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You can’t manage what you don’t measure: business’ first step towards the Sustainable Development Goals

How can we encourage more businesses to contribute towards the SDGs? A critical first step is teaching business how to sift through the clutter and build the right corporate sustainability checklist. If we are measured on how well we meet our targets, it’s critical that we’re aiming for the right ones. Common standards like the CSR Performance Ladder help companies prioritize issues, and allow external stakeholders to be better informed. By DNV GL’s Maria Gjølberg and Lisa Berg.


2015 is an exceptional year when it comes to corporate sustainability, and there are now profound changes underway in terms of the expectations society has to business. This month, the UN agreed on the Sustainable Development Goals. The goals’ development has significantly included the voice of the private sector, and it will not be possible to achieve them without multi-stakeholder collaboration. The inclusion of the private sector in this process sends a clear message in terms of the important role of business in global development, and serves as a substantial driver in pushing companies to contribute towards the goals.

While corporate sustainability used to be about philanthropy and risk management of a narrow scope of issues managed by a lonesome sustainability manager, the private sector is now contributing towards global development solutions. Focus has shifted towards opportunities and value creation on a wider and more material set of sustainability topics, with company boards and top management increasingly monitoring their company’s sustainability performance. There is no doubt about the fact that business must contribute towards sustaining well-functioning societies and environments in order to thrive and survive.

Adopting this approach can also provide a competitive edge in a world where educated and informed stakeholders are increasingly demanding transparency around non-financial issues. Customers, investors, business partners, governments and the media are requesting disclosure on how businesses are managing human rights, anti-corruption, supply chain and climate issues, and are using this information in processes like investments, acquisitions and contract agreements.

But what is “good enough” in the world of corporate sustainability management and disclosure? Investors and analysts do not always know what to look for, or how to evaluate the often widespread and un-systemized plethora of information out there. Likewise, businesses are often willing to provide non-financial information, but may be unsure as to what and how much is sufficient.

In response to these ever growing demands, and insecurities around how to respond to them, we are seeing a development towards a standardization and professionalization of corporate sustainability. Common standards, parameters, indicators and systems are being established in order to make it easier for companies to prioritize and work with sustainability issues, and for external stakeholders to make informed decisions.

A milestone in the corporate sustainability field has been the development of an international management system standard for corporate sustainability; the CSR Performance Ladder. This standard was developed by 8 major certification bodies, and inspired by several corporate sustainability standards and frameworks like the ISO26000, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and AA10000. Using this standard, companies can engage a third party to certify their corporate sustainability management system. The CSR Performance Ladder was first introduced in the Benelux area, and DNV GL is now proud to introduce this standard as part of our certification portfolio in the Nordic market in 2015/2016.

As one of the leading certification bodies internationally, we strongly believe in the value of standardization and harmonization of organizational practices. Our hope is that the CSR certification can offer a much needed harmonization between corporate practices and the expectations of the outside world, and contribute to a standardization of general requirements for socially responsible business practices everywhere.


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