Solutions​ to Boost Sustainability at a Corporate Level

L.M. Ladron de Guevara

Quimono @Pixibay. Further editing by Lina María Ladron de Guevara

Objective: to disclose different tools, standards and initiatives that help businesses to become more sustainable.

If you are wondering, or have ever wondered, about what to do to help your organization to become more sustainable, here you will find a summary regarding different opportunities to boost sustainability at a corporate level: 1) Future-Fit Business, 2) B Corps, 3) SASB, 4) GRI, 5) STB, 6) GHG protocol, and 7) our good old friend, ISO.

Bear in mind these solutions are not mutually exclusive, but while some combinations are a great match, some others could end-up being redundant. Also, before committing to one, or more if that is the case, I suggest:

a-Thinking of how the solutions align with your business strategy and what sort of resources you have or need to have in order to move forward.

b-Thinking about the context of your business: where you are right now, and where you want to be.

c- Thinking about getting some internal and/or external support.

I sincerely hope this summary does justice to all the solutions I’m presenting, and that it helps you to get a broader idea of some of the possible actions organizations can take to become more sustainable.

#1. Future-Fit Business

This is an open source initiative that helps corporations to pursue sustainability by means of a ‘new’ kind of benchmark. With a strong system-value approach, where “Business in no way hinders – and ideally contributes to – society’s progress toward future-fitness“, Future-Fit Business helps your organization to find a clear destination. For these guys, it is not about best practices, it is about necessary practices.

They have structured 23 environmental and social break-even goals your organization is compelled to meet. But, instead of setting goals the usual way, e.g. to do better than last year, to do better than other organizations (who might do poorly anyway, so not a great challenge there), or to set short term goals without any scientific basis, Future-Fit Business tells us to assess the gap between where your organization currently is and where you want it to be in the future.

Does this appeal to you? You can visit their ‘Crash course‘ to boost sustainability for your organization.

#2. B Corps

Similar to the Future-Fit Business solution, B-Corps are trying to change the way we do business. In the case of B-Corps, your company aims to be certified so it will “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”

Depending on the company’s size and structure, the certification process will involve more or fewer requirements. The way to start the process is simple: you answer a free B Impact Assessment in order to know where you currently stand in relation to the standard. A minimum of 80 points is required to get certified. Next, you will need to meet some legal requirements, and if necessary, you will need to make some adjustments in your business to meet the standard. From there, you are ‘ready’ for the verification and transparency step, in which B Lab verifies your score. Also, after getting certified, you are compelled to do better every year!

#3. SASB

SASB, which stands for Sustainability Accounting Standard Board, provides a sustainability reporting framework. SASB has a clear financial approach to sustainability because it has built the tools and resources to help businesses understand what creates or destroys value so that they uncover which sustainability issues matter the most (financial materiality). Their mission is to help businesses to “report on the sustainability topics that matter most to their investors.” Bottom line, it is about smart financial decisions.

If you are interested in this solution, you might want to have a look at these resources: a Materiality Map that relates environmental, social, governance and other dimensions to different sectors/industries, 77 Industry Standards that will guide you in order to communicate effectively with investors regarding sustainability issues, and The Navigator, a tool that will allow you to idenitfy risks and opportunities regarding sustainability.

#4. GRI

Similar to SASB, the well-known Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) “helps businesses and governments worldwide understand and communicate their impact on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, governance and social well-being.” One of the biggest differences between SASB and GRI is that while the first focuses on reporting to investors, the second reports to all stakeholders.

GRI has a modular structure regarding its standards. The structure includes the G101 (Foundation), G102 (General Disclosures) and G103 (Management Approach) universal standards, which should be used by organizations to generate their sustainability reports. Then, based on their material topics (significant economic, environmental and social impacts), organizations report their results (good or bad) according to the G200 (Economic), G300 (Environmental) and G400 (Social) topic-specific standards. However, an organization can also use GRI to report on specific information, but, in both cases (full sustainability report or partial use of GRI), organizations must include a specific claim in all published materials and notify GRI regarding the use of the standards.

#5. SBT

The Science Based Targets (SBT) initiative supports businesses in tackling climate change by setting ambitious GHG emissions targets based on science. This initiative is a very robust approach for companies to manage their GHG emissions. “Targets… are considered “science-based” if they are in line with what the latest climate science says is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement – to limit global warming to well-below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.

Businesses with an interest in joining this initiative must commit publicly to their targets and show their results. Businesses could set targets such as reduction in absolute emissions targets (percentage), emissions intensity targets: physical or economic (rates), and engagement targets (percentage), which must cover a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 15 years, and include a minimum of 95% of both direct emissions and purchased heat and electricity related emissions.

Businesses are not obliged to set different types of targets, but since they all have pros and cons, e.g. absolute targets don’t allow comparison among peers, and intensity targets don’t ensure that absolute emissions will decline, the initiative encourages businesses to define targets in both, absolute and intensity terms whenever possible. Also, it is important to mention that this initiative does not accept carbon offsets as a way towards decreasing the businesses emissions.

#6. GHG Protocol

If you are looking for guidance on how to account for the GHG emissions associated to your organization, The Greenhouse Gas Protocol might be a good place to start. They have published: 1) a corporate standard to help companies account for their GHG emissions; 2) a corporate value chain standard to account for value chain emissions since, in many cases, most of the total corporate emissions come from value chain sources, and 3) a product standard to account for GHG emissions associated with the full life cycle of products “including raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, storage, use and disposal“. They also have published guides regarding how to account for indirect emissions from purchased electricity and all other indirect emissions.

Furthermore, the GHG Protocol has released tools to support GHG emissions accounting and they offer free and paid courses to train professionals on GHG accounting.

#7. ISO

ISO, the International Organization for Standardization “brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant International Standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.” They have developed a series of standards that cover different environmental issues such as: water, soil and air quality, greenhouse gases, life cycle assessment, recovering plastics, and energy management.

You can use their standards to boost sustainability at a corporative level as they offer best practices based on extended experience and sound knowledge. The most popular standard that companies use regarding environmental topics is the ISO 14001 standard for Environmental Management Systems with there being 307,059 valid certificates in 2018 (note that the last version includes a focus on the life cycle of products). Also, it is highly recommended not only to use this standard to set up your Environmental Management System, but also to certify it by doing an audit with a third party (a certification body that is different from ISO).

Finally, although ISO is famous worldwide and a powerful resource, it is losing popularity as new solutions for environmental issues emerge from different corners of the globe. So, why should a company move in this direction? If done properly, ISO 14001 helps your organization’s processes to be more organized like no other solution does as it is based on the standard for quality, ISO 9001.

Ok, that was as short as I was able to write it! 😅

Do you feel something is missing from this list of solutions? I do. I feel that a global scale solution regarding circular economy is missing. The closest one that I know of could be the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE), but I think they are missing the tools to help businesses to boost sustainability. However, you can visit their website as they have interesting projects that could bring some light to yours.

Finally, I encourage you to keep yourself interested in ways to boost sustainability at a corporate level. Hopefully, at least one of the presented solutions will fit your organization. If not, don’t worry, you can always consult an expert on sustainability and find other ways to help your organization to become more sustainable.

Please let me know in the comments section if there is a topic that interests you regarding sustainability. I’ll do my very best to share my findings and thoughts.

🌟Special thanks to my extraordinary editor: Andrea Lomas. Without you this wouldn’t have been possible.

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