Sustainability Management

Triple Bottom Line

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Context-based sustainability (CBS)

There is a growing consensus, we think, that the time for context-based sustainability (CBS) in corporate sustainability management has 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. On top of that, it is now featured in the new IIRC standard for Integrated Reporting, and also the GISR 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 demands explicitly into account. In this regard, CBS differs from conventional (i.e., absolute and intensity) 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) who an organization’s stakeholders are, (b) what its impacts on related vital capitals are or ought to be, (c) what the carrying capacities of the capitals are, and (d) who else, if anyone, is responsible for maintaining the capital resources involved. All of this gives rise to normative impacts or sustainability standards of performance against which actual impacts can be measured, managed and reported.

Indeed, once an organization has determined what its norms, standards or thresholds are for having impacts on vital capitals, context-based metrics can be deployed for measuring performance against them, as can strategies and interventions for improving sustainability performance where needed. Goal setting, too, can be context-based, finally providing firms with a meaningful way of determining ‘how much is enough’ when setting targets.

For a more formal definition of sustainability context, click here