ESI : Environmental Sustainability Index

This study attempts to develop a simple, interpretable index of environmental sustainability, which can facilitate benchmarking and cross-state comparisons on various parameters. 

The Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) of Indian states gives a comparative picture of the environmental conditions of the states of India and state and projects the ability of the states to protect their environment in the coming years by accumulating information from a wide range of sectors in terms of water, air, soil, forest and other natural resources and more importantly by taking into consideration the outcomes of past and present policy efforts and civil society’s activities.
ESI is a composite index that tries to capture the state of the environment in multiple dimensions, aggregates it into a single index that is interpretable and comparable across all the states. Sub-indices (Indicators and Policy Components) enable states to get a more nuanced picture of their performance. The rankings are relative and done on a scale of 0 to 100, allowing for states to see how well they are doing in comparison to other states. A state with higher ESI ranking means it has managed its natural resource stock judiciously; face less stress on its environment systems and less impact on human health. On the contrary, a state with lower ESI indicates that it has depleted its stock of natural resources and has accumulated waste and pollution which has created stress on ecosystem and human health.
• Quantify environmental sustainability, measure it along multiple dimensions and aggregate into simple interpretable index.
• Facilitate benchmarking for cross-state comparison and create a baseline for tracking environmental sustainability.

ESI is developed based on the Driving Force-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) framework. The chain of causal links starts with ‘driving forces’ (anthropogenic activities) which, exert ‘pressures’ (pollution& waste) on the ‘state’ of environment (air quality, water quality), which in turn ‘impacts ’ecosystem and human health. This triggers ‘responses’ (conservation, emission reduction) to preserve and/or ameliorate environmental conditions. Categorisation of indicators as per DPSIR components highlights overall sustainability trajectory of the state.
Indicators are additionally, grouped under nine sub-indices according to broad areas across which policies are formulated and state bureaucratic and administrative institutions are organised. For example, all land related indicators such as grazing land, soil erosion, pesticide and fertiliser consumption intensity are grouped under the rubric of ‘Land Use & Agriculture’. These sub-indices provide insights on particular drivers with implications for policy and action. The aggregate index is derived from these underlying nine sub-indices

Through the ESI report and the interactive website (, a wide range of information was compressed into a simple and actionable format, thereby enabling governments to plan and formulate policies and prioritize budgetary allocations in favor of areas where intervention is most urgently required. At the same time it shows the magnitude of pollution and depletion of resources, which should be a signal for various stakeholders to pay more attention to their environmental footprints and should create competitive pressure for improved performance. Such exercises can serve as a background resource for policy planning and formulation and budgetary allocation and should be useful for decision-makers, especially at the state level. The ESI should be informative for all individuals and institutions working in environment-related sectors.

Key Findings

As per the results of ESI 2011, the states that are ‘most sustainable’ (lie in the top 20 percentile) are largely the north-eastern states (Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim). The ‘least sustainable’ (bottom 20 percentile) are Bihar, Haryana, Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. While these results are largely congruent with common perceptions on environmental conditions across states, there are a few unexpected patterns as well. As expected, states with abundant initial endowments of natural resources, viz., forests, such as the Himalayan states and Kerala lie in the top 20 percentile. However, other resource rich states, viz., minerals, such as Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar lie under the ‘moderate sustainability’ and ‘very low sustainability’ categories respectively. Also, states such as Meghalaya and Tripura have not scored as high as their other north-eastern counterparts, and are found in the ‘high sustainability’ category. Also some of the larger states that have experienced intensive industrialization and/or agricultural development like Gujarat, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have done so at the expense of environmental health and fall in the ‘least’ category. Others such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, have maintained environmental conditions and lie in the ‘moderately’ sustainable category. 

Thematic area

Institutions and Society

Project Leads

Akshai Abraham, Ashish Kumar Chicksena, Koyel Mandal, Manasi Pathak, Snehashis Sarkar,Jessica Seddon, Rupanwita Dash, Kadambari Anantram, Vivek Venkataramani