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Social Footprint Brings 'Context' to Sustainability Reporting

Submitted by: Center for Sustainable Organizations

Categories: Corporate Governance

Posted: Oct 30, 2006 – 09:00 AM EST


Oct. 30 /CSRwire/ - (Thetford Center, VT) - The Center for Sustainable Innovation (CSI) announced today it has begun offering consulting services aimed at bringing context to corporate sustainability measurement and reporting. Of particular relevance to this announcement is the principle of 'sustainability context' advocated by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in recent years, yet specific guidance for which is still missing from its new G3 standard.

According to the G3 standard, information on an organization's sustainability performance...

"...should be placed in context. The underlying question of sustainability reporting is how an organization contributes, or aims to contribute in the future, to the improvement or deterioration of economic, environmental, and social conditions, developments, and trends at the local, regional, or global level. Reporting only on trends in individual performance (or the efficiency of the organization) will fail to respond to this underlying question. Reports should therefore seek to present performance in relation to broader concepts of sustainability."

Using its Social Footprint method, CSI is the first value-added provider of sustainability management tools and services to address, head on, the issue of 'sustainability context' in G3 reports. At the heart of its approach is a quantitative system which compares the social and/or environmental impacts of an organization to their proportionate effects on capitals of four kinds: natural capital, social capital, human capital, and constructed capital. This follows from a strong tradition in sustainability theory and practice, according to which the sustainability of an activity is determined by its impacts on the carrying capacity of one or more related capitals.

What CSI adds to the mix, then, is not so much a new capitals-based theory of sustainability - that much is already well-established in the field. Instead, CSI offers the first practical methodology to allow corporate sustainability managers to operationalize the idea in the context of day-to-day sustainability measurement and reporting. This fulfills a vital need in the profession. Indeed, in the absence of sustainability context in a G3 report, there is no way to tell whether or not an organization's operations are sustainable. A simple decline in, say, water usage or CO2 emissions can easily be offset by an even greater decline in water supplies or carbon sinks in the same period. Such ostensibly 'positive' reports can easily mask what is, in fact, negative performance on the ground, notwithstanding statistical impressions to the contrary.

Regarding this announcement, Mark W. McElroy, CSI's Executive Director, commented: "GRI's G3 is a fine step in the right direction, and we applaud it. But without specific guidance on how to incorporate the 'sustainability context' it advocates, it arguably fails to achieve precisely the one thing it purports to do, which is make it possible for organizations to report on the sustainability of their operations. Why do we say this? Because in the absence of context, there is no way to draw sustainability conclusions about the impacts of an organization - the effects of such impacts must also be shown. Our methodology solves this problem by providing a quantitative way of comparing the social and environmental impacts of an organization with their proportionate effects on related capitals. We have simply found a way to operationalize the best thinking in mainstream sustainability theory. It can be done!"

About Center for Sustainable Innovation

The Center for Sustainable Innovation is a Vermont non-profit corporation located in Thetford Center, Vermont. It was founded in 2004 with a vision of working for sustainability, both within and by means of innovation. Most of CSI's current efforts are being applied to the development of the Social Footprint method, a joint project between CSI and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. CSI's founder and Executive Director, Mark W. McElroy, can be reached at mmcelroy@vermontel.net. More information about CSI, its consulting services, and its Social Footprint Masterclass, can be found at its website at: www.sustainableinnovation.org.

For more information, please contact:

Mark McElroy Center for Sustainable Innovation
Phone: (802) 785-2293

For more from this organization:

Center for Sustainable Organizations


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