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My coverage of the Sustainable Brands New Metrics 14 Thursday afternoon workshop on adding context to sustainability goals.  (First half written by Tamay Kiper.)

A two-part session on Thursday afternoon explored sustainability context through examining the evolution of corporate sustainability goals, and case studies from leading companies proactively applying it to their goal-setting processes.

First, Sustainability Context Group co-founder Bill Baue — moderator of both parts — led a discussion on the state of corporate sustainability goals and equipping companies with practical advice on how to incorporate context.

Baue started by explaining the concept of context — which calls for assessing “the performance of the organization in the context of the limits and demands placed on environmental or social resources at the sector, local, regional or global level” — and raised the question: “Where are we now in sustainability and where are we going?”

Panelist Mark McElroy, founder & Executive Director of Center for Sustainable Organizations, further explained the necessity for Context Based Sustainability (CBS) in environmental goal-setting, as well as the need to turn to climate science for thresholds, to then devise a way to apportion them to organizations. A new CBS method, the MultiCapital Scorecard (MCS), which Ben & Jerry’s has just adopted, puts Trajectory Targets (interim goals) and Triple Bottom Line concerns in scope and assessing performance relative to both final (Sustainability Norms) and interim (Trajectory Targets) goals.

Next, Bob Willard picked up where his morning plenary presentation left off, further explaining The Future-Fit Business Benchmark — which defines the science-based, minimum acceptable levels of environmental and social performance that a company must reach if it is to be truly sustainable and fit for the future — and expanding on the 21 Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for businesses. Social KPIs were divided into 5 categories (Employees, Community, Customers, Investors and Suppliers, & Partners) and Environmental KPIs included Energy, GHG, Water, Materials, Products, Waste and Land. A company’s Future-Fit performance on these KPIs ensures its environmental and social impacts do not contribute to the issues.

Andrew Winston, author of The Big Pivot, engaged the audience with the latest updates from the PivotGoals Data introduced at SB’14 San Diego in June, and emphasized that 75 percent of Fortune 200 companies now publicly share sustainability goals. Echoing McElroy’s and Willard’s insights, Winston divided these goals into two categories: Science-equivalent — what external thresholds would demand for some large part of the business (not the full value chain); and “Future Fit” compatible — moral, ethical, or based on a flourishing model, but not technically ‘science-based.’ Winston encouraged the audience to track companies’ sustainability goals online on PivotGoals.com, and feedback from the audience was to track these goals periodically to see if companies were successful meeting these goals.

Then Cynthia Cummis, Deputy Director of GHG Protocol at the World Resources Institute (WRI) introduced its science-based target-setting framework, which aims to raise the ambition of corporate GHG reduction targets to support a transition to a low-carbon economy and keep the planet below a 2-degree temperature rise. She then explained how WRI’s Sectoral decarbonization approach (SDA). — a sector-specific decarbonization pathway based on the 2ºC carbon budget, expected sector activity and mitigation potential — aims to engage the leading multinational companies to set science-based emissions reduction targets by the end of 2015, and demonstrate to policy-makers the scale of ambition among leading companies to reduce their emissions and act as a positive influence on international climate negotiations.

After a round of audience questions and a short networking break, Baue returned with a fresh set of panelists to delve into case studies from EMC, Cabot Creamery and Autodesk, detailing each company’s experience incorporating sustainability context into their efforts.

“We’re in transition from incremental goals towards more ambitious goal-setting that takes the larger context of ecological limits and social impacts into consideration,” Baue said.

Emma Stewart, Head of Sustainability Solutions for Autodesk, kicked things off the three reasons her company got into science-based goal setting.

“As an environmental scientist, I’d never seen the level of consensus and clear guidance that we have on climate science,” she said. Secondly, she found the current practices around goal-setting to be “ripe for disruption” due to short-term timeframes and guesstimate benchmarking that would “save the climate, but 39 years too late.” And finally, rising regulations expectations beginning to affect Autodesk’s customers opened an opportunity to be more responsive to their needs.

This analysis led Autodesk to build C-FACT (Corporate Finance Approach to Climate-Stabilizing Targets), a science-driven method for setting GHG emissions reduction targets against real-world limits, which Autodesk has since made freely available to all companies.

EMC’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Kathrin Winkler, spoke next about her company’s role as one of the first to set a carbon-reduction goal with the EPA climate leaders program. They hit that initial goal and then moved on to setting, and achieving, better ones for 2012, 2015, 2020 and 2050. Winkler described how the company has customized its glidepath for achieving its carbon stabilization goals, based on the C-FACT model, and cautioned that flexibility is key to meeting future challenges.

“The thing with absolute goals is that they kind of lock you into a mindset, and depending on what happens with climate science, business might need to do more,” she said.

Up next was Jed Davis, Cabot’s Director of Sustainability, who shared his company’s context-based sustainability journey as a nearly 100-year-old Vermont-based cooperative with 1,200 dairy farm families. He described the company’s sustainability motto — “Living within our means, Ensuring the means to live” — as a “straightforward way of baking in context-based sustainability that implicitly is about respecting some thresholds and limits.”

Baue and the panel then fielded inquiries from the room about how CBS and C-FACT can be applied to resources other than carbon (as Cabot is doing for water), material traceability, and for small businesses and cities. Stewart noted that the City of Palo Alto has just adopted C-FACT as its baseline target, as Autodesk customized the methodology for cities earlier this year.

Winkler shared another example of when context involves a company setting its own thresholds. Most hardware IT companies set goals for materials take-back in terms of tonnage, she said, but a better question to ask is: “How much are we getting back in terms of what we put out? Making e-waste isn’t the goal. The point is to create a closed loop. In this case, you set the threshold.”

The session closed with plenty of questions left to ask about ambitious sustainability targets and practice, but with a clear sense that setting real-world science-based goals is no longer just a possibility, but an imperative.

What’s it going to take for the private sector to move into action on global climate change?

We’re looking for levers to move conversation to catalyst.

Via ecosystemcommons.org:

The ecosystem services ‘tipping point’: how and when do we shift from theory to widespread practice in the private sector?

Let’s consider a few potential ‘tipping point’ scenarios that could dramatically affect corporate ‘uptake’ of ecosystem services concepts within business decision-making processes.

Worth a close read for author Sissel Waage’s suggestions, plus intriguing contributions in the comments section. Some of the possibilities include:

*Financial services community takes a leadership position. Launches proof of concept pilots and demonstrates success. Others follow.
*Public land managers apply a robust, new analytical framework worldwide.
*Civil society organizations including Occupy Wall Street join hands with 350.0rg, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists, and the Good Guide.
*Ecosystems services advocates launch new metrics that demonstrate valuation over payment.
*Behavioral economics experts share “Tipping Point” and viral phenomenon lessons.
*Environmental groups collaboratively partner with business communities.

 

Bathroom tissue is a great Sustainability topic. 

Because every American household and practically every business buys it.

I’m pleased to hear that major paper company Cascades is expanding its commercial line of 100% post-consumer, unbleached Moka bathroom tissue.

I blogged here about the company’s January 2012 tip-toe into this niche-offering for the “dark green” environmentally conscious consumer.

(For the record, I am pro-bathroom tissue, just better bathroom tissue.)

Based on favorable response and demand, Cascades is now offering Moka in larger rolls and large-dispenser formats.

Press release via CSRwire.com:

Cascades Tissue Group Expands Moka Line as Demand for Unbleached, 100 Percent Recycled Bathroom Tissue Increases

Since its official launch in January 2012, Cascades Moka bath tissue has also been made available to corporate and individual purchasers alike through Office Depot. It recently won the Novae Quebec Eco-design Contest, which recognizes the smartest sustainable design ideas. The interest and growth for Moka is an indication that customers are now willing to forgo their traditional white bathroom tissue for a greener option.

The press release offers impressive statistics for their recycled paper products and then points readers to the Cascades “Sustain” site for more information.

Cascades Moka gets 80 percent of its pulp mix from post-consumer material and 20 percent from recovered corrugated boxes. The new pulp mix used in this product offers a reduction in overall environmental impact by at least 25 percent when compared to the pulp mix used in the Cascades 100% recycled white bath tissue – already regarded as a leading sustainable product. The product is also offset with 100 percent Green-e® certified renewable wind electricity; saving 2,500 pounds of CO2 emissions for each ton produced.

A projected 3.4 million1 tons of bath tissue are used annually in the U.S., 53 percent of which is made from virgin fiber sources2. Cascades estimates that if a complete conversion was made to their environmentally preferable 100 percent recycled Moka bath tissue, it would save 30.6 million trees and 68 million GJ of energy annually, which is equal to the annual consumption of 619,811 households3.

Non-virgin fiber sourcing, lower CO2 emissions, fewer chemicals–all good.

But how good? Here’s where Sustainability Context comes into play.

“How do these numbers fit into an overall bigger picture?”

For starters, each of these numbers, as a numerator, needs a denominator. See Marc Gunther’s Fortune article for more on this idea.

Out of how much: What percentage of Cascades’ overall production and revenues do Moka products represent? How many trees are farmed every year?

Compared to what: What similar products are available to North American customers? European customers?

Until when: Do the Moka line and other recycled paper products reduce Cascades overall energy consumption? Is the company moving towards defined, absolute energy and CO2 expenditure targets?

Show me the money: In what ways and by how much does the Moka line benefit Cascades’ business bottom line?

Much harder questions.

Sustainability metrics in context are relevant not only to business customers buying Cascades products, but also the company’s supply chain partners, stakeholders, investors, governmental connections, environmental groups, and competitors.

Not just for numbers’ sake, but to help purchasers at every step of the supply chain make better decisions.

A new study partnership is underway that will hopefully produce new tools for measuring Sustainability objectives in general, with a focus on the ubiquitous bathroom tissue and towel market.

Via Greenbiz.com:

What Companies May Gain from P&G Study on Sustainability Metrics

Proctor & Gamble and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced they’ve begun a collaborative research and development study that…will focus on metrics within corporations’ manufacturing facilities and their supply chains.

The Cincinnati-based consumer products giant is teaming up with researchers at EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory (NRMRL) in a five-year study that aims to develop a scientific approach to analyzing and measuring sustainability within its tissue and towel products division, said Annie Weisbrod, Ph.D., a principal scientist at P&G.

While 100% hundred percent recycled bathroom tissue is readily available for home use, putting unbleached and beige Moka on the supermarket shelf would be an additional, greener choice.

If it takes off, a product that’s better for the earth and our health can also be a cheaper choice.

What do you say, Cascades?

Counting by itself is meaningless.

Learning that a company sent 30 fewer tons of trash to the landfill this year  doesn’t help you understand how a company is doing in the bigger picture.

But it’s a start.

The next step  is to put those numbers into context.

Like asking,  “Out of How Many?” and “Compared to What?”

In the above example, we might want to know what the total landfill tonnage is, and year-over-year change. How does this year’s reduction compare to how similar and nearby organizations perform?

Does this change represents a beneficial or harmful effect to the local economy and environment? What is the landfill’s capacity and status?

Where did that trash go instead of the landfill, and did that have a greater negative impact? And so on.

Mark MacElroy, founder and executive director at the Center for Sustainable Organizations, is one of the forerunners bringing Sustainability Context into the larger conversation.

A good starting point is his July 2011 Sustainable Brands article, Sustainability Context – What Is It?

From there, a new August 2012 article from Fortune writer Marc Gunther applies these principles to a comparison between how telecomm giants Sprint and AT&T report their sustainability metrics.

Via MarcGunther.com:

Sprint vs. AT&T: Metrics That Matter

It’s great that 3 million cell phones were collected for reuse or recycling, but how many cell phones did AT&T ship? Nice that 50.1 million pounds of scrap was kept out of landfill, but how much scrap, in total, did the company generate? 5,114 alternative-fuel vehicles sounds like a lot, but I’d be even more impressed if AT&T had a total of 10,000. If it has 100,000, or 300,000, I’m a lot less impressed.

Put another way, Gunther says, numbers without their context are “numerators in search of denominators.”

I think that’s a neat way to frame the initial steps of a complex issue.

If this sounds a lot like materiality, you’re right. Knowing what’s important, or material, about a company’s performance is chained to putting data into context for making better decisions.*

(*For more on this connection, McElroy, co-authoring with corporate sustainability architect Bill BaueGRI and Sustainability Context: Explain It Like We’re Four)