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The future of sustainability indicators

"If you can't measure it you can't improve it" has been a long standing slogan in the field of management. In our previous blog post: "How to dodge disingenuous packaging: Greenwashing" ,we talked about the importance of measuring KPIs in the field of Sustainability to accelerate change. Stating that goals with no measurable targets or actionable plans, which can be seen in sustainability communication, is one type of Greenwashing.

So, which KPIs should be measured? This is an area of continuous development. One promising trend that we are watching closely and expanding in our work is how to combine leading and lagging sustainability indicators, which will enable companies to accelerate their sustainability work and have positive impacts.

Lagging indicators typically measure things after they have happened. For example, how much waste a company has generated or how many accidents there has been in the workplace. These indicators are important and often easy to measure. They do not, however, identify or attack the root cause of the issues that are measured, such as how waste and accidents can be limited. Companies which were considered sustainability leaders a few years ago might be viewed as laggers today if they have not changed the way they work with sustainability issues.

Leading indicators, on the other hand, work proactively to measure inputs. Unfortunately, they are not as widely used as lagging indicators, if used at all. This is regrettable since these indicators usually measure efforts put in place to improve future performances.

Examples of leading indicators are the number of eco-efficiency audits, number of process re-designs or percentage of employees receiving sustainability training. A lagging indicator could thereby measure the amount of accidents at the workplace while a leading indicator would measure the amount of security training or gear.

As a preventive feature, leading indicators measure an acceleration of performance while lagging indicators measure past failures to act. In the future, we are working to identify more leading indicators that are easily measurable. We want to accelerate companies' sustainability work and help them be at the forefront of positive future impacts instead of only measuring irreversible ones of the past.

SustainLab is an innovator in looking for new and transformative ways that companies can take responsibility for social, financial and environmental impacts. This requires thinking beyond what has already been done. As Henry Ford once said "If I asked what my customers wanted, they would have said faster horses" while referring to, revolutionary for it’s time, the use of the automobile.

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