Emily Benson, The Green Economy Coalition
If you have been lurking around UN corridors for the last few months you will have been aware of a rising clamour. The din is getting louder. It is coming from all quarters of the world. It is being voiced from a wide range of governments, communities and sectors. The message is clear: for too long our notions of progress have been dominated by economic success alone. The solution: we need different metrics. We need to measure what matters.
Our snapshot analysis of the UNCSD Zero draft texts shows us that the calls for alternative metrics span different levels. At the corporate level, there is a consistent call for companies to measure their societal and environmental impact in addition to their profit margins. Our coalition member, the Global Reporting Initiative, is calling for companies to integrate material sustainability information within the reporting cycle in their Annual Report and Accounts – or explain why if they do not.
At the national level, there is also a widespread call for metrics that go ‘beyond GDP’ in order to measure societal and environmental well-being. A number of Member States, including the EU, Costa Rica, Nepal and Grenada, support the need for national accounting to measure human welfare and ecosystem services.
At the global level there is also a popular call for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from a huge array of different Member States including USA, Brazil, Japan, Colombia and Guatemala. There are still a myriad of questions to be asked about what the Goals would entail, and how they might relate to the MDGs, however, the consensus is that our global targets must have a much more integrated approach to the sustainable development agenda.
Intrigued by this unanimous call for different metrics we had a quick look at some of the different metrics already in action or in discussion. It is a dizzying landscape. At the ‘beyond GDP’ level alone there are any number of metrics, indicators and dashboards that claim to tackle different aspects of environmental, social and economic growth.
So, how can we navigate our way through all of these different conversations on metrics, goals and indicators?
First, as we consider some of the different metrics and sets of indicators on the table on the road to Rio 2012, we need to keep in mind some core principles. The lessons that we are learning from the series of national dialogues that our coalition member IIED has helped coordinate in Brazil (in partnership with Vitae Civilis), India (in partnership with Development Alternatives), Mali (in partnership with Mali Folk-centre) and the Caribbean (in partnership with CANARI), is that the goal of a green economy is sustainable development.
In order to achieve that goal, our idea of progress needs to be underpinned by core principles. These include:
5) Ecological limits.
As our discussions on metrics evolve, then let’s keep these principles at the very forefront of our minds.
Second, let us not lose sight of the big picture. As we start engaging with discussions about metrics at different levels we need to consider how they all connect with one another. How might corporate reporting tie into our national goals? Similarly, how can we ensure that our national objectives align to global priorities in the shape of SDGs?
Third, in order for metrics to bring about change rather than merely measure change, then they need to be accompanied by political weight. The environmental and social performance of a company needs to be reported alongside its economic performance report, not relegated to a footnote or a CSR report. The environmental and social performance of a country needs to be reported by our treasuries and ministers in the same breath as their economic performance. The corporate sector has already gone a long way towards building a persuasive case for how sustainable reporting not only drives investment but ensures that the company is more resilient and competitive. We need to make the same case at the national level.
Here at the Green Economy Coalition we are going to be tackling a different theme each month in the lead up to Rio 2012. As well as the conversations on metrics we will be looking at the following themes:
1) Poverty alleviation in a green economy
2) Economic sector transformation
3) Valuing and managing natural capital
4) Financial market reform.
In each case, we will be connecting different conversations into the big picture, we will be talking to leading thinkers from across different disciplines and we will be sharing the best work from within our coalition and beyond.