Why Metrics Matter for Sustainability

Bill Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, once said, “You cannot manage what you cannot measure; and what gets measured gets done.” Hewlett's words resonate when thinking about embedding sustainability into your organization. Critical to getting started is knowing what sustainability metrics matter most.

Here's how Bill's famous mantra applies to sustainability. The result: measuring progress through clearly defined metrics demonstrates impact, effectiveness and value.

Common Sustainability Metrics

  • Financial: Cost/benefit analysis, simple payback period, Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and Return on Investment (ROI) are examples of financial metrics that are essential to most organizations. Sustainability initiatives that don't pass financial hurdles don't get funded.
  • Environmental: Metrics in this category often speak to resource consumption, such as: reduction in electricity usage; change in fuel consumption for company vehicles; gallons of water consumed; increase in recycling volume and/or reduction in materials sent to landfills; etc.
  • Social: These metrics span a range of possible options, but perhaps the most important are measures of employee engagement with the organization's initiatives around sustainability. Without behavior and culture change, sustainability initiatives will be limited in scope and impact.

Attributes of Effective Metrics

  • Specific: A clear, well-defined goal is the best way to help people understand where the organization needs to go. For example, “Reduce water consumption 5% each year for the next three years” is preferable to “Help mitigate the impact of the drought by reducing water consumption.”
  • Measurable: It's tough to know whether you're making progress if you don't have a way to objectively assess progress. Establish a baseline with numbers from a reliable source, such as your utility bill. Monitor progress against that baseline.
  • Achievable: If the goal looks hopelessly unachievable, people won't rally around it. Lofty objectives should be applauded, but manage them in bite-sized pieces. As interim goals are met, set another (reasonable) stretch goal for the next time horizon.

Using Metrics to Drive Performance

  • Sponsorship: An objective with an accountable senior leader is more likely to get the resources and attention required than a goal that's sponsored at lower levels in the organization. Find someone near the top of the corporate food chain to be the cheerleader for key sustainability initiatives.
  • Integrate into business plans: Most organizations develop strategies and plans to drive the enterprise forward.  Make sure your sustainability goals get built into these documents so that they are aligned with the organization's overall direction.
  • Make progress visible: Dashboards, “thermometers,” a mention in an executive's speech – these are all ways to communicate progress. You always see a scoreboard at a sporting event, right? By ensuring your progress is seen by everyone, you will increase employee engagement and commitment to the goals you've set.

See Measurabl Partners

Measurabl empowers any company, regardless of size or type, to achieve sustainability using software to measure, manage, and act upon data. Our online software that lets you quickly and accurately file sustainability reports such as GRESB, CDP and GRI. Learn more, or get started with a free trial.