5 ways to encourage sustainable behavior through integrated corporate performance

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05 September, 2018


WBCSD insights



Eva Zabey

Progressive companies and organizations are trying to recognize and reward sustainable behavior. One of the most effective ways to do this is through integrated performance. That is, assessing impacts and dependencies on nature and society to use the information in business and investor decision-making.

Even though the problems we’re facing are complex, we cannot be paralyzed by the complexity. We need input and insights from a range of experts and practitioners — from corporate sustainability and EHS professionals to finical accountants, management accountants, enterprise risk managers, academics, conservation organizations and more.

Here’s how to make it happen:

A. Eliminate the jargon

I’m an ecologist by training and entered the sustainability world through environmental management and business. Although people with a similar background may be comfortable with technical discussions around, for example, how to define “natural capital,” I can understand why someone from a different background could get completely lost in the flurry of jargon.

For example, could the average person articulate the difference among ESG, natural, social and human capital, multi-capital, integrated capital, pre-financial, extra-financial, non-financial or environmental and social issues? Probably not.

Jargon makes newcomers think they need to start their education or assessment from scratch (they don’t).

One senior financial accountant from a major company recently told me: “Why would you ever want to use the term non-financial? It just sounds irrelevant, like the stuff you don’t really care about and shove to the side.”

Surely, this isn’t the impression we want to give.

Individuals operating in the business and sustainability space need to align on terms and language because:

  • The jargon intimidates people who may want to engage
  • It makes newcomers think they need to start their education or assessment from scratch (they don’t)
  • It’s even starting to confuse experts when, in truth, we’re all talking about the same thing.

Under section three of this paper are some tips about how to align and simplify, making sure that your language is appropriate for your audience. 

B. Experiment, learn and share

C. Don’t reinvent the wheel

D. Collaborate, compare, converge

E. Prepare for integrated performance

Recently, the head of Socially Responsible Investing at an asset management company asked groups of investors to put their hands up if they think a carbon price will be included in investment decisions next year. “Maybe one or two people put their hand up,” he said. “Then I asked whether it will happen in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time. More and more hands go up.”

The future of financial accounting will change. We need to anticipate and influence what it looks like.

If we anticipate that investors increasingly will consider broader performance beyond purely financial measures, we need to think carefully about two fundamental things:

The way forward