy of Sciences in Amsterdam in 1999. In 2001 the World Bank (WB) organised a seminar on SNI in Washington D.C. A booklet containing papers and discussions has been published. At the seminar, the Dutch minister of Environment and Development Co-operation Jan Pronk handed the first copy of Economic Growth and Valuation of the Environment: a Debate to the president of the World Bank. [4] This book contains, among other things, an estimate of SNI for the Netherlands, a co-production of the Institute for Environmental Studies, the National Institute for Public Health and Environment (NIPHE) and Statistics Netherlands.

In 2002 the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) organised a seminar on the SNI in Paris. A paper on SNI was presented at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, at the Pugwash Conference on Bio-diversity, University of Groningen and at the OECD workshop on Accounting Frameworks for Sustainable Development. The last two papers have been published in Sharing the Planet [5] and in Measuring Sustainable Development [6] respectively. During these seminars the WB, OECD and WSSD delegates strongly recommended that SNI estimates be developed for more countries, especially developing countries.

Human beings are completely dependent on the functions of our physical surroundings (the environment) in all their activities, whether it be breathing, drinking, producing, consuming or recreating. In several regions in developing countries unsustainable use of them has most probably led to production levels much lower than would have been possible had use been at sustainable levels. The North Sea cod fishery is currently on the brink of collapse, and the current catch of cod is less than 20% of what would have been possible, had fishing remained sustainable. These are clear signals of what can happen to the living conditions of generations to come if we continue to fail giving priority to attaining an activity level that can be sustained in the long term. The SNI can show the gap between the current and a sustainable situation and provides in physical and monetary units and by kind of activity information about the measures to be taken in order to arrive at the transition path to sustainability.


[1] English edition: North Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1980.

[2] Published in R. Goodland et al. (eds), Environmentally Sustainable Economic Development, UNESCO, Paris, 1991, also in R.Goodland et al. (eds), Population, Technology and Lifestyle, 1992, Island Press and as Environment Working Paper 46, The World Bank, Washington, DC.

[3] Statistics Netherlands, Statistical Essays M44, SDU Publishers, ‘s-Gravenhage; also published as WWF International Report, Gland, Switzerland, June 1992.

[4] Ecco et al. (eds), Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, 2001.

[5] Van der Zwaan and Petersen (eds), Eburon Academic Publishers, Delft, 2003.

[6] OECD, Paris, 2004.