Companies involved in the triple bottom line (TBL) want everyone to know what they are up to, which is what press releases, corporate sustainability reports and ranking indexes are for. While ranking systems may help companies gain public relations accolades, their comparison is all too often based on policy declarations that are more a function of corporate communications than real performance metrics. What's even more frustrating to corporations and their stakeholders is that these kinds of sustainability programs do little to advance companies towards significant operational goals that will reduce their social and environmental impacts while creating positive business value. That’s where enterprise data can help companies set more specific sustainability goals in their industry, helping them achieve leader status or play catch up with the laggards.
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1. Measure what matters
In a recent article, GreenBiz ranked the top four corporate sustainability ranking tools. The list included: MultiCapital Scorecard, the Global Initiative for Sustainability Rankings’ (GISR) CORE program, CSRHub and GRI G4 Guidelines. Each of these tools has their own approach to ranking corporations. They are based on reported data from the corporation itself or from a range of nonprofits that follow the company’s performance. To enable the compilation of mostly qualitative data, much of which relates to policy and aspirations rather than actual performance, the first 3 tools resort to "unitless" ranking systems. And while ranking may provide investors with generally useful information, these methodologies lack operational context for the corporation itself. In contrast, the GRI requests the collection of more performance-based indicators. But even the best annual sustainability reports published by companies fail to provide readers with context. Very rarely do companies publish where they stand compared to industry standards or openly admit to having laggard or even average performance on a given issue.. So the first step is to collect data and participate in efforts that can provide real context into your company’s activities.
2. Present your data in a business-oriented context
Another place where sustainability rankings lack traction is in the normalization of reported results. Many of the tools mentioned above are able to generate minimal value for the volumes of data that they collect. This has the downside of missing out on valuable insights that may arise by examining performance in the context of economic activity, such as revenue generated or products delivered. Understanding environmental impacts in a business context provides companies with a clearer picture of where sustainability leaders are generating opportunities and where industry laggards are risking their futures.
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3. Harness the energy of competitiveness
While existing CSR tools can help company executives raise awareness to their TBL efforts, they provide little more than general brand value. However a competitive, market-based context helps focus a program with resources, determination and creativity, while providing the opportunity to uncover potential competitive advantage in an area strategic to a company’s survival. Once companies better understand what defines a leader from a laggard in their industry, CSR executives will be able to steer their company in the right direction with concrete and innovative performance goals based on competitor performance and industry standards.
Until recently, merging corporate performance data with the relevant industry data was a formidable and cumbersome challenge, but with the advances of computing and business analytics, solutions have begun to emerge. ecoOS is a young sustainability software company that has a mission to transform sustainability programs from mere compliance and reporting exercises to significant contributors in strategic business decisions. With a rigorous focus on performance metrics, market-context and user experience, ecoOS provides the right visibility, context and tools for companies to realize the value of sustainability leadership.
Maya Yarowsky is pursuing her Masters in Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University and is a Marketing & Business Development Intern at ecoOS.