When to use what: Methods for weighting and aggregating sustainability indicators

Xiaoyu Gan, Ignacio C. Fernandez, Jie Guo, Maxwell Wilson, Yuanyuan Zhao, Bingbing Zhou, Jianguo Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

297 Scopus citations


Context Sustainability indices (SIs) have become increasingly important to sustainability research and practice. However, while the validity of SIs is heavily dependent on how their components are weighted and aggregated, the typology and applicability of the existing weighting and aggregation methods remain poorly understood. Objectives To close the knowledge gap regarding when to use which weighting and aggregation methods for constructing SIs, we review the most commonly used methods for weighting and aggregating SIs, discuss their benefits and drawbacks, and suggest a process-oriented approach for choosing appropriate weighting and aggregation methods depending on research objectives. Methods Our review synthesis was based on peer-reviewed journal articles, books, and reports by international organizations, governmental agencies, and research institutions. After carefully examining their principles, characteristics, and applications, we selected and classified the frequently used methods for indicator weighting and aggregation. Results We systematically discuss the benefits and drawbacks of nine weighting methods and three aggregation methods. We propose a four-step process for choosing the most suitable weighting and aggregation methods based on: research purposes, spatial and temporal scales, and sustainability perspectives. Conclusions In this research, we chose the most commonly used methods for weighting and aggregating SIs and analyzed the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of each method. We found that choosing appropriate weighting and aggregation methods for a specific sustainability assessment project is an extremely important and challenging task. To meet this challenge, we propose a process-oriented approach for properly selecting methods according to the purpose, scale and sustainability concept. This approach can facilitate the proper selection of these methods in sustainability research and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-502
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Indicators
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Aggregation
  • Indicator framework
  • Sustainability indicators
  • Sustainability indices
  • Weighting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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