ComplianceMarch 09, 2017

5 key environmental sustainability metrics to consider

The 10th annual State of Green Business report was published in January 2017 by GreenBiz Group in partnership with Trucost. The report provides a global view on sustainable business, from basic emissions to leadership attributes, as well as top sustainable business trends of 2017. Some of the sustainability trends from the report that are already affecting corporations include:

  • More businesses developing strategies that align with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • Greater awareness of the need to mitigate risks caused by water scarcity.
  • Increased business adoption of clean and renewable energy sources.
  • More investors incorporating sustainability criteria into decisions, resulting in more corporate disclosure of environmental data.
  • A stronger push towards supply chain sustainability, especially in the food & beverage industry.
  • A sustainability strategy that includes building greater resilience in the face of unexpected events.

The GreenBiz report is impressive by the sheer wealth of information contained. Therefore we think it is a good resource to take into account when addressing one particular question: What environmental sustainability metrics should be tracked? Our community of users relies on the Enablon platform to track key environmental and social metrics, and which metrics to track is a hot topic at our user groups and .

The report has a section on corporate performance (pages 65-69) that gives us insights into the environmental sustainability metrics that should be considered. The 2017 State of Green Business Index uses the following metrics:

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Energy-Generation Mix
  • Water Use
  • Water Pollution
  • Waste Generation

It’s worth noting that “Water Pollution” is new this year, and is measured by the “total natural capital cost of the environmental impacts from heavy-metal and pesticide pollution, or from excess fertilizer use causing algal blooms.”

The report also shows the progress made by companies included in the Index (the largest 1,200 companies globally, including the largest 500 companies in the U.S.), as well as the challenges they face. Here’s a sample:

  • About half of the companies have public targets to reduce GHG emissions. However most companies do not disclose their most significant sources of GHG emissions, which suggests they are not managing them, according to the report.
  • Water use has fallen by about 10% since 2011. Utilities make up the largest portion of corporate water use (40% of the total), while the food and beverage industry accounts for 13%.
  • More companies are assessing risks associated with water scarcity for their operations and for the products they manufacture. Almost a quarter of companies currently report on how water may pose a risk to their business. A similar percentage have water-use reduction targets.
  • Impacts from water pollution have fallen even more quickly than GHG emissions or water use, down by more than 25% since their peak in 2013.
  • Total solid waste generation is down 11% globally, but this is in line with recent decreases in corporate revenues, suggesting that it is likely to increase again with future revenue growth, according to the report.

If your organization wants to achieve a leadership position in corporate environmental sustainability, it should take a serious look at the five key metrics highlighted by the GreenBiz report. In order to determine which ones among the five, and others beyond the five, should be measured, it is important to consult your stakeholders to identify what is material to your organization. The relevance of metrics varies by industry, activity type, etc., which is why a materiality assessment can help narrow the key environmental sustainability metrics that should be tracked.

Finally, be sure to use an integrated software to track all indicators needed for corporate environmental sustainability efforts, as opposed to spreadsheets or software solutions that offer disjointed, niche applications. An enterprise platform allows you to leverage the same data for multiple purposes, including corporate sustainability, regulatory compliance, predictive analytics, and operational excellence.

Performance indicators included in this post are © 2017 GreenBiz Group Inc. (

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Content Thought Leader - Wolters Kluwer Enablon

Jean-Grégoire Manoukian is Content Thought Leader at Wolters Kluwer Enablon. He’s responsible for thought leadership, content creation, and the management of the Enablon Blog and social media activities. Jean-Grégoire started at Enablon in 2014 as Content Marketing Manager, and has more than 20 years of experience, including many years as a product manager for chemical management and product stewardship solutions. He also worked as a product marketing manager.

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