Evaluating impacts of development and conservation projects using sustainability indicators: Opportunities and challenges

Dorice Agol, Agnieszka E. Latawiec, Bernardo B. N. Strassburg

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57 Citations (Scopus)


There has been an increased interest in using sustainability indicators for evaluating the impacts of development and conservation projects. Past and recent experiences have shown that sustainability indicators can be powerful tools for measuring the outcomes of various interventions, when used appropriately and adequately. Currently, there is a range of methods for applying sustainability indicators for project impact evaluation at the environment–development interface. At the same time, a number of challenges persist which have implication for impact evaluation processes especially in developing countries. We highlight some key and recurrent challenges, using three cases from Kenya, Indonesia and Brazil.

In this study, we have conducted a comparative analysis across multiple projects from the three countries, which aimed to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods. The assessments of these projects were designed to evaluate their positive, negative, short-term, long term, direct and indirect impacts. We have identified a set of commonly used sustainability indicators to evaluate the projects and have discussed opportunities and challenges associated with their application. Our analysis shows that impact evaluation processes present good opportunities for applying sustainability indicators. On the other hand, we find that project proponents (e.g. managers, evaluators, donors/funders) face challenges with establishing full impacts of interventions and that these are rooted in monitoring and evaluation processes, lack of evidence-based impacts, difficulties of measuring certain outcomes and concerns over scale of a range of impacts.

We outline key lessons learnt from the multiple cases and propose ways to overcome common problems. Results from our analysis demonstrate practical experiences of applying sustainability indicators in developing countries context where there are different prevailing socio-economic, cultural and environmental conditions. The knowledge derived from this study may therefore be useful to a wider range of audience who are concerned with sustainable integration of development and environmental conservation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Impact Assessment Review
Issue numberSeptember
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2014


  • Sustainable development
  • Sustainability indicators
  • Project impact evaluation
  • Lessons learnt
  • Developing countries

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