There is a growing consensus, we think, that the time for context-based sustainability (CBS) in corporate sustainability management may have finally come. And none too soon, mind you. After all, the concept has been firmly ensconced in the Global Reporting Initiative’s guidelines for sustainability measurement and reporting for more than a decade now, and is also featured in the proposed standard for Sustainability Ratings. What exactly is CBS, though?
Very simply, CBS is an approach for measuring, managing and reporting the sustainability performance of organizations that takes contextually relevant social, economic and environmental limits and thresholds explicitly into account. In this regard, CBS differs from conventional (i.e., relative and absolute) measures, in that it reports impacts on vital resources in the world relative to norms, standards or thresholds for what such impacts would have to be in order to be sustainable. In other words, CBS takes sustainability literally!
Such norms, standards or thresholds, in turn, are determined by knowing (a) what an organization’s impacts on vital capital resources already happens to be, (b) who the de facto stakeholders are whose well-being is affected by such impacts, (c) who an organization’s other stakeholders are whose well-being ought to be affected by its impacts, and (d) who else is, or should be, responsible for the vital capitals involved. All of this gives rise to normative impacts.
Once an organization has determined what its norms, standards or thresholds are for having impacts on vital capitals, metrics can be designed for measuring performance against them, as can strategies and interventions for improving sustainability performance where needed. True or literal sustainability performance can then be measured, managed and reported accordingly.
For a more formal definition of sustainability context, click here
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