CUEC has been paying attention to the indicators of sustainable development since its establishment. The activities of the Department of sustainability indicators belong to the domains of coordination, application and research.
CUEC has coordinated such large projects as the Sustainable Development Indicators Project (Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment - SCOPE), the output of which was presented to the participants of the Extraordinary Session of the UN General Assembly in 1997 (known as Rio +5) or the project Testing the indicators of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. Among the new projects, we can mention the Assessment of Sustainability Indicators - ASI project, which was an assessment of the existing indicators of sustainable development at the global level. Another activity in this area to mention is for instance the editing of the special number of the scientific journal Ecological Indicators, which focuses on indicators of environmental sustainability.
In the application domain CUEC has been developing indicators and information relevant to social decision-making processes at various levels. The efforts have been aimed at applying the gained knowledge in the sphere of practical decision-making, namely at using the indicators for assessing the status and trends of the environment and sustainable development in the Czech Republic, for the steering of the national environmental policy formation and for the assessment of strategic documents. In this domain, CUEC cooperates with the Ministry of Environment and CENIA, the Government Council for Sustainable Development, the Czech Statistical Office or the City of Prague. An example output of this type may be the Progress Report. Cooperation takes place also with international organizations. For example, the INDI-LINK project (EU FP6) developed further the indicators used by Eurostat to evaluate the direction of the European Union in terms of the objectives set out in the Sustainable Development Strategy.
The research questions of the development of indicators stem both from comprehensive knowledge of the (environmental) phenomenon as well as from the mathematical-statistical procedures and methods of information theory. The methods used include statistical measurement of the interdependencies between the phenomena, compiling time series (including interpolation), methods of graphical expression of statistical data or partial data weighting procedures (allocation of factors 'importance') or the determination of uncertainties. CUEC is largely focused on aggregated indicators and indices, which summarize the information about the phenomenon in one or a few numbers.
The research focuses on the evaluation of environmental load brought by the use of resources - materials, energy and territories. The theoretical basis is the concept of socio-economic metabolism, which considers anthroposphere a subsystem of the environment linked to it especially through flows of energy and materials. Material Flows Analysis (MFA) is applied and developed. As the result of several successive domestic and foreign projects, material flow accounts have been compiled, which provide a data base for derived aggregated indicators of environmental sustainability. Phenomena such as material demand, transfer of the burden caused by material flows abroad, dematerialization etc. Within MFA other methods are applied as well, such as the Input-Output Analysis (I-O analysis) or Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). These approaches allow the use of so-called raw material equivalents to calculate more accurately the consumption of raw materials needed for the production of imported and exported goods (thus underestimating the environmental burden associated with their production).
While pursuing the analysis of the interactions nature - society, energy flows are tracked as well. Comprehensive information is provided by the Energy Flows Analysis (EFA), which monitors all the energy that is available to human society. Energy flows integrate information on energy derived from fossil fuels, as well as the energy contained in the forestry and agricultural production. By tracking the so-called useful energy (exergy) different quality levels of energy flows can be distinguished.
Another direction of research deals with the interactions between the consumption of energy and materials, and land use and biodiversity. Human land demand may be expressed both by the availability of biologically productive areas for provision of ecosystem services, as well as by the demands on biological production. Methodologically, these approaches have been developed for the methods of the Ecological Footprint (EF, the Center is a partner organization of the Global Footprint Network, which deals with the methodological development and standards of the ecological footprint as one of the most widely used aggregate indicators of environmental sustainability at the moment) and of the Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production (HANPP). A link between these approaches is the concept of ecosystem services, i.e. the natural processes enabling the functioning of human society. In cooperation with the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management, CUEC participates in the development of indicators for the state of nature based particularly on ecosystem services. This research area pursued also stems from the participation of CUEC in the International Project Center Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Ecosystem services and their evaluation are also the basis for the research of the so-called agri-environmental indicators. In addition to the analysis at the macro level, the department has recently engaged in regional and urban environment research. This should result in the proposal for the ways and methods of integrated assessment of socio-economic metabolism of urban systems and its impact on ecosystems.
Recently, the research has focused on different methodological domain - values (environmentally friendly as well as general human). The aim is to explore and propose easily applicable techniques and tools (e.g. indicators) that are able to describe the change in values of e.g. participants of various types of educational or awareness-raising projects (courses, seminars, training, etc.) after their completion.