Pressure-State-Response Framework and Environmental Indicators
There are many tools used to describe and quantify the environment, and these are constantly being revised and adapted to the needs of different users. 

The Livestock and Environment Toolbox uses the Pressure- State- Response (PSR) Framework which was accepted by many agencies in the early 1990s, and is now widely used. 

This framework has formed the basis for ongoing developments of the Driving- Force- State- Response (DSR) and the Driving-Force, Pressure- State- Impact- Response (DPSIR) Frameworks, both of which are still under review and development.

An understanding of indicators is central to the concept and use of the PSR framework. 



An indicator quantifies and simplifies phenomena and helps us understand complex realities.  An indicator tells us something about changes in a system. For example, there are Financial Indicators which describe changes in the state of individual, local or national economies; there are Poverty Indicators and Health Indicators, and of course Environmental and Sustainable Development Indicators.

Whether an indicator is useful or not is very much dependent on a particular context. A quoted example (IISD) is the rate of soil loss which is an important indicator of environmental stability in, for example, the North American prairies, but which is probably less important or even possibly unhelpful if used north of the arctic circle. A careful selection process is needed to determine which indicators may be relevant in a given context. Similarly, indicators need to be used appropriately in assessment.

Indicators are selected to provide information about the functioning of a  specific system, for a specific purpose - to support decision making and management. An indicator quantifies and aggregates data that can be measured and monitored to determine whether change is taking place. But in order to understand the process of change, the indicator needs to help decision makers understand why change is taking place.

Initially many approaches to describing the environment were limited to information describing environmental quality and quality change, in terms of pollutant load or some other biochemical or biophysical indicator.

However, it became apparent that while this might be directly linked to some specific change in the environment such as the loss of habitat or species, this sectoral approach did not necessarily support the  decision maker in better management of the environmentally damaging activity.

What was required was a framework based on "Cause and Effect".

Early "Causal" frameworks for environmental statistics were generally intended as the physical basis for comprehensive environmental/resource accounts which could be linked to the UN System of National Accounts (SNA).  Resource accounting seeks to trace the flow of natural resources through their life cycle from harvesting/extraction to disposal and environmental impacts.

A widely used simplification and adaptation of Rapport and Friend's (1979) early “stress-response” model is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's “Pressure - State - Response” (PSR) framework (OECD, 1991, 1993).

Using Indicators

Indicators can assist with overall analysis in the following areas:
  • Performance evaluation
Indicators help evaluate performance if a basis for comparison is clearly identified, for example when a target is specified in policy processes
  • Thresholds
Thresholds are unique and prehaps the most important basis of assessment. In general, corssing a clearly defined sustainability threshold should send an obvious message to policy-makers and to society in general
  • Causal Loops
Indicators are important to support claims for causality, such as the links between pressures and environmental conditions
  • Model construction and Scenario analysis
Indicators provide real data and support field testing of models and possible future scenarios. 

There are also several important points to bear in mind when using indicators:

The Pressure-State-Response Framework

In contrast to the earlier “stress-response” model, which unrealistically tried to make one-to-one linkages among particular stresses, environmental changes and societal responses, the OECD PSR framework does not attempt to specify the nature or form of the interactions between human activities and the state of the environment.

This simple PSR framework merely states that human activities exert pressures (such as pollution emissions or land use changes) on the environment, which can induce changes in the state of the environment (for example, changes in ambient pollutant levels, habitat diversity, water flows, etc.).  Society then responds to changes in pressures or state with environmental and economic policies and programs intended to prevent, reduce or mitigate pressures and/or environmental damage.

Indicators can be powerful tools to help identify and support PSR relationships, both at the reporting stage and subsequently during policy analysis.

The PSR Framework is described in a number of documents (see under References), including the OECD (1993) "OECD core set of indicators for environmental performance reviews". OECD Environment Monographs No. 83. OECD. Paris. Click here to view this document in Acrobat format 

Pressure State Response Framework, OECD 1997

What are Pressures, States & Responses ?

Click here for further description of the terms "Pressure", "State" and "Response", along with an alternative diagram illustrating PSR.
Click here to download a PowerPoint presentation (504 KB)
The PSR framework is now widely used but is continuing to evolve. One of the main problems has been trying to differentiate between pressure and state indicators, and the need to expand the framework to deal more specifically with the needs for describing sustainable development.

A development of PSR has been the "Driving Force - State - Response" (DSR) framework selected by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

Using Indicators within the PSR framework

Indicators can be powerful tools to help identify, monitor and support PSR relationships. This is illustrated by the following conceptual example (Hardi & Pinter 1995), based on use of pesticides and impacts on groundwater.

In this example, the pressure on the environment is caused by the application of pesticides and one result of this is an impact on the levels of pesticides in groundwater. In this case the primary state indicators are the levels of chemical residues in groundwater. These are monitored by measurement against agreed quality standards. The response to increasing levels of chemical residues in groundwater is to use the financial instrument of taxation to modify the levels of pesticide use that are responsible for the pressure. Continued monitoring of the situation is necessary.

Another example, based on the use of pour-ons to control ectoparasites is given below.

Go to an Example of Pressure-State-Response Indicators for overgrazing in a Semi-Arid Grazing System

Driving Force - State - Response Framework

In the Driving Force - State - Response Framework for Sustainable Development (DSR), the components are:

In the DSR framework, the term "pressure" has been replaced by that of "driving force" in order to accommodate more accurately the addition of social, economic, and institutional indicators. In addition, the use of the term "driving force" allows that the impact on sustainable development may be both positive and negative as is often the case for social, economic, and institutional indicators.

The DSR framework is actually a matrix that incorporates three types of indicators horizontally and the different dimensions of sustainable development vertically, namely social, economic, environmental, and institutional.

State of the environment indicators in the DSR framework can be used to bring scientific findings from the field and lab to the general public and decision-makers. To be effective, in the sense that indicators steer action, the indicators should as a rule, have an explicit target group in the country or region in mind. A set of indicators should not only give information on the development in specific environmental problem areas, but also give a general impression of the state of the environment. Ideally, a set of indicators is a means devised to reduce a large quantity of data to a simpler form, while retaining essential meaning for the question that are being asked of the data.

Information on the environment may be difficult to evaluate in isolation. Therefore, points of reference are needed. Preferably, a set of indicators should be the same as or closely related to the sets of indicators used in other countries and other regions of the same country.

However, even this model is changing, and the EU is now looking at the "Driving Force - Pressure - State - Impact-Response"  (DPSIR) Framework.

See Also the discussion of The Driving Force-State-Response (DSR) Model in the FAO report "Livestock & the Environment, Finding a Balance".

Driving Force-Pressure-State-Impact-Response Framework

The Driving Force - Pressure - State - Impact - Response Framework (DPSIR) provides an overall mechanism for analysing environmental problems.

Towards Environmental pressure Indicators for the EU - First Edition 1998.

References and Useful Links:

International Institute for Sustainable Development

IISD.   Also:  Background descriptions of Indicators at  and Compendium of Sustainable Development Indicators Initiatives and Publications at

Pinter, L., Cressman, D.R. & Zahedi, K. (1999). Capacity Building for Integrated Environmental Assessment and Reporting: Training Manual. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) & Ecologistics International Ltd.   Click here to view this document in Acrobat format (2266KB) 

Hardi, P. and Pinter, L. (1995). Models and methods of measuring sustainable development performance: revised draft discussion report prepared for the Sustainable Development Coordination Unit, Executive Council, Government of Manitoba. International Institute for Sustainable Development; IISD. Winnipeg: IISD, 1995. 35 p.

Hardi, P. and Pinter, L. (1995). Adaptive strategies and sustainable livelihoods in arid and semi-arid lands: field guide on indicator selection for local project coordinators.  International Institute for Sustainable Development; IISD. Winnipeg: IISD, 1995. 9 p.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
OECD provides a site with downloadable documents and other relevant information. Go to

OECD Environmental Performance Reviews - A Practical Introduction" OCDE/GD(97)35 Paris 1997. Copies of this document and other background material is available from: Head of Publications Service, OECD, 2, rue André-Pascal 75775 Paris cedex 16, France. Click here to view this document in Acrobat format  (269KB)

OECD (1993). OECD core set of indicators for environmental performance reviews. OECD Environment Monographs No. 83. OECD. Paris. Click here to view this document in Acrobat format  (195KB). 

OECD (1999). Working Party on Pollution Prevention and Control. Advanced Air Quality Indicators and Reporting. Methodological Study and Assessment. ENV/EPOC/PPC(99)9. Click here to view this document in Acrobat format  (1650KB)

OECD (1999). Working Group on the State of the Environment. Towards more Sustainable Household Consumption Patterns: Indicators to measure progress. Click here to view this document in Acrobat format  (546KB)

OECD (1999). Working Group on the State of the Environment. indicators for the Integration of Environmental Concerns into Transport Policies. Click here to view this document in Acrobat format  (554KB)

OECD (1993). Indicators for the Integration of Environmental Concerns into Energy Policies. OECD Environment Monographs No.79. Click here to view this document in Acrobat format  (173KB)

The Baltic Environmental Indicators Set
The Baltic Environmental Indicators Set.

Other Sources

Indicators of Sustainable Development. UN Commision for Sustainable Development.

European Commission. Towards Environmental pressure Indicators for the EU.

Development Watch. Monitoring Progress on Sustainable Development. Sustainable Development Indicators.  and  Core Set of Indicators for Sustainable Development

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