Update from Alex: measuring sustainability across the organisation - where to start?

26 August 2016

On recently re-reading an article about the world’s 100 most sustainable corporations, I was struck by how few of them were in the building and construction or property sectors – and that none of them are in New Zealand. Given this country’s (mostly) fledgling focus on corporate sustainability, it’s no surprise. But what struck me most was how seemingly simple the metrics are. For example:

  • Energy productivity – measured in Revenue ($US) / Energy use (Gigajoules).
  • Carbon productivity – measured in Revenue ($US) / Greenhouse gas emissions (Greenhouse gas protocol Scopes 1 +2).
  • Water productivity – measured in Revenue ($US) / Water withdrawal (cubic metres).
  • Innovation – measured in R&D Expenses / Revenue.

There are a few more KPIs at the Corporate Knights’ website, including the interesting ‘Clean capitalism paylink’, which is measured in Mechanisms that link Executive Management compensation to corporate sustainability performance.

Many leading companies are well established at sustainability strategy and reporting, but it may seem a big job to tackle for other businesses. If you’re doing work in the sustainability arena, rest assured – there’s a lot of wisdom out there you can harness to get started.

Whilst I’d hope NZGBC members approach the topic from a values-based perspective, one of the easiest ways to address sustainability is to look at how you’re likely to be measured and work back from there. There are a growing number of indices, data-collection guidance and sustainability reporting organisations for those wanting to demonstrate corporate responsibility. One of the longest-running indices is the Dow Jones Sustainability Index; the detailed set of assessment criteria (PDF) is worth reviewing to shape your sustainability programme.

I’ve mentioned GRESB in past newsletters, but it’s always worth a reminder as they outline some pretty important global trends, including the push for asset-level energy-efficiency ratings (a cue for office owners to rapidly get those NABERSNZ ratings done!). Many of you will also remember the Carbon Disclosure Project, which now also collects data for cities; this should be useful for Auckland’s new mayor as it’s tailored for C40 cities, of which Auckland is now one.

Using a principles-based approach? Try the UN Global Compact guide to corporate sustainability (PDF). It’s also worth checking out the Global Reporting Initiative, where the vision ‘is to create a future where sustainability is integral to every organisation's decision-making process’.

Zooming in on the details, New Zealand’s very own Enviro-Mark Solutions can help with carbon, environmental and energy management through their certification programme, and Environmental Choice NZ offers an eco-labelling programme.

I want to bring it full circle back to the World’s 100 most sustainable corporations, because the highest-ranking (no. 10) organisation in real estate is Singapore’s City Developments Ltd; they’re the first real estate organisation to measure themselves against the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. (As an aside, no. 63 on the list is WSP Global from Canada, of which WSP New Zealand is part, so an NZGBC member is at least peripherally on the list!)

To find out more about how to measure your progress against them, three critical organisations in the sustainable development field (GRI, WBCSD and UN Global Compact) have banded together under SDG Compass and produced a guide (PDF) that presents five steps for companies, especially SMEs, to maximise their contribution to these UN goals.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

This is just a taste of what’s in the market, and there are plenty of New Zealand-based organisations to help you with getting started, as well as inspiring companies who are making great progress. There really is no reason to delay getting started.