Sustainability Indicators

Using indicators to measure the progress on sustainable developments on transnational level is quite an ambitious task, as available data sets differ among the countries. Also the units for which data is collected have different scales within the trilateral Wadden Sea Region. Nevertheless, the analysis of sustainability indicators delivers still basic information about the performance of the WSR. In the discussion about challenges and opportunities for the regions, the WSF can use the results of the indicator analysis as valuable background data.

To achieve a reasonable degree of comparability, the recent approach uses data on province level in the Netherlands, on county level in Germany and municipality level in Denmark. If data sets differ among the countries, e.g. for age groups, it is indicated and explained in the presented results. The results just show the real data sets, a qualitative assessment of the data will not be investigated, as too many elusive factors have to be considered (social conditions, geographical situation of the municipalities, emphases of developments, influence of neighboring units, etc).

The hard data delivers information about deficits, chances and challenges within the different units and will hopefully also provide information and incentives for the regional and local politicians to make their units more sustainable.

Please find below some of our new created graphics and presentations:

2015-2018: Sustainability indicator project on regional and local level

The WSF has recently finalised a project analysing sustainability indicators in the Wadden Sea Region on regional and local level. The project was mainly financed by the “Niedersächsische Wattenmeerstiftung”.
WSF Report on Indicators Project 2015-2018


In 2015 the stakeholders of the WSF intensively discussed relevance and value of the indicator tool and agreed to improve the instrument by in-depth analyses to make it more valuable and useful for stakeholders and policy makers on local and regional level. The data should be analyzed taking characteristics of the regions and specific circumstances into account.

Further, the improved instrument should provide an analysis of the different sustainability trends and their causes on regional and local level. This analysis could provide assistance in decision and policy making to strive for more sustainability.


From 2016 on, the WSF cooperated with the universities Tilburg (NL) and Kiel as well as with the Dutch Wadden Academy to build on the WSF indicator tool, using the Dutch approach to provide an attractive and valuable instrument for stakeholders and policy makers on local and regional level.

With the support of two master students from the university Kiel, a data set for more than 60 defined indicators for more than 500 municipalities in the German Wadden Sea Region (WSR) was compiled.

First results and discussion

Experiences with the WSF indicator tool clearly show some limits to assess the degree of sustainability on the local level, at least for German municipalities. The available data sets do have several gaps in information. Most of the indicator data is gathered on NUTS‑3 level and not on LAU 2 (former NUTS‑5) level, which are the municipalities. Also an intensive research in some municipalities itself could not deliver the data needed for an in-depth assessment. This is very much different to the Netherlands, where data on municipality level is almost fully available.

Following, it was agreed to assess the degree of sustainability on county level. This encompasses 11 counties and 3 urban districts along the German Wadden Sea coast. As the data is quite easily accessible, the elaboration of a time series is envisaged. In parallel, some municipalities in the coastal region of Lower Saxony were analysed with a number of specific indicators to describe sustainable development on local level as far as possible.

Project results

Data compilation and data assessment were part of a two-years project, co-financed by the “Niedersächsische Wattenmeerstiftung”. The final report “Development and Analysis of Sustainability Indicators” is available as pdf-download.

Logo Niedersächsische Wattenmeerstiftung

2003-2014: WSF Sustainability Indicator Tool

WSF Indicators Project 2003-2014

The indicator set is a tool for the WSF to communicate the developments in sustainability with so-called indexes to the Forum members for discussing the developments, for politicians and decision-makers in the Wadden Sea regions and municipalities to know about the sustainability development trends. The tool will deliver annual information about the progress or regress of sustainability of the defined regions, including information about specific weaknesses and strengths.

With regard to contributing to a sustainable development in the Wadden Sea Region, the WSF has identified overall sustainability objectives as well as sector-specific strategies for achieving these objectives. Sustainability indicators were required to measure the actual status of sustainable development, as well as progress in achieving the objectives. The WSF has assessed data from 2003 till 2014 according to the sustainability of the Wadden Sea Region.

The tool is based on a multi-level system with different levels of details.

LEVEL 1 shows the overall temperature of sustainable development in the Wadden Sea Region via summing up the Level 2 measurements for the social, the economic and the ecological dimensions, respectively.
LEVEL 2 measures are based on a scoring system with regard to assessments of the indicator values in level 3. A positive, neutral or negative score is given for each of the 16 main objectives, i.e. whether the status or trend is positive, neutral or negative with respect to the given objective.
LEVEL 3 is two-folded; this level contains the primary data of all sub-indicators (the indicators of level two are an aggregation of sub-indicators of level 3). Furthermore, the data is assessed and attached with values due to the agreed objectives. These values feed in the scoring system of level two.
The results shown in the graph reflect the overall temperature of the development of the three sustainability dimensions ecology, economy and social situation in the Wadden Sea Region. Individual indicators, respectively sub-indicators like unemployment rate or industrial chemical in bird eggs could influence the shape of the graphs and a healthy economy must not necessarily have adverse impacts on ecology. To analyze the causes of the overall picture, the indicator tool has to be explored on the lower level.

WSFIndicator Graph 2003-2014
WSF Indicator Table 2003-2014
Interested organizations are invited to discuss with us the further development of the trilateral indicator tool and to cooperate according improvements. Please contact the WSF secretariat.

The scale of the ordinate in the graph is based on the division of the total score by the number of available indicators in order to make it comparable.

The indicator tool is maintained throughout the years and adapted to the changes within the national and regional statistics. In some cases, data for the selected indicators are provided with a delay of two years, which means, data provided in 2010 concerns the year 2008. In order to update the graphs, calculated data have to be used, but this is indicated and marked in level 3 of the indicator tool. The table shows the scoring results of 16 indicators in level 2.

Analysis and output of the Indicator Tool (2013)


Please find below some examples of our Sustainability Indicator Tool with regard to demographic change:
1.) Population growth in a Wadden Sea Region compared with the relevant national average growth rate (Index formula: ("WS area population(t)"/("WS area population(t-1)-1) - ("national population(t)"/("national population(t-1)-1))
2.) Population growth 2002-2012 in % (Analysis by WADDENACADEMIE)
3.) Share of 65+ years old people in the total population in a Wadden Sea Region compared with the relevant national average share (Index formula: ("WS area population 65+"/"WS area population") - ("national population 65+"/"national population"))
4.) Average annual percentage population growth between 2002-2013 in the Wadden area (LAU-2) ((Sources: Data at municipality level (NL, DE) and parish level (DK) - (Analysis by WADDENACADEMIE)))