Measurement, Tracking & Reporting
Measurement, tracking and reporting is an important aspect of sustainability programs. Measurement provides a way for you to gauge your progress towards your goals, tracking helps you monitor your progress and continually improve, and reporting allows you to communicate it to staff or other stakeholders. Common examples would be measurement of resources used (energy, water, paper consumption, materials), waste created, greenhouse gases emitted, employee volunteer hours or donations to social or environmental groups.
A common axiom of sustainability management is that you can’t manage what you don’t measure. As your business begins to manage and reduce its negative sustainability impacts, consider appropriate measures of success to measure your progress, set specific targets and then begin to monitor your sustainability performance over a monthly, quarterly or annual basis. This will help you track your performance, as with other aspects of your business, pointing you to areas where it might be necessary to step up efforts. Measuring in this way can be a real incentive to staff, too, as it can encourage them and further motivate them to do more. Many businesses start the measuring process by conducting an environmental audit or social responsibility assessment of their operations. You may wish to start here too, there are some examples in Resources to help you with this, or see the Resource Use section.
Over the last decade, reporting on environmental and sustainability performance has grown worldwide, with many large and some medium sized organizations producing an annual sustainability report. Such reporting addresses the positive and negative aspects of the company’s environmental and social performance with the goal of increasing transparency and building goodwill with stakeholders such as shareholders/investors, employees, community members and your clients. Reporters also find that the process of issuing a sustainability report helps bring more clarity and focus to the organization’s efforts in managing its environmental and social performance, so it can be a good way to improve your performance as well.
In practice, SMEs are less likely to issue sustainability reports. However, reporting on sustainability performance can help them gain credibility with customers, investors and bankers who are increasingly looking to environmental measurement and reporting as a tool to assess the credit worthiness and risk profile of businesses. As noted in the Business Case, employees are also interested in working for companies aligned with their values. Being able to read about concrete efforts and the positive impacts the company has generated in the environment or the community can make the best and the brightest talent more attracted to your company. The goal is to provide a means to communicate information to stakeholders to gain trust and credibility. This may be as simple as posting information on your website, or providing an update to suppliers, customers and staff, all the way to more robust and complex annual sustainability reporting.
Measuring the success of your sustainability programs and initiatives helps you ensure that you track your progress and meet your goals. Measurement allows you to create an accurate description of your current state, so that you can set goals and be sure when you meet them. The measurement of your current state is often referred to as creating a baseline. Ultimately, you need measures that work for your business, that can easily be integrated into workflows, and can be reproduced regularly to monitor and track progress. Get started on your baseline by:
- Gather your bills for each area of resource consumption. Typically, this would include waste and recycling, energy (electricity and natural gas), water, and materials use. Take a look at what unit of measurement are provided by your utility, contractors and suppliers and assess whether this is sufficient to help you monitor progress over time; or
- Conduct an audit to dig deeper into one of your resource use areas. For instance, if you want to reduce energy use from a specific part of your building, or reduce one of the materials in your waste stream, you’ll need to have a better breakdown than your bills provide. A simple dumpster dive will provide you with your total waste volume, a breakdown of your waste stream and ideas about where the biggest opportunities for reduction might be. An energy or greenhouse gas audit will provide you with energy use or emissions from different areas of your business, that will allow you to set specific goals.
- Survey your staff to determine the degree to which they perceive the company to be a socially and environmentally responsible firm. This can be a means of identifying gaps that require attention to maintain employee morale and engagement.
For more information on conducting inventories and reducing your impact in various areas, see Resource Use.
Tracking is the periodic checking of your success towards your goals. At regular intervals, you’ll want to use your measurement techniques to assess how well you are doing and make any necessary changes. Tracking may be an annual activity toward a specific goal, for example reducing waste to landfill by one dumpster per week, but it can also be used along with measurement to set new goals and ensure your programs continue and always improve on your previous success. This is the concept of continuous improvement.
- Consider your audience when reporting on your sustainability efforts. For staff and most customers, a snapshot may be all that’s required. You might want to make more detail available for other groups that may be interested in more detail (such as bankers or employees).
- Consider your impacts and report success that is in proportion to them. Sustainability reporting comes up short when a company doesn’t address its most important environmental impacts. For instance, if a business reports on progress towards its paper recycling goals, while making no progress on a highly toxic waste stream, it won’t improve its credibility. If you are not sure about which areas of your business generate the most impacts, conduct an audit as noted under “Measure” and in the Resource Use section, or contact your local environmental organization, government department or trade association for advice. You could even consult your staff, suppliers, neighbours and customers for their ideas, since what matters to them will also matter to you.
- Develop an appropriate and reproducible format that considers your company’s goals and the resources that can be allocated to reporting. Develop an appropriate means to report on your progress that can impact management, staff and stakeholders without unduly taxing limited resources.
Saltspring Coffee, an organic coffee company operating in BC, is in their 4th year of measuring and reporting their greenhouse gas emissions. Their GHG emissions were 263.43 tonnes in 2007. They went beyond the industry standard for GHG emissions inventories (direct emissions reporting) by including their indirect emissions. The company reports emissions measurements and reduction strategies on its website: Note 1
- Global Reporting Initiative Handbook for SMEs: - An international guide to sustainability reporting for small and medium sized businesses:
- Industry Canada Corporate Social Responsibility Verification and Reporting: - an overview to reporting plus link to a sustainability reporting toolkit:
- Microsoft Dashboard Tracks Energy Consumption, GHG Emissions
- Sample SME Reports (past winners of the CERES (Certification of Environmental Standards GmbH) sustainability report awards)
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