As sustainability has become a more prominent issue for businesses, leaders are struggling to build consistent sustainability reports. A sustainability report is often the first publically facing component of a business’ sustainability initiatives and therefore needs to have clear messaging, backed by specific metrics to track progress and create accountability.
The data collected to report these metrics builds the foundation for the business to objectively look at the (sometimes subjective) world of sustainability. This extra step of measuring and analyzing sustainability performance is necessary to gain credibility from external and internal stakeholders alike. Data brings a quantitative approach to a sustainability program that simple message-based initiatives miss. Additionally, your customers will have confidence that you will deliver on your sustainability goals (because they can track you) and therefore confidence in their sustainability driven purchases.
Of course data without context can be meaningless. Knowing that you use 4 barrels of water per barrel of beer produced is interesting, but it doesn’t tell you if you are being efficient or wasteful, nor if this consumption is a long-term risk. Once you start to track data over time it may be easy to know when you are doing a good job, decreasing water use is “good”. But determining when you are doing great, that is, when you are top of your field, requires that your competitors are tracking the same metric, and in many instances this is lacking. Reporting frameworks such as GRI or CDP or services such as Bloomberg’s ESG products are beginning to develop databases and techniques for benchmarking sustainability performance and enabling an identification of the “great”, though this is still growing.
Do not be discouraged! As you identify metrics that are both important and material to your businesses simply creating an internal focus on improvement is often the more important outcome, beyond publishing a report or comparing to your peers. As the saying goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and improvements require a baseline. Beginning to track data today, even if you are not ready to develop a sustainability report or if you can’t confirm if you are “great”, can ensure that you are moving in the right direction. When there are good enough databases to begin identifying the “greats” you will be ready because you will know where you are, where you have been, and what it will take to be great (if you aren’t already!).