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What is the Sustainable Development Index?

What’s the intersection between the Sustainable Development Index and going digital nomad? Stuff and junk and more stuff. 

As your Guide finished getting rid of all of the stuff in his apartment (Where to donate all of your stuff in Toronto when you go Digital Nomad) I couldn’t help but notice how much stuff I had. And I definitely didn’t think of myself as somebody that accumulates stuff. I believed I needed everything I had. But as I began to find new homes for it all, I recognized how rarely I used most of it. I had appliances and clothes, shoes and office supplies, exercise equipment and electronics just in case I needed them. Maybe I had used them once or twice. Embarrassingly, I found duplicates and triplicates of many items. I used something so rarely that I forgot I had it, and then bought a new one, probably used it once, and forget about it again. 

The thing is, all of the junk sitting in my apartment took resources and energy to create. That all could’ve stayed in the ground instead of collecting dust in my closets.

One of the reasons for going Digital Nomad is to reduce the amount of stuff I have and need. My old lifestyle was partly a product of the culture in which I lived. In Canada and the US, we love collecting the earth’s resources in our homes. And we consume far more than is actually available to us on the planet. Although that can mean we rank highly on the UN’s Human Development Index, we don’t rank so well on the Sustainable Development Index, developed by economic anthropologist Jason Hickel.

The Sustainable Development Index vs the Human Development Index

The Sustainable Development Index (SDI) was created partly as a response to the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI measures a country by life expectancy, education level, and GDP. It’s supposed to tell us how “developed” a country is. But the HDI doesn’t account for how the development happens. It doesn’t look at emissions or how much of the planet’s resources a country uses to develop. If you destroyed every house in your neighborhood to build yourself a really big house, the HDI would score you high. It would score the other (now homeless) families around you low. As the UN Development Programme mentions on the HDI website: The HDI “does not reflect on inequalities, poverty, human security, empowerment, etc.” 

The SDI looks at how we’re living and the cost of what got us there. Because borrowing $300k to buy yourself a Lamborghini Huracan doesn’t make you rich. To explore this, the SDI takes the components of the HDI and divides them by “ecological overshoot”, which is how the resources footprint of people in a country exceeds the amount of resources we have on the planet for all the people. So it’s like the earth is a box of donuts, and there’s enough for one donut for each of us, but then some people take more donuts. The countries in red on the SDI are the countries that are taking more donuts than they need: 

Map of the world illustrating the Sustainable Development Index by coloring in countries based on their rank

Illustration from Visit their website for more information on the index and the data behind it.

If you live in one of the countries that ranks poorly on the SDI, it is very easy to get a lot of stuff. You can basically have anything you want, right now, and then pack it away in your heated/cooled home. And it’s so easy to forget that stuff had to come from somewhere. The earth seems so large that we assume there must be enough resources on the earth to supply us with an endless stream of stuff. But the earth is actually a small island. As we bring stuff into our lives, let’s be mindful of what it’s for and from where it came.

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