‘It’s the economy, stupid’. This slogan was associated with Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign. The message was that the economy was more important to voters than anything else.

Those of us who care about our neighbourhood and our planet see things differently. Economic activity often means (though it doesn’t have to) more manufacturing, more construction, more burning of fossil fuels, more damage to our environment.

Certainly we need a thriving economy. We all want to have enough to support what we consider to be a comfortable lifestyle and to pay taxes to support our increasingly expensive public services.

How do we try to reconcile these opposing considerations? Until now, the economy (measured by growth in gross domestic product, GDP) and environmental damage have been discussed by different people, with different sets of values, in different contexts.

Recently, however, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has been looking ‘Beyond GDP’, to integrate economic, social and environmental data.

Sir Ian Diamond, the National Statistician and head of the ONS, recently made a wide-ranging speech to the Royal Society. He quoted Bobbie Kennedy, speaking in 1968, that GDP ‘measures everything, except that which makes life worthwhile’ and said that recent developments enable the ONS to be close to meeting Kennedy’s challenge.

By looking beyond GDP, to integrate different kinds of data, the ONS will be able to show the trade-offs between economic growth and environmental damage. It will be able to say, for example, that the economy grew by 0.3% but after offsetting environmental damage it only went up by 0.1%.

Information like this, especially if it can be applied to specific activities as well as to the economy as a whole, will make it easier to build environmental considerations into decision-making at all levels: in government, industry and households.

Henry Haslam is the author of The Earth and Us.