The Shores of Sustainability

October 7, 2014

It was a windy walk last week along the Charles River from my hotel to the MIT campus. I arrived at the Student Center, in search of a t-shirt or hat to take home with me. It was my first time ever on campus, and I was excited to bring back a souvenir from my dad's alma mater.

I noticed an interesting shirt that had a bunch of periodic table elements and other math-related symbols, like the  imaginary number "i". I asked the student next to me, "hey, what does this shirt mean?". He responded immediately and quickly: "Science"!

I felt like a dunce. Of course -- science.  Scandium + Imaginary Number + Nitrogen + Carbon + Euler's number (log-based e).

Science. I felt like this t-shirt was for me. I was on campus to present a Workshop with Mark McElroy on the importance of setting ethics and science-based sustainability goals.

Mark presented on his Multi-Capital Scorecard approach to setting context-based goals, which are inherently science or ethics-based goals that take the additional step of determining each company's relative (e.g. percentage of GDP) share or responsibility.

I presented on, a project of Winston Eco-Strategies, which is the world's first compilation of the Fortune Global 500's sustainability goals. The site allows the user to do searches (e.g. by company, industry, goal, focus area, goal type, value chain stage and others) and download the query results. It is also the first compilation of Fortune Global 500's reports (e.g. CSR, sustainability, citizenship and others) in one place.

Here is a quick recap of the findings that I presented:

* Companies with Goals: 150 of the Fortune 200 (75%) have sustainability goals
* Number of Goals: About 2,000 goals for those 150 companies (nearly 4,000 in full database)
* Goals tracked are specific and:
    - Dated (i.e. have a due date): 79%
    - Undated: 14%
    - Achieved: 7%
* Goals by Value chain focus:
     - Supply chain: 15% (54% of companies)
    - Operations: 69% (98% of companies)
    - Use phase: 15% (50% of companies)
    - End-of-life: 3% (23% of companies)
* Goals by Focus Area:
    - Climate/GHG: 75% of the 150 companies
    - Energy: 64%
    - Compliance/Standards: 59%
    - Community (Catch-all): 54%
    - Waste: 52%

* Science-equivalent Goals:
    - Only 10% of the goals are Science-equivalent, meaning that they align with the best science for their relative Focus Area, e.g.
    carbon reductions based on the most recent IPCC report
    - and only 1% of the goals are explicitly science-based, meaning that the goals reference the science in the actual goal phrasing

So, only three-fourths of the 200 largest companies in the world have any sustainability goals, and of those goals, only 1% are explicitly science-based. In summary, in terms of sustainability goal setting, we are adrift at sea and have a long way to go. Science is our guide, our map, and our telescope that can help us to see how to get from where we are, unsustainability, to where we need to go -- the shores of sustainability. Without science, we will simply continue to float and end up where the winds push us.




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