HomeUncategorizedUsing data to create a replicable City Sustainability Index and benchmark progress

Cities across the UK and internationally are working to develop more sustainable, resilient, healthy and liveable urban environments to encourage inward investment, growth and prosperity. A key barrier, however, is that they lack an open and transparent way to set targets and benchmark sustainability and progress. Cities struggle to identify their relative strengths and weaknesses, and to develop systems to help priorities actions.

The dynamic nature of cities is such that understanding and defining key development priorities is complex and time-consuming. In order to overcome this issue, Oxford City Council commissioned environmental consultants Aether to assess the city’s sustainability against a range of economic, environmental and social indicators, as compared with other UK cities, to provide a high-level understanding of areas of strength and aspects for improvement. The indicators draw on publicly available datasets as well as data sourced directly from local authorities to provide the best overview of local authorities’ sustainability.

The below chart shows sustainability indicators, ranking Oxford’s performance compared to that of other urban local authorities in the UK, from worst (0) to best performance (100). Compared to other local authorities in the UK, Oxford is doing particularly well on issues related to contaminated land and developing a local Low Emission Zone (LEZ), with continued local action to progress local generation of renewable energy and uptake of electric vehicles.

This Sustainability Index has proved invaluable for policy makers in Oxford. The index provides useful evidence to inform strategic planning decisions, per the council:

We are the first local authority in the UK to commission an independent review into an area’s environmental credentials. In future, the Oxford Sustainability Index will be used to underpin our Local Plan, which defines how Oxford will develop in terms of housing, jobs and facilities over the next 20 years. The index will also form the evidence base for a new Sustainability Strategy from the City Council, which will set out how Oxford can further improve its environmental performance over the next 20 years.”

Below is an overview of Oxford’s sustainability performance compared to other UK local authorities, where green = high performance, yellow = average performance, and red = improvements identified.


The indicators not only provide Oxford City Council with the evidence it needs to make key strategic planning decisions, but also acts as a source of information to other actors such as the private sector and other cities in the specific sustainability challenges impacting them. Such an approach allows for a focused application of clean technologies, social innovation and infrastructure investment opportunities, and can easily be applied to other cities in the UK and abroad. Providing a platform for the private and public sectors to cooperate with a common goal of enhancing the sustainability of cities can have a clear benefit in accelerating policy, technology and infrastructure development.

For more information on this initiative and how we work with cities, please contact Christofer Ahlgren at christofer.ahlgren@aether-uk.com.