The contribution of indicators and indicator systems to sustainable development is discussed controversially – from positive and limited to negative impacts. Yet, the perception of the potential and risks of sustainability indicator systems influences the success of their implementation. In view of this correlation and the existing research gaps, we investigate the perceived contribution of indicator systems to sustainable development in five Asian cities of developing countries. Thirty interviews with local key actors have been held and a Qualitative Content Analysis has been conducted, drawing on the interview material. Results include a typology of positive and negative contributions based on the type of indicator systems' use, as well as a quantitative description of the level of awareness of different actors. Perceived positive and negative contributions are discussed considering the actors' functions, experiences and cities. The research shows that developers of sustainability indicator systems and scholars have the most awareness concerning risks whereas users and potential users are lacking this, and it portrays future implementation requirements. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.