FROM THE FIELD
You Asked

You Asked: How Can We Track Corporate Sustainability Measures?

by |November 7, 2019

You Asked” is a series where Earth Institute experts tackle reader questions on science and sustainability.

The following question was submitted through our Instagram page by one of our followers. The answer was provided by Stephanie Kersten-Johnston.

How can we keep track of the sustainability measures taken by corporations?

Stephanie Kersten-Johnston, corporate sustainability specialist

Stephanie Kersten-Johnston is a corporate sustainability specialist and professor in Columbia’s Sustainability Management program.

Keeping track of company sustainability indicators depends on your goals and the companies you’re looking at. If you just have a single company that you want to keep an eye on, the best thing to do is identify how (and how often) they share information about their sustainability performance. In some cases they will report annually on performance and share updates throughout the year. Others have more of a dashboard system which you can typically track on their website. Here’s an example from Unilever that is pretty typical.

This can be tricky if you are keeping up with multiple companies though, since they often report on different cycles. It’s possible to track them all manually or pay for an aggregator to create a bespoke dashboard but it depends on your requirements ultimately.

If you want to consider the performance of multiple companies, you can also find authors, publications and reporters that often review results as they come out. Here are some examples: http://csr-reporting.blogspot.com/, http://www.ethicalcorp.com/, https://sustainablebrands.com/. While not a comprehensive review of companies, this will give you a good range and flavor of reporting against commitments.

Another way to get a sense of relative performance is to keep an eye on indices such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. These types of indices seek to standardize performance metrics to a certain extent, so that you can track by geography, sector, etc.

If you’re focusing on a specific issue e.g. climate or water, look for leading independent organizations in the relevant geography and they may have their own ways to track information that companies share. One example is the Climate Disclosure Standards Board for instance, who have reported on company successes in following their guidance. Another example is CDP’s water project.

Lastly, we may begin to see more companies seeking to set comparable targets in response to calls to action from independent global entities. One recent example is the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. As part of this, over 400 companies have aligned with a common vision and targets relating to their plastics impacts, and have committed to reporting on their progress. While it can be challenging to “standardize” company commitments, and there is still a lot of variability, this sets an interesting precedent that others may seek to follow, whereby the report on performance is issued by the independent organization on a regular cadence.

There’s no perfect solution for keeping companies accountable but this is a rapidly evolving space, so expect more to emerge soon!

Got a question about climate change? Feeling curious about conservation? To submit a question, drop a comment below, message us on Instagram, or email us here.

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