GACSO briefing - building a shared understanding of sustainability

28th August 2015



A timely initiative for sustainability professionals, says Phil Cumming

IEMA's work over the past year or so to build a shared understanding of sustainability has helped confirm a feeling I've had for a while. Collectively - as a profession - we're not even vaguely swimming in the same direction.

Although the general concept of sustainable development is I'm sure understood, if we're honest, in reality, we've failed to operationalise this. We might be good at identifying, managing, and perhaps even measuring multiple environmental, social, ethical and economic issues. But this is all generally very "here and now". It doesn't really tell us how far away a company is today from where it needs to be tomorrow and, indeed, whether such actions are even helping it progress toward a more sustainable future.

The future-fit business benchmark (, which is published under a Creative Commons licence, is a bold, new free-to-use tool that aims to help answer these questions. The benchmark has been co-created by Geoff Kendall and Bob Willard in collaboration with sustainability professionals from all over the world. Drawing from the best available natural and social science, the benchmark identifies eight system conditions that describe what a truly sustainable society would look like.

These in turn have been translated into a set of seven business principles. In addition, 21 future-fit goals (or minimum performance thresholds) - described as ambitious but attainable - have been developed. The key global challenges (or megatrends) have even been mapped to the benchmark.

Collaborative working is essential if we are to find innovative solutions and achieve systemic change at the required pace. So it's great to see this initiative co-created and open-sourced.

Clearly the benchmark does not have all the answers - it would be unreasonable to expect it to. The second public draft was published in July and the authors are seeking a second and final round of feedback before they issue the first release later this year. The latest draft also includes considerations for defining key performance indicators for each goal and again encourages their co-creation. There is a call for organisations to pilot the framework too. So I urge you to take the opportunity to review the latest draft and get involved. If you think it isn't quite right now's the time to speak up!


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