Urbanfinity's Sustainability Index

Index Factors

Urbanfinity’s sustainability index ranks all of the suburbs based on a range of factors to determine which are the most – and least – sustainable suburbs in the state. The sustainability index draws heavily on the 2013 Sustainable Australia Report, which outlines and discusses a range of factors that influence sustainability. Sustainability is defined as the ability to meet the needs of the present and to be able to continue to meet the needs of future generations. The index divides sustainability into three distinct categories: social and human, economic, and natural, each of which have a variety of factors that contribute to them.


Separate indexes were created for each of the twelve indicators identified in the 2013 Sustainable Australia Report. The methods for each factor are described in this interactive webframe, depending on the type of data being used. These data was then assigned a rank out of 100, where 100 would be the most sustainable suburb, and 1 the least. Suburbs with a population of less than 100 were excluded from the index. In cases where data were available only on the local government level, all of the suburbs in a particular LGA were assigned the same data. Where a set of data was unavailable for a particular LGA or suburb, that suburb was excluded from that particular index. Once the separate indexes were created, they were combined into the three sub-indexes: social and human, economic and natural, by averaging. These three sub-indexes were then combined by averaging to form the final, overall index.

Social and Human Capital

The level of education of a community has an impact on employability and earning power, which in turn impacts the ability to afford housing and general quality of life. As there are a wide range of post high school qualifications, which may all be equally valuable, the data that was used for this section relates to the proportion of individuals who completed high school year 12 or equivalent, as completing high school opens up a number of opportunities for careers and higher education. The 2016 census provides data on the number of people in each suburb who had completed high school year 12 or equivalent, which was divided by total population to determine the percentage who had a high school education.

TOP: Darlington (people that completed year 12: 80%)

BOTTOM: Green Point (people that completed year 12: 3.6%)

Community engagement relates largely to social events and activity within the community, which can be difficult to measure and highly subjective. Having an active community contributes to the overall wellbeing of that community and thus, its sustainability. For the purpose of this investigation, it was decided that the proportion of individuals that perform voluntary work would be used to represent community engagement. Volunteering includes unpaid work for charities, coaching sports activities and parental volunteering for school events. The 2016 census data includes the number of individuals who reported volunteer activities. This was divided by total population to calculate the percentage of individuals who are volunteers.

TOP: Walbundrie (49% people who volunteer)

BOTTOM: Purfleet (0% people who volunteer)

In order for a community to be sustainable, individuals must be able to earn enough money to maintain their lifestyle, and there must be jobs available for them to perform. Communities with high rates of unemployment are unsustainable as they cannot support themselves. Therefore, this study uses the rates of unemployment provided by the 2016 census, divided by population. This includes only individuals who are unemployed and looking for full time or part time work. Individuals that choose not to work, such as stay at home parents are not counted as unemployed.

TOP: Tullibigeal* (less than 1% unemployment)

BOTTOM: Halfway Creek (11% unemployment)

The healthier a community is, the more sustainable it is. Healthier individuals spend less money on health care and lead better lives overall. The overall health of an area also reflects the overall quality and availability of healthcare in that region. For this study, life expectancy data from the NSW Health Department was used to reflect health. These data provided the average life expectancy in each local government area of NSW. As there was no suburb level data available, each suburb within a particular government area was assigned the same life expectancy.

TOP: Milson’s Point* (Average Life Expectancy of 85.6 years)

BOTTOM: Bourke* (Average Life Expectancy of 75.1 years)

Residents of communities with lower crime rates have overall lower rates of stress and better wellbeing, whereas individuals in areas with high crime are likely to feel unsafe. Additionally, higher crime rates place stress on local law enforcement and government resources. The NSW government provides local government area level data on the crime rates in each area. For the purpose of this index, the rate per 100,000 individuals for all crimes was used to determine the areas with the lowest and highest crime rates. Suburbs were assigned the data for their LGA.

TOP: North Turramurra* (Crime rate of 22 per 1000 population)

BOTTOM: Ultimo* (Crime rate of 247 per 1000 population)

Economic Capital

Having sufficient income to afford housing and other necessities is an important aspect of forming sustainable communities. Earning enough money to both afford living costs and save contributes to the potential for growth in the future. The higher income that is being earned, the more opportunity there is for growth and improvement. Median personal income from the 2016 census was used to calculate the income ranking of suburbs.

TOP: Northwood (1387AUD Median weekly personal income)

BOTTOM: Purfleet (236AUD Median weekly personal income)

Access to affordable housing is essential for sustainability. Furthermore, there must be a sufficient supply of reasonably priced housing for an area to be considered sustainable. Three factors related to housing are considered in creating the index: housing affordability, rate of ownership, and space per person. Housing affordability is calculated using the median mortgage and rent payments for each suburb and the percentages of people who rent or have a mortgage, from the 2016 census data. The rate of ownership includes the percentage of individuals who either own their home outright or own with a mortgage, also from the 2016 census data. Renting is seen as less sustainable than owning a property, even with a mortgage. Finally, space per person is calculated by dividing building volume for a suburb by population. Building volume data are provided by Urbanfinity, based on height and footprint of buildings measured by stereoscopic satellite imaging (PSMA Geoscape Australia). Population data come from the 2016 census.

TOP: Gwandalan

BOTTOM: Ilford

Access to adequate transport is an important aspect relating to quality of life. The types of transport used also have an environmental impact that contributes to sustainability. The 2016 census provides data on the method(s) of transportation that were used to get to work. For the purpose of this study, walking to work as considered most sustainable, as this implies living close to ones’ workplace and is also environmentally sustainable. In the modern world, having access to the internet is a necessity for most jobs, and for many other aspects of life. The census data for the total number of households with internet access was used to calculate the proportion of the population that has internet access from their home.

TOP: Dawes Point (25% of people walk to work, 100% of households with internet access)

BOTTOM: Green Point (less than 1% of people walk to work, 36% of households with internet access)

Productivity relates to the value gained from time and effort. The more productive a community is, the better prepared they will be to provide growth and improvement for future generations. Productivity was calculated using census data for weekly personal income divided by hours worked per week, to determine the average hourly earnings in each suburb. The higher the hourly rate, the more productive they are.

TOP: Dawes Point (55.51AUD hourly earnings)

BOTTOM: Elsmore (6.32AUD hourly earnings)

Natural Capital

Communities that are doing the most to combat climate change may be considered the most sustainable. Using renewable sources of energy is one of the main ways of minimising climate change, so for this index, the number of solar panels in each suburb was divided by the total population to determine which suburbs use the most renewable energy. Other factors such as building energy efficiency will be included in the future.

TOP: Dooralong (buildings with solar panels per person: 0.05)

BOTTOM: West Coraki* (less than 1% solar panels)

Disposal of waste to landfill has a negative environmental impact and leads to the depletion of limited natural resources. Therefore, in order to be considered sustainable, the production of waste should be minimised and recycling rates maximised. The NSW provides local government level data on waste disposal and recycling rates. For this index, the recycling rate and total waste produced per household per week were used and weighted equally.

TOP: Petersham* (Total Waste(kg/hh/wk): 10.96, Recycling Rate: 0.35)

BOTTOM: Burren Junction* (Total Waste(kg/hh/wk): 19.13, Recycling Rate: 0)

The ratio of the built environment to vegetation is an important factor to consider when looking at sustainability. Highly developed areas with little greenspace are detrimental to the environment and therefore less sustainable. For this index the total area with trees and vegetation was divided by suburb area to determine total greenspace. Similarly, man-made ground cover was divided by total suburb area to find the total developed area. These two factors were weighted equally to calculate the index. Data for trees, vegetation and groundcover is based on satellite data provided by Urbanfinity and PSMA Australia.

TOP: Chilcotts Grass

BOTTOM: Roselands