Innovating for Authentic Sustainability Accounting and Multicapitalism in the World
Context-based metrics & more
Organizations or practitioners interested in learning more about or using context-based metrics in their sustainability work might benefit from research and development performed by our organization over the years, as described below and in various downloadable documents posted on our Publications page. The actual metrics we ourselves created, though, are no longer supported (by us), and thus have been removed from this page in their downloadable form. Most of the thinking that went into their development, however, is still fully disclosed and accessible herein to anyone who might like to learn more about them and/or create new context-based metrics of their own.
- Context-based carbon metric (for businesses)
Our context-based carbon metric (first piloted with Ben & Jerry’s in 2006) measured the greenhouse gas emissions of a company against reduction targets rooted in science-based mitigation scenarios, two of which we applied:
– SSP1-1.9 scenario, a “well-below 1.5ºC” warming model with a 2015 baseline year, and
– CERC-LED-OECD scenario, an equity-sensitive, “No BECCS” (Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage) “1.5ºC” warming model, also with a 2015 baseline year
The CSO metric allocated emissions entitlements (and reduction burdens) to individual organizations based upon their contributions to GDP and adjusted them annually in those terms, while also keeping them aligned with the annual global carbon budgets specified in SSP1-1.9 (Shared Socioeconomic Pathways) on the one hand, and CERC-LED-OECD (Climate Equity Reference Calculator – Low Energy Demand) on the other. Targets and performance scores for both were reported.
By including the CERC-LED-OECD scenario, the CSO metric made it possible to set targets and assess performance against equity-sensitive, burden-sharing criteria for OECD countries, which are more demanding than those defined for emitters in other parts of the world. By comparison, the SSP1-1.9 global scenario made no such equity-sensitive allocations.
For organizations domiciled or operating in such “first world” OECD nations, this may be important because of the growing expectation that companies located in such places should bear a greater share of the burden to mitigate emissions than their counterparts in other, less-developed areas.
Importantly, the CERC-LED-OECD scenario is also grounded in the precautionary principle in the sense that it does not rely on, or assume, the existence of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) solutions in the future, such as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) technologies. In other words, the CERC-LED-OECD scenario is both equity-sensitive and CDR/BECCS-free. For organizations interested in setting targets in these terms side-by-side with other cutting-edge “well-below 1.5ºC” scenarios, such as SSP1-1.9, the CSO Context-Based Carbon Metric made it all possible! See here and here for two articles that address this important issue.
The latest version of our context-based carbon metric is no longer offered or supported by us.
Answers to frequently asked questions about our metric can be found here.
For third-party academic reviews of the CSO Context-Based Carbon Metric, see this article published by Bjorn et al in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Research Letters, in early 2021, and this article published by Rekker et al in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature Communications, in mid-2022.
- Context-based carbon metric (for municipalities)
Our context-based carbon metric was a version designed for municipalities (and human populations at any other scale of interest). Like the business metric described above, the municipal metric, too, was both science- and equity-sensitive-based and assessed emissions relative to reduction targets specified in both the SSP1-1.9 and CERC-LED-OECD mitigation scenarios accordingly; again relative to a 2015 baseline year.
The main difference between the municipalities and business versions of our metric was the manner in which emissions entitlements and mitigation burdens were allocated. In the case of business, our metric made such allocations in accordance with a company’s contributions to GDP; in the case of municipalities, allocations were made according to their population size.
The latest version of our context-based carbon metric for municipalities is no longer offered or supported by us.
- Context-based carbon metric (for higher education)
In 2014, we worked with Corey Johnson, a Master of Environmental Management Candidate (2015) at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, to develop an adaptation of our context-based carbon metric for use in higher education settings.
The main difference between the higher education and business versions of our metric was the manner in which emissions entitlements and mitigation burdens were allocated. In the case of business, our metric made such allocations in a way that was proportionate to a company’s contributions to GDP; in the case of colleges and universities, allocations were made according to a school’s headcount. The latter used a headcount metric we call Per Capita Equivalent.
Like the business version of our metric, the higher education version measured the greenhouse gas emissions of a school against reduction targets specified in the SSP1-1.9 mitigation scenario, a well-below 1.5ºC model. It, too, features a 2015 baseline year.
The latest version of our context-based carbon metric for higher education institutions is no longer offered or supported by us.
- Context-based water metric
CSO also created the world’s first context-based water metric way back in 2009, which has since been used at hundreds of sites throughout the world. Also known as the Corporate Water Gauge, our context-based water metric made it possible to assess the sustainability of water use relative to local conditions in the watersheds in which businesses and facilities are located. To do that, we made use of GIS technology which took contextually relevant spatial and meteorological data explicitly into account. More about our context-based water metric can be found here.
The latest version of our context-based water metric is no longer offered or supported by us.
- Context-based waste metric
Our context-based waste metric was first developed in 2012 and measured the volume of municipal solid wastes (MSW) a company sends to landfills against a diversion target of 100 percent (zero waste to landfill) by 2025 and a baseline year of 2016. Users of this metric could easily substitute baseline years and target dates of their own choosing.
The latest version of our context-based waste metric is no longer offered or supported by us.
- Context-based biodiversity metric
Our context-based biodiversity metric, the Biodiversity Performance Index (BPI), is still a work in progress, but is fairly well specified at this time. Co-developed with colleagues at Manomet in Brunswick, Maine, the design of the BPI was commissioned by Cabot Creamery Cooperative, a long-time collaborator of ours and pioneer in the use of context-based metrics.
A report in which the Biodiversity Performance Index (BPI) is described in detail can be downloaded by clicking here.
SOCIAL & ECONOMIC
- Social Footprint Method
CSO is also the home of the Social Footprint Method (SFM), a context-based approach for assessing the social sustainability performance of organizations developed in 2006. The SFM addresses economic sustainability as well. More about the application of context-based metrics in the social and economic arena can be found here: The Social Footprint Method
INTEGRATED MULTI-BOTTOM-LINE SCORECARDS
- SDPI Scorecard
For 4 years ending in late 2022, CSO Executive Director, Mark McElroy, served as a special advisor to the United Nations on the Sustainable Development Performance Indicators (SDPI) project. CSO subsequently created an integrated, multi-bottom-line reporting tool for 16 context-based indicators featured in SDPI. The SDPI Scorecard is now a free and open-source tool downloadable from this website here: The SDPI Scorecard
- MultiCapital ScorecardTM
Last, CSO is a co-developer of the MultiCapital Scorecard (MCS), the world’s first context-based triple bottom line performance accounting tool co-created by Martin Thomas, former Unilever finance and strategy exec, and CSO Executive Director, Mark McElroy. More about the MCS, which is open-source and includes treatment of context-based financial performance, can be found here: The MultiCapital Scorecard
Note: CSO is especially grateful for the involvement and support of the following organizations in the development of several of the metrics described on this page: Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Dartmouth College, St. Michael’s College, the University of Groningen, and the University of Massachusetts.
The Center for Sustainable Organizations
What differentiates CSO from others in the sustainability arena is its strong commitment to an approach for corporate sustainability measurement, management and reporting that is context-based