Sustainability is here to stay. Businesses at large are openly embracing it. Keeping track of businesses that practice sustainability as opposed to those that speak of sustainability theoretically, is a difficult task, making consumers fall prey to greenwashing. Keeping track of a company’s sustainability indicators depends on the goal one has and the company they are looking at.
The first thing to do is keep an eye on how often a company shares information about its sustainability performance. In some cases, they will share this information in their annual reports. Some provide information on their websites. An example being Unilever.
But then there is the symbolic field of sustainability. Here an organization, business or place aspires to present an image of sustainability. To these folks, sustainability happens to be a green branding exercise. This variant of sustainability makes no one’s planet less polluted and no one’s world more socially inclusive, but works towards convincing consumers to favor a product over another simply because of its green image. This practice is not new, it is only becoming more prevalent with the fact that the youth base their consumer decisions on the image that an organization presents as they sell goods and services.
Coming up with tracking indicators to measure corporate sustainability can be a hard task. Even harder is the task of actually measuring, this is because reporting on an organization’s greening takes place in cycles. It is possible to track them manually but it all depends on the requirements not mentioning the time taken to compile the data of a single company. For instance, MTN and several other companies are investing in solar panels and taking other steps to reduce their environmental impact. But is it substantive or simply symbolic? It is easy to be mistrustful of these efforts as one cannot know what is going on.
A helpful way one can track corporate sustainability measures is through publications and reports from various companies that often review sustainability results as they come out. While not a comprehensive review of companies, they give a good range of reporting against commitments.
Another way one can get a sense of relative performance is to keep an eye on indices such as various sustainability indices. They seek to standardize performance metrics to a certain extent, for easier tracking by geography, sector, etc. for instance if you are focusing on climate change issues and how an organization has contributed to its reduction, one may look for leading independent organizations that may have their way of tracking information that companies share.
We might begin to see more companies seeking to set comparable targets in response to calls to action from independent global entities. While it can be challenging to ‘standardize’ a company’s commitments, and there is still a lot of variabilities, 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 are no perfect solutions to keeping companies accountable but this is a rapidly evolving space, every dawn marks an innovation. One thing we agree on is that we need smarter ways to measure sustainability in the corporate world.