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💫 Measurement of impact and indicators of progress

The June Spark

This is the monthly newsletter from Bemari where we talk about how to not get lost in sustainability. This month we have been talking a lot about measurement of impact and indicators of progress.

Here are 4 key takeaways we wanted to share:

  1. Set interim short term goals to support the longer term ambition. Especially in the context of very ambitious and transformative goals everyone is talking about and committing to eg Net zero by 2050, Nature positive by 2030 etc Most of us do not operate on such long timelines. Have you ever heard of anyone setting themselves a goal to read 360 books by 2030 (instead of 2 a month or 60 a year)? Or committing to running a marathon in a year and not setting a timeframe for when you need to get to a 5k mark with a certain speed? Mentally it is easier to put away a small amount towards pension every month rather than focusing on how to save the entire amount of £xx’000 that you will need when you retire - but the end result is the same. So, phase your big long term goal across the years and engage stakeholders on working towards a palatable % reduction (e.g. 5%) every year (whilst keeping the bigger goal in mind and in the plans).

  1. Metrics and indicators can be quantitative and qualitative. What are the stories of change around the organisation that could inspire and that indicate the change in mindsets? These are very important for any real progress. Your numbers can be expressed in percentages (10% reduction in use or paper), proportions (50% of paper is FSC certified) and absolute numbers (4tn of CO2e per product sold). The story can be told with more colour if you add considerations such as whether the trends are positive or negative, self-assessment (eg of the level of awareness and knowledge amongst teams), or status evaluation (eg on the quality of your environmental data): high - medium - low or 1-2-3 with definitions for each level. Starting to map your value chain with colour coding (Red-Amber-Green) for where biodiversity risks might sit will tell you more than going straight for a deep dive in just one site with species count (unless of course this is the most important and riskiest site). Sometimes expanding your arsenal of useful measures can open new opportunities to move forward.

  1. When measuring progress we could be evaluating outcomes (e.g. emissions reduction by x), outputs (e.g. number of products with lower carbon footprint than a previous average in the portfolio), activities (e.g. number of carbon reduction initiatives or innovation projects with suppliers) and inputs (e.g. amount of money spent on materials innovation, internal carbon pricing set, proportion of execs who have their compensation linked to decarbonisation progress). All of these types of metrics can be useful but it is important to differentiate between them and use them appropriately. For example, a commitment to water use reduction is an input metric that won’t tell you anything about the actual progress but whether or not an internal carbon price for all major budgeting decisions has been set will in fact give you an idea of whether the chances of the end climate goals being achieved are higher — because it is an input that affects the key drivers of emissions. Consider what metrics are the most appropriate for you to set and monitor, and whether there is a different mix that is appropriate for different audiences and forums.

  2. Progress measures need to be contextualised. 10% reduction in carbon emissions in 2020 doesn’t mean a whole lot if we don’t know what made the reduction possible (could it have been due to the shutdown in the lockdown? Then we can’t replicate it). 40% reduction in water pollution is not the best result if the remaining 60% is toxic to humans and marine life. Any change targets and metrics need to be commensurate with what is actually needed to address the problem, not just what is possible today. This is one of the biggest concepts that companies need to adopt for example, Intensity targets without an absolute reduction in carbon emissions for a business that sells products and has growth plans doesn’t match up to what the world needs right now (absolute emission reductions in line with science as a minimum). What targets and pace of progress are the norm, expectation and the need in your sector?

How do you measure your impact and progress on sustainability efforts?

Tools & resources

Need help making sense of the metrics for your organisation? Get in touch at [email protected]

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