The 5 Types of Sustainability Metrics You Need to Stay on Top Of

‘Sustainability metrics’ is a tricky concept — much like its parent ‘sustainability’, it is subject to a wide range of interpretation and carries a lot of different meanings depending on who you ask. At its most limited scope, ‘sustainability metrics’ is simply another way to point to the data that go into sustainability/CSR reports and other corporate disclosure.

That is far from the whole story, however. At its broadest, most comprehensive and most useful scope, ‘sustainability metrics’ is an umbrella term for five types of interrelated data:

(1) Data describing external system conditions in which businesses operate, as well as how said conditions interact with a company’s environmental, social and economic performance — i.e. the macro picture and context,

(2) Data enabling more accurate estimates of the financial costs and benefits of doing everything that businesses do,

(3) Data enabling better management of people, processes and assets internally at a company,

(4) Data tracking company sustainability performance and serving as the core of sustainability/CSR reports and other disclosure, and

(5) Data helping companies communicate with their stakeholders, outside of formal disclosure, e.g. with the purpose of inspiring consumers or engaging suppliers.

These five types of sustainability metrics may or may not overlap, depending on the company we apply them to. Companies use data types (1) through (3) to inform data type (4) to varying degrees — some a lot, and most not at all. Some utilize data type (5) and most do not. From what I can glean, most sustainability teams are currently settling for disclosure and communication formats that do not come close to telling the whole story because they are not fully immersed in all kinds of sustainability metrics mentioned above. Not only does that mean we often end up with less-than-ideal disclosure, but it also means many companies are missing opportunities to manage their people, processes and assets better, as well as to communicate more effectively with external stakeholders.

All in all, the state of sustainability metrics is — to put it bluntly — a mess. That is to be expected, given that it is a very new set of information domains from the point of view of business leaders and their teams. It’s complex and it’s all evolving way too quickly. That is precisely why five years ago Sustainable Brands® started convening leading experts and corporate practitioners in an attempt to bring as much as of the cutting edge of all five types of sustainability metrics under one roof in an event series known as The New Metrics of Sustainable Business, or simply New Metrics. This year’s New Metrics conference is just around the corner, carrying a heavy load of new insight along all five types of sustainability metrics. Here are just a few examples of what is new this year in each category:

(1) The Future-Fit Foundation will outline a new iteration of the Future-Fit Business Benchmark, a new standard for science-based goal-setting and performance that takes real systemic boundaries in consideration, as well as announce a new partnership with leading research, analysis and ranking data provider Sustainalytics — together unveiling a new vision for attracting mainstream investors and equipping them with the tools they need to assess the true level of sustainability of current and prospective investment targets.

Drawing on its Reporting Blueprint and forthcoming Accounting Blueprint, the Reporting 3.0 team will curate and facilitate an animated discussion on true materiality, exploring the broad range of definitions of materiality and considering if they may coalesce into one common definition or continue to be disparate for different audiences.

(2) and (3) Marks & Spencer, Virgin Atlantic, DONG Energy, Reputation Dividend and Bob Willard will share several new and upgraded methods for calculating the ROI of sustainability, looking at investments in employee behavior change, product portfolio shifts, business model pivots and brand reputation.

The Natural Capital Coalition and a few of its members will provide an overview of the Natural Capital Protocol, which launched in July 2016 and serves as a comprehensive source of trusted, credible and actionable information enabling valuation and management of natural capital.

Dell, Biogen, Humanscale, the International Living Future Institute and Valutus will host a frank and open discussion about practical progress on net positive strategies, considering what it really takes to formulate specific action plans, find appropriate tools and build the right teams that execute well.

(4) iCompli Sustainability, a SASB Advisory Partner, will introduce SASB‘s industry-specific sustainability standards, explain how they can be integrated them into sustainability reporting and portfolio analysis, and clarify all the ways in which they differ from GRI.

GRI will introduce its new Global Standards, explain how they differ from earlier GRI guidance frameworks, and share how GRI sees the near-future evolution of sustainability reporting.

(5) Nielsen, Enso, GOOD Corps and JUST Capital will present valuable research intelligence on the current landscape of consumer attitudes and behavior around sustainability, prevailing perceptions of key influencers and leaders in the space, as well as the business case for purpose-driven brand strategy and innovation.

Hello World Labs and Krukow will offer fresh insights and tools to help brands make progress in the difficult quest toward incentivizing consumer behavior change, combining the power of ‘nudging’ strategies, behavioral economics and new emergent data streams coming from smart cities and the Internet of Things.

The ISEAL Alliance, the Forest Stewardship Council, the Marine Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Agriculture Network will discuss best practices in measuring the social and environmental impacts of sustainable sourcing programs and outline communication strategies proving effective, focusing above all on the impacts of labels and certification.

Check out the New Metrics ’16 Full Program here. We welcome any feedback you may have and we hope to see you in Boston for New Metrics ’16. Reserve your spot now to join the leading brands and businesses who are continuing to learn from remarkable thought leaders working to create a path toward smarter, more accurate and more inclusive business metrics that create value for all stakeholders.

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