According to a comprehensive measure of economic and social welfare called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) - which takes into account factors like income distribution, the cost of crime, the loss of leisure time, and the erosion of non-renewable resources - Vermont scored approximately double the national average in the year 2000.
The state's most populous county, Chittenden County, and largest city, Burlington, also registered scores twice the national average.
Tipping the scales for the state, region, and city was a much better environmental performance than the nation had overall.
"Traditional measures of economic progress like the Gross Domestic Product paint an incomplete picture," said Robert Costanza, director of the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, which performed the GPI analyses in collaboration with students in a class Costanza and Jon Erickson taught at UVM.
"But many things that contribute to a growing GDP clearly don't benefit society," he said. "An oil spill increases GDP, for instance, because people are paid to clean it up, but it detracts from our well being."
In addition, Costanza said, GDP leaves out many things that do enhance welfare but are not part of the market economy - the unpaid work of mothers or fathers who stay home to care for their children, for example.
While GPI analyses of national economies are common, they have never before been performed at the regional and state level, Costanza said.
"States and communities need better economic indicators of economic progress, just like nations do," said Costanza. "Part of our goal was to show that the model works at a smaller scale," he said.
Costanza said he hoped other states and communities would perform GPI analyses, after seeing the results in Burlington and Vermont.
Costanza and his students prepared the GPI report for the city of Burlington, which has a sustainability initiative underway.
"Our goal is to make Burlington a livable city for all our residents," said Burlington mayor Peter Clavelle. "It's telling that our GPI score was high in this initial analysis, but it's more important that we now have a reliable instrument to measure our progress over time in becoming a sustainable city."
26 categories of data
The GPI was developed by the Oakland-based group Redefining Progress (http://www.
The GPI is derived by collecting data in 26 separate categories, including income, adjusted by the way it is distributed in the community; the estimated value of household and volunteer work; the benefit and costs of highway systems; the cost of water, air, and noise pollution; the estimated cost of societal negatives like crime, divorce, and diminished leisure time; and the cost of depleted natural resources like wetlands and forests.
Costanza and his group put the data in per capita terms so they could compare local, state, and national scores. Vermont's, Chittenden County's, and Burlington's per capita GPI scores were, respectively, $17,887, $18,339, and $15,975, compared with the national per capita score of $8,692.