Fighting fit for business

19th July 2017

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Katherine Lee

Michael Hardisty and Marielle Pantin put the Future-Fit Business Benchmark to the test

The article ‘Is Your Business Fit for the Future?’ (The Environmentalist, April 2016) explored the meaning of the word ‘sustainable’ and looked at several sustainability reporting and assessment frameworks. It identified the new Future-Fit Business Benchmark (FFBB) as offering a way of assessing whether an organisation is truly sustainable, which many reporting frameworks (such as the Global Reporting Initiative) don’t attempt to do. The FFBB defines a sustainable business as “one that in no way undermines – and ideally increases – the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever”.

In 2016, WSP made a commitment to pilot the FFBB in its UK business in order to assess how easy it was to use and how valuable the outputs were.

We made good on this commitment last year, and this article describes our experience of using Release 1 of the FFBB.

About the FFBB

The FFBB has been developed by the Future-Fit Foundation, a non-profit organisation. It defines 21 future-fit goals (eg ‘Energy is from renewable sources’), which “together define the extra-financial break-even point for business: the line in the sand that every company must strive to reach”. A free-to-use guide explains how progress should be measured and reported, using 21 key fitness indicators; each progress indicator can then be reported on a scale of 0% to 100%.

About WSP UK

WSP is one of the country’s leading engineering and professional services consulting firms. We employ 7,000 staff in nearly 50 offices around the UK. Our environmental and social impacts range from direct (eg the energy and other resources we consume and waste and GHG emissions we produce) to far-reaching indirect effects through the advice we give to our clients. We are certified to ISO 14001:2015 and produce a publicly available annual sustainability report.

Applying the FFBB in WSP UK

In reviewing FFBB Release 1 from the perspective of a services company, we found that a number of the 21 indicators would be hard for us to apply as they are product-focused, eg ‘Products emit no greenhouse gases’ and ‘Products do not harm people or the environment’. (The foundation says that this is one area that will be enhanced in Release 2.) We therefore chose 12 goals that were of greatest relevance to our business and calculated the related key fitness indicator; these indicators covered:

  • The environment (4 indicators)
  • Employees (5 indicators)
  • Society as a whole (3 indicators)

The FFFB Release 1 guidance was well developed and comprehensive. While some of the mathematical formulae could be intimidating, worked examples showing a simple, practical application of the formula always provided clarity. We found that most of the data relating to ‘environment’ and ‘employees’ was readily available, while that relating to ‘society as a whole’ required additional information gathering; this provided a good opportunity to engage with different parts of the business on the subject of sustainability.


We successfully calculated scores for all 12 of our chosen indicators. Many of the FFBB goals, particularly those concerning ‘employees’, should be relatively straightforward for a UK company to meet, owing to the UK’s more stringent regulatory requirements; indeed, WSP UK scored 100% on several indicators. This may prove to be more challenging in other parts of the world with less robust legislation. Other goals, such as ‘Energy is from renewable sources’ and ‘Operations emit no greenhouse gases (GHG)’ would currently be challenging for most companies globally to achieve.

The Release 1 scoring methodology for some indicators was rather ‘all or nothing’, despite them covering a number of criteria. For example, although WSP UK is an active member of the Aldersgate Group (a leading lobbyist for driving a sustainable economy in the UK), we do not currently have a lobbying policy and consequently scored 0% on the lobbying indicator.

Lastly, the Release 1 indicators only provide a score (%) for progress towards each goal; they do not incorporate a measure of scale of impact. For example, our progress on reducing GHG emissions towards zero might be the same as that made by an oil and gas corporation; however, the latter’s impact (in terms of tonnes of CO2) would be vastly greater. So achieving the same indicator score does not provide a balanced picture.

Dr Geoff Kendall, co-founder and CEO of the Future-Fit Foundation, said: “When we set out to develop the benchmark, our aim was to create a free-to-use tool to help any company, no matter what its size or sector, make sense of sustainability – a vastly ambitious undertaking. To create something that was both useful and usable, we decided to mimic the best companies in the software world: create a ‘minimum viable product’ and then learn from early adopters where improvements were needed. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of companies like WSP UK, as well as global corporations such as The Body Shop and Novo Nordisk, we’ve learned a lot in the past 18 months. As a result, our second release will make the benchmark more usable and useful for any company seeking to thrive in an ever-more uncertain future. We’re grateful to the team at WSP UK for their willingness to get stuck in and the insightful feedback they’ve given us.”


The FFBB allows companies to measure themselves against stringent sustainability criteria. Some requirements are quite difficult to achieve, while a UK company should be able to score well on others. The current version is geared toward product-based rather than service-based businesses, and indicators measure progress towards sustainability while omitting any measure of the scale of impact. It was straightforward to apply, and many businesses may already be collecting much of the required data. What’s more, irrespective of current performance, we found that the FFBB “break-even goals” offered a new way to think about the long-term strategic direction of our business.

FFBB Release 1 does an excellent job of defining a truly sustainable end-point and measuring progress towards it, something that no other sustainability reporting framework currently does. If Release 2 (scheduled for September 2017) can address the current limitations, then it could establish itself as a new sustainability goal-setting and reporting standard.


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