Science vs. Context-Based Metrics: What’s the Difference?

In an article written for Sustainable Brands, Mark W. McElroy, Ph.D. discusses the differences between science and context-based metrics. Context and science-based goals have to be considered at the industry or value chain level. This is because a company on its own might not be able to make sufficient change to its value chain independently. This is not to say that corporate goals should not be challenging and that the responsibility should fall on stakeholders. Companies need to work to understand these goals and then work back from this to come up with scalable short-term goals that are achievable in order to reach the long-term goal. This must also be supported with education and capacity building programs that ensure all players have an understanding of the opportunities these efforts provide.

What needs to be examined is the sustainability practices of companies worldwide, analyzing how well companies have embedded sustainability in their core business models and strategies. How effectively they involve and manage stakeholder expectations and use sustainability risks as a lever to drive innovation is what must be measured. The analysis is done through five key measurement domains: strategy, engagement, governance, innovation and value chain.

There are still significant gaps that we believe business must address in order to truly create long-term value both for business, our environment and society. These targets are being set across key material sustainability issues, often they are either inconsistent or lacking in ambition. Additionally, in most cases they lack a connection to scientific research, and therefore the ultimate goal we are all trying to reach.

The world’s top companies urgently need to establish new, science-based metrics for sustainability and develop a vision with firm commitments to achieve the necessary change to live within one planet. The key challenge we face is to take the good intent and generally shared aspiration that sustainability is good for our planet, society and commerce and translate this into actions at an organizational level. These actions need to address the scaling up of performance improvements as well as the urgency and speed of change needed. Increasing adoption of science-based goals will help organizations understand the real risks and opportunities facing their current business models.

Because corporate sustainability goals fall way short of what the world’s leading scientists are indicating we need to do to attain sustainability. Science is the driver of our global economy and likely will continue to be. Science needs to be the driver for how we set our goals to best protect our economy’s input resources and our shared playing field of the planet Earth.

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