Sustainability metrics are crucial to implementing and actually sustaining any triple bottom line strategy. Sustainability metrics are key drivers behind company-wide decisions and enable goal setting, help determine business value, and spur continued adoption of new sustainable practices across an organization. The best metrics will foster innovation and growth, enable management to turn strategy into action, and reinforce personal and organizational accountability.

Where to begin?

Good metrics will help management drive the strategy and direction of an organization while also providing focus for their employees. The best metrics are as simple as possible: if you have to spend too much time measuring or explaining a metric, chances are it will not be as effective as a simpler process. Employees need to understand the metric, how they can influence it and what is expected of them.

When establishing appropriate sustainability measures, consider that metrics must be:

  • Representative and relevant
  • Understandable and comparative
  • Quantifiable
  • Unbiased and validated
  • Bonus points if they are time-based and normalized (per month, per staff, etc.)

Here’s how to implement effective sustainability metrics:

  1. Define a shortlist of relevant metrics: Energy use per employee, carbon footprint per dollar of revenue, tons of diverted waste per unit of output, etc.
  2. Secure buy-in from senior management and key staff: The successful adoption of any new metric requires the approval and interest of senior management, and implementation requires buy-in from the employees closest to each process.
  3. Understand what data is needed and how to collect it: It’s not unusual for companies to set a metric, only to discover that either their processes or tools (or both) cannot generate the data they need. Metrics need to be reliable and standardized, with data being collected in exactly the same way across single or multiple departments, facilities and offices, nationally or internationally.
  4. Measure and share the results: Use metrics to learn from others. Never hesitate to contact another person in the company and ask how they are progressing. If the organization has multiple sites or divisions, leaders should set up regular meetings to review progress, share experiences and successes, and discuss problems. Continue to measure as the business evolves.
  5. Update as needed: Businesses evolve and changes will surface as time goes on. Make sure the metrics still measure what they intended to measure.