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The Growth of Sustainability Metrics (Sustainability Metrics White Paper Series: 1 of 3)

Cohen, Steven Alan; Bose, Satyajit; Guo, Dong; DeFrancia, Kelsie; Berger, Olin; Filiatraut, Brian; Miller, Alison C.; Loman, Maureen; Qiu, Wen; Zhang, ChengHang

Over the past several years, many organizations have recognized the importance of sustainability and have developed their own sets of metrics, scorecards, ratings, and tools for measuring and tracking it. However, the term “sustainability” means different things depending on who you ask and what you want, and they all seem to have their own set of organization-specific indicators that vary widely in scope and scale. While some people interpret sustainability as environmental inputs and impacts, sustainability as a holistic concept has moved beyond simply an environmental dimension to include various social, governance, and economic factors as well. As one might expect, with multitudes of sustainability definitions comes sustainability indicators that are equally varied and expansive. This lack of consistency leaves decision makers, as well as investors, consumers and the public, at a disadvantage. The Earth Institute Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management set out to landscape this field of metrics, conducting a thorough investigation of “environmental, social and governance” (ESG) metrics, and found 557 distinct sustainability indicators. Some of these metrics are quantitative and easily measured, while others are difficult to conceptualize or are merely statements of policy. While the development of these indicators is critical and must be continued, it is time to begin the process of settling on organizational sustainability indicators that everyone can use and understand. We need standard indicators that are comparable, reliable and rigorous. We need a generally accepted set of definitions and indicators for measuring sustainability. This report represents the first stage in a long-term research project dedicated to developing that set of indicators.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth Institute
Series
Sustainability Metrics White Paper Series, 1
Published Here
April 13, 2015
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