Six steps to measure sustainable management

This article is available in Bulgarian.

Penka Korkova, denkstatt Bulgaria

I would like to start with a question that I wish I heard more often: “How can I know whether my business is sustainable?”. Unfortunately, I cannot do so, because I rarely ever hear it. Instead, I come across assured claims like: “My business is sustainable because we have initiatives for the reduction of energy usage and we make considerable donations to good NGOs”.

We often believe that since we are putting in an effort to be sustainable, it must automatically mean that we are indeed sustainable: a successful energy efficiency project means that we are environmentally responsible; giving support to meaningful social projects means that we are a socially responsible company… If it was this easy, everything would be great! If school worked the same way, I would have been a great student just by learning a single paragraph from my textbook lesson. Unfortunately, we all know that it takes much more effort to get high marks, while studying a single paragraph might help us earn average marks at best. How can we know if we deserve to get a high mark in sustainability, or a low mark?

Fortunately, there are objective ways to measure and score our sustainability. This can be done by measuring our progress using indicators or base values. The good thing about this approach is that we are the ones who set the goals that we want to achieve, making things much easier than if someone else were to evaluate us. For example, we have reached a 30% decrease in our use of energy when compared to the baseline usage of 2010, and our goal is to reach a 50% reduction by 2020 – our results so far are good. Naturally, before we create indicators for ourselves, we should consider the important themes for our company and how they are prioritized in our sustainability development strategy.

One way of proceeding is to set our own individual goals based on predefined national or global goals – one example of this approach is the science-based targets initiative.

And after all, this wouldn’t be a consulting article if it didn’t contain a number of quick and practical suggestions on the theme of measuring sustainability. Here are six pieces of advice:

1.Choose a base year against which to measure your progress

In order to be able to reflect the positive changes in the processes of your company you need to choose from what year you are going to begin measuring those changes – a base year. It can be this year, or a previous important year. 

2. Choose a concrete goal that you can work toward relative to your chosen base year

It would be best if your goal is a long-term one (5-10 years), so that you can set smaller yearly goals through which you can achieve your ultimate goal over time. If you’ve forgotten the SMART rule for setting goals, it might be best to remind yourself as it can be very useful. Make you goals measurable and authentically yours compared to your planned success, development and resources.

3. Ask yourself this question: does the goal I’ve set reflect the company’s policies and responsibilities on this particular theme?

If your answer is no, go back to the previous two steps.

4. Ask yourself another question: how much does the goal I’ve set correspond to the global and national goals and tendencies on this particular theme?

If the two goals are incompatible, go back to the previous two steps, or even to the formulation of your corporate policy and rethink the context of your organization.

5. Connect the goal to your business processes

This means identifying all the business processes and people related to the goal, and making them responsible for its attainment. Typically, this means engaging and supporting those responsible in charting a path toward the achievement of the goal, as well as providing them with the necessary resources.

6. Make your goals public

This is a good way to stimulate an active striving toward the goal as it ensures consistent strategy and work on the part of management and the various company departments. It is also a good opportunity to publicly communicate the company’s values and strategy, and to answer the questions and expectations of stakeholders.   

The text was published in the 26/2018 issue of the Economist on June 29, 2018.

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