In September 2018, UNRISD commenced a four-year project which aims to assess and improve methodologies and indicator systems that measure and evaluate the performance of a broad range of economic entities in relation to the vision and goals of the 2030 Agenda. Such entities include both private sector firms and myriad enterprises and organizations that make up the social and solidarity economy (SSE). Over several decades, the effectiveness of sustainability measurement and reporting has improved significantly due to numerous standard-setting initiatives, and revisions of existing tools and models. The question remains, however, whether current measurement and reporting models adequately address a set of 21st century conditions and challenges, key aspects of which include:
- the rise of SSE, blended value enterprises and impact investment that promote or prioritize social objectives;
- trends and imperatives associated with the Green, Sharing or Circular Economy, which aim to decouple negative environment impacts from the process of economic growth;
- technological and structural change associated with digitalization, industrial restructuring, financialization and labour market flexibilization;
- normative challenges associated with human rights, rising inequalities, climate change and resilience, as well as the broader goals of integrated and transformative change demanded by the 2030 Agenda.
- Assess the adequacy of existing methods and systems for gauging the contribution of enterprises to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- Expand the scope of sustainability measurement, disclosure and reporting beyond for-profit enterprises to encompass enterprises and organizations that make up the social and solidarity economy.
- Identify data points and indicators related to SSE that may inform conventional approaches to sustainability measurement associated with for-profit enterprises.
- Identify and test a set of sustainable development impact indicators that can address the 21st century challenges noted above.
Key research concerns and questions
Assessing progress: The field of corporate sustainability measurement and reporting has matured as a result of adaptations and innovations that have sought to clarify principles; enhance data reliability, comparability and relevance; and fill gaps related to particular issue areas such as human rights, women’s economic empowerment, climate change and responsible finance and investment. The research aims to assess the extent to which such developments have addressed concerns related to the complexity and cost of measurement and reporting, not least for smaller enterprises; as well as the materiality or usefulness of data and indicators for decision-making by different stakeholders.
Recognizing the social and solidarity economy: Policy makers and international organizations are paying far greater attention to the role of SSE enterprises and organizations in inclusive and sustainable development. This interest derives largely from perceived attributes related to employment generation, the provision of affordable social services, the SDG goal of “leaving no one behind”, democratic governance, women’s economic empowerment, and the growing number of youth committed to the SSE as a model of socio-economic development and transformation. Much of the evidence related to SSE performance, however, remains anecdotal or assumes that the same yardsticks used to measure corporate sustainability performance or conventional forms of investment can or should be applied to SSE. Undifferentiated social impact measurement measures are increasingly applied to SSE enterprises and organizations. Moreover, important attributes of many types of SSE organizations—for example, in the production of goods (and not only services), or the role of collective action in economic and political empowerment—are often ignored. The research will examine the extent to which measurement systems for SSE should be adapted to reflect the specificity and diversity of this sector, what the assessment of corporate sustainability performance can learn from the measurement of SSE performance.
Towards transformative change: The 2030 Agenda presents a “transformational vision” which not only aims to minimize the social and environmental costs of growth but also address other dimensions. These include: (i) the structural underpinnings of unsustainable and exclusionary development related to such aspects as inequality, high-carbon growth and imbalances in power relations and governance systems; (ii) structural changes which relate to digitalization, artificial intelligence and the world of work; and (iii) resilience in contexts of recurring shocks associated with financial crises and climate change. The research will assess the extent to which existing methods and innovations effectively address these dimensions. Can the measurement and evaluation of enterprise performance move beyond a triple-bottom-line approach aimed at reducing negative impacts or enhancing the efficiency of existing systems, to a “transformational” approach? Are recent innovations playing a constructive role in this regard?
- For-profit and SSE enterprises and organizations that want to improve their capacity to measure performance and impacts, as well as track progress
- Third party organizations involved in standard-setting, training, monitoring, certification and assurance
- Organizations working in the field of impact investing and social and responsible finance
- Policy makers concerned with the ways and means of facilitating the implementation of the SDGs, corporate sustainability and the growth of SSE
- Civil society organizations engaged in advocacy related to corporate responsibility, business regulation and alternative enterprise models and production and consumption patterns
- Relevant sectors of academia engaged in research and analysis
Financial support is provided by the Center for Social Value Enhancement Studies, Republic of Korea.