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Four Leaders Share How to Manage Sustainability Metrics

By Cindy Mehallow

Efficient metrics management for stakeholders at every point in your value chain

By Cindy Mehallow

Just as baseball is a game of statistics, sustainability is a field of metrics. But, unlike the venerable stats by which fans track their favorite team's performance, the metrics used to measure an organization's non-financial performance present a churning assortment of evolving standards. At the recent Sustainable Brands “New Metrics of Sustainability” conference, speakers from SAP, Bridgestone Americas and other organizations threw participants a few life preservers to help them stay afloat in the sea of data.

SAP and SEDEX: Platforms for product compliance requests

SAP Senior Vice President of Sustainability Tom Odenwald described his company’s Product Stewardship Network which suppliers can use to manage the onslaught of product compliance requests from their customers.

This online collaboration community enables manufacturers and their supply chains to share the data that manufacturers increasingly need to comply with regulations such as REACH and RoHas.

“SAP’s Product Stewardship Network offers a huge advantage for suppliers,” declared Odenwald. The biggest benefit: the supplier only submits the data once. In addition, suppliers can use the network to self-assess and benchmark against peer companies and industry standards.

Similar supplier data exchanges exist, including the widely-used Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (SEDEX). A not-for-profit membership organization dedicated to driving improvements in responsible and ethical business practices in global supply chains, SEDEX boasts more than 30,800 members across 23 industry sectors in 150 countries. SEDEX provides additional services such as ethical audits of suppliers. For suppliers looking to efficiently manage the rising tide of customer requests and regulatory requirements, either tool offers a lifeline.

Bridgestone Americas: Custom tool for ratings and rankings

Inundated by a tsunami of sustainability surveys, tire and building product manufacturer Bridgestone Americas developed its own tool to survive the flood of requests. Tim Bent, director of environmental affairs for Bridgestone Americas, enlisted the help of Jeffy Gowdy, Adjunct Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt University, to devise a solution. Gowdy itemized each item requested by 12 surveys, ranging from GRI to CDP, culled it down to the most prevalent and material indicators, and then worked with eight other departments to populate the answers. The result: a Sustainability Hub based in Sharepoint.

“This method enabled us to reach our goal, which was to obtain high quality, consistent responses to the survey questions,” explained Bent. Sensing that others could benefit from this tool, Bent has approached the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) to explore sharing the tool with MAPI members.

World Business Council on Sustainable Development: Measuring socio-economic impact

Publicly available tools are also a valuable source of guidance on metrics. Conference participant Wellington Silva Baldo, superintendent of sustainability for Brazilian banking giant Itau, directed me to models available from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD). Charged with developing the metrics for Itau’s first integrated report, Baldo is currently immersed in metric evaluation.

Perhaps most well-known for its widely used Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the WBCSD has developed many other tools, including methodologies to support its member companies. The nearly 30 resources in its Tool Box are targeted to companies in various sectors and at differing stages in their sustainability journey. These resources vary widely, ranging from a Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation (CEV) to an e-learning tutorial on sustainability for employees.

In scanning through the toolbox, I stumbled on what appears to be a gem of a resource: “Measuring socio-economic impact:  A guide for business.”  This 40-page guide offers a comparison of 10 publicly available models that can serve as a starting point for a company searching for an existing methodology for measuring – and managing – its social and economic impact. I plan to recommend it to one of my new social responsibility reporting clients – a global law firm looking for ways to share the impact of its active pro bono programs.

The Sustainability Consortium: Best practices on product profiles

When asked about resources for small and medium size enterprises, SAP’s Odenwald directed participants to The Sustainability Consortium. The Consortium represents more than 100 of the world’s largest corporations which have pooled their knowledge to create the Sustainability Measurement and Reporting SystemTM comprised of two tools.

Its Category Sustainability Profiles offer life cycle performance data by product-category level (e.g., laundry detergents, frozen beef, shoes). Its Product Sustainability Declarations provide product-level (e.g., JC’s Frozen Beef Patties) data which allows for direct comparison of products against the product category. For manufacturers looking to benchmark their products and conduct life cycle analysis, the user-friendly data sheets are a convenient source of industry data.

Share Your Story

These are just a few of current resources available to help companies navigate the sea change of quantifying non-financial performance.

Which, if any, of these tools do you use? Can you share some other sustainability metric management methods you use? By pooling our knowledge, we can advance the caliber and use of sustainability metrics.

Share your successes and struggles in the journey to measure what matters.

[image credit: Trevor Leyenhorst: Flickr cc]

Cindy Mehallow is principal of CRM Communications, a woman-owned sustainability communications consulting practice specializing in corporate social responsibility reporting and stakeholder communications. GRI-Certified in sustainability reporting, Cindy has produced award-winning sustainability reports for Fortune 500 clients in a variety of industries.

Read more stories by Cindy Mehallow