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New sustainability index reveals ecological and socio-economic problems

Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe first to be investigated
26 May 2016

Sustainability is one of the main challenges in the world today. The Northern Netherlands can do its bit by monitoring regional sustainability, on not only on the ecological but also the social and economic dimensions. The Easy Index measures the most important aspects of sustainability in the region, visualizing them in a way that makes them easy to understand.

The first results were presented by researchers from the University of Groningen at the annual Visite Veenhuizen meeting of VNO NCW-Noord, a business organization for the northern Netherlands. The results show how the three northern provinces score on six socio-economic and six ecological criteria.

Code red to gold

The Easy Index uses a colour scheme to depict the provinces’ scores. Red means that urgent improvement is required on a particular point, orange that additional policy is necessary, green that the province is doing reasonably well and gold that the optimal situation has been achieved.

Almost all ecological criteria require extra policy measures

All three provinces were classified as red for the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the soil. In contrast to Groningen and Friesland, Drenthe was classified as orange on ‘soil’, because it is implementing an active soil remediation policy. The air quality in Groningen and Friesland was good, but additional policy measures were required in Drenthe. All three provinces were classified as orange for the ecological criterion ‘waste and natural resources’, and Drenthe was classified as red and the other two provinces orange for ‘water’. Groningen was obviously classified as red for ‘ground subsistence and movement’. All in all, almost all the ecological criteria require a considerable number of extra provincial policy measures. Provincial data was not available for the sixth criterion (nature including biodiversity).

Policy urgently required to tackle poverty and unemployment

Groningen is performing well socio-economically, thanks to the city of Groningen, which performs well in the area of education. Friesland performs well in the area of health. Drenthe does not perform well on any of the criteria. The demographic trend in Drenthe is alarming with few young and many elderly people. Significant policy improvement is urgently required here. Economic-welfare policy is urgently needed in all three provinces, because there is a lot of poverty and long-term unemployment. With regard to social welfare, Friesland had a good score for the number of volunteers, but many people there feel lonely. Extra attention is also needed to increase the level of social trust.


The Department of Sociology of the University of Groningen funded this first measurement in conjunction with its start-up Decide (dutch) and VNO-NCW Noord. The technology and the data from the Telos, the Brabant Centre for Sustainable Development at Tilburg University made this first measurement possible.

Repeat annually

The Department of Sociology at the University of Groningen and VNO-NCW Noord would like to see the sustainablility index repeated annually, not only for the provinces but also for the municipalities, water boards and businesses that all bear their own responsibility in the field of sustainability. An annual measurement and inclusion of these other organizations will only be possible with funding from the provinces or the Social and Economic Council of the Northern Netherlands (SER Northern Netherlands) and possibly the Province of Groningen’s Economic Board Groningen.

More information

A summary of the approach and main conclusions of the research can be downloaded from

The full report provides a lot of extra information on the separate indicators that were used for the scores on the 12 main dimensions. It can be downloaded from

Contact: for more information, please contact the first author, Louisa Firnenburg, . The secretary (Saskia Simon) can be reached at the following number: 050-3636469.

Last modified:08 June 2016 4.10 p.m.
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