Measuring Corporate Sustainability: The Wild West

Over a year ago, I decided to find out what it takes to lead a successful company that has a strong social or environmental purpose baked into its business activities.

Interest in this area has surged in recent years, and many organizations are embracing the pursuit of impactful change. But understanding the full picture of a company’s impact is difficult for many reasons: company comparisons are challenging across industries, there’s no universal definition of “impact,” and negative impact (like a coal company’s carbon footprint) is less often a focus for corporate sustainability reports. Thus, executives and consumers alike wonder which organizations are successfully incorporating impact goals into the fabric of who they are.

To that end, I’ve spent the last year interviewing leaders of socially and environmentally conscious companies, and exploring the literature on the topic. What I’ve learned is that while we are still in a “Wild West” period, measures and standards of corporate responsibility are increasingly available and rigorous.  In this article, I present four resources to inform company sustainability strategies and to allow executives to understand how their companies measure up: the Global Reporting Initiative, B Lab, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, and the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices.

Amid increasing demand for corporate social and environmental responsibility, these resources can help corporate executives prepare for an era in which rigorous and transparent reporting of impact will be critical to company success.

See the original Stanford Social Innovation Review Article