Home > Compass > COMPASS Overview

COMPASS Overview




Most people are quite familiar with the three pillars or dimensions of Sustainable Development (Environment, Society and Economy) as espoused by the United Nations and many, many other organisations, governments, and experts.

Because of the limits of this three dimensional SD model, the Sustainability Compass was conceptualized in the  mid-1990s by Alan AtKisson and other members of the Balaton Group, including  the pre-imminent sustainability systems thinker from MIT, Donella Meadows.They are usually, though not always, presented as three interlinking circles (like a Venn Diagram) or three legs of a stool. They are a good start to 


understanding the importance of thinking about and making decisions based on these three dimensions as they remind us to try and balance out development in all three spheres. However, conceptually easy as the ‘three dimensional SD model is to understand, there still seems to be gap in how the three dimensions actually link and interact together in a simple and systemic way. Moreover, the importance of the individual and how one feels and thinks about their own life, what one worries about in terms of themselves and their family, friends, colleagues, , what we aspire to and what we aspire for in the future is often subsumed somewhere with the three dimensions but isn’t given the importance that it needs.

The Sustainability Compass consists of four aspects or dimensions, which imply equal importance to the others in the sense that all four dimensions must be understood as a interconnected dynamic whole. They are:

North (N) = Nature: Sustainability in this dimension refers our ability to live within the Earth’s physical and biological limits (its life-support systems), and contributing to the healthy functioning of its ecosystems.

East (E) = Economy: Sustainability for this dimension refers to systems and structures that contribute to maintaining economic viability, vitality and prosperity.

South (S) = Society:  Sustainability for this dimension refers to systems and structures that support social stability, inclusiveness and equity, and social cohesion..

West (W) = Wellbeing: Sustainability for this dimension refers to making individual health, opportunity, fulfilment and happiness possible through the exercise of wise choices.

These “Four Compass Points,” provide a simple, clear, integrated, and comprehensive structure for sustainability learning, as well a platform for the sustainable management of an organisation, a corporation, a school, a university, a community and a country to actively model the behaviour that they seek to develop. The Compass also emphasizes the system linkages among the four cluster areas (and the specific elements contained within them).  For example, it is not the case that natural systems interact with human health and well-being only through the intermediaries of the economy and social institutions.  The connections among all four “Compass Points” are direct and often complex, and the circular Compass format also makes this easier to model.

The Compass is essentially a symbol and metaphor for direction finding, for gathering people to a central point, and in including the essential elements of sustainability (the important system conditions we must manage for). The lack of hierarchy is the strength of the Compass model, as its stresses that everyone’s perspective is equally valued and necessary for the sustainable development process to work. 


April 2012: Here on Phuket we are considering all aspects of the islands sustainable future and have compiled an initial draft list of indicators that we will study further.

We welcome comments and suggestions:


First the outcome, then *indicators that make the change quantifiable and trackable.




  1. Ensure the Andaman Sea is safe for swimming; *water quality testing (BOD, PH, Fecal Coliform)


  1. Sustainable Beach Program; Surin Beach/Nai Yang Beach; *2/16 beaches initiated

Protected Areas

  1. Marine protected areas (MPAs) and non fishing zones (NFZ); *potential expansion of areas and extension of NFZ to 5.5miles

  2. Phuket national parks and non building areas (eg above 80m); *% of Phuket land and identified potential expansion

  3. Eliminate Silt runoff and coastal reef degradation;*photos of key west & east coast estates under development; enforcement

Waste Management

  1. Island Wide Curbside Recycling & composting;*% Tambons that have started*Total waste and the % that goes into landfill/incineraor

  2. Roadside litter elimination on west coast roads/beach parks *% cleaned 2010/2011/2012



Carrying Capacity

  1. Land Use; *Number of residents/sqm km available land & potential density 2020 * % rubber plantations

  2. 2010 -2020 Tourism Growth*Number of annual tourists/beds related to new beds and airport extension

  3. Tourism Revenues; *ARR low/mid/HE by season and as a *total % Phuket revenues

Energy & Green Government

  1. Renewable energy; *% of street lights that use solar/wind and are off grid

  2. Island to source 60% renewable energy by 2020;*Current Energy source*total use*future demand

Green Products/Considered Consumption

  1. Considered Consumption; *green products (tesco?) and *number shops stopping single use plastic bags

  2. Decreasing toxicity; * study the sale of Biodegradeable car wash/availability


  1. Vehicle Use*cars registered/electric vehicles

  2. Modern Land Transport; *access to public transport/costs and travel times *airport to Karon




  1. Green Government; *energy reduction education*ministries have recycling programs

  2. Green Schools;* which have green programs and *recycling stations

  3. Green Community; *Or Bor Jor sustainability workshop and *recycling stations


  1. Safety; *helmet use/*speeding cameras

  2. Historic Preservation & reversing degradation through excess building;*conservation of buildings in P town


  1. Transparency of green issues* trending green articles produced by PGazette/PNews/PWwan/PPost



Health Care

  1. Healthy Phuket people;*Population covered by immunization and *insurance rates

  2. Clean Island ;*Dengue fever statistics

  3. Readiness for the future; *savings rate vs USA/EUROPE


  1. Safe streets; *Crime rate


Leave a comment


Alan Atkisson on sustainability