GREEN: Measuring Your Success with Sustainability

Column by K.J. McCorry


As companies start sustainability initiatives, how will they know they are successful? One of the ways is to develop a metrics plan to measure the improvement.

Tracking sustainability performance provides a few benefits. One of which is communication of results and progress to your staff, clients and stakeholders. The other is providing a clear return on investment of the time and resources used with each initiative. Finally, it provides a way to monitor the process and approach of a sustainability initiative. Metrics give clear results to know how to alter, change or revise procedures and processes in order to improve results. Providing metrics and indicators of sustainability initiatives will also assist in measuring the success and the future direction of sustainability programs.

The complexity comes in what data do you track and measure. Data is not always available and/or time consuming to collect, track and maintain with limited staff resources. Here are some suggestions and resources to get you started.

What to Track?

There are two kinds of metrics: predictive and performance. Performance measures actually measure past performance. The predictive metrics measures the processes needed to get to the performance measure or ultimate goal. Essentially you need both combined. For example a performance measure would be to reduce CO2 emissions or energy by 10 percent. A predictive measure would be the number of alternative transportation programs the company offers or number of energy star equipment owned to reduce energy and CO2 emissions.

The following are some options of ways to measure each sustainability topic area:


Types of Predictive Metrics



  • % of total KWH energy reductions (via utility bill)
  • # of energy star equipment or appliances purchased or used


Purchasing and Supply Chain


  • % of recycled or post-consumer waste products purchased
  • % of local based products or vendors used
  • % of revenue of total purchases used with sustainable vendors
  • # of vendors who ‘sustainable’




  • # of bus passes (used and/or purchased)
  • # of miles driven to and from work for all staff
  • % of products purchased within (# of miles) of company location
  • # of employees who use alternative transportation (days per year)


HR/ Employees

  • Employee Satisfaction Survey
  • Retention and/or Recruitment turnover
  • % of employees with living wage
  • % of employees with health care benefits
  • # of hours of training and development (in relation to sustainability)

Waste and Recycling

  • Decrease waste/Increase % of waste diverted from landfill
  • Increase % of recycled material (with products or purchases)
  • Reduction of consumption of materials


  • % of water reduction (need total water use)
  • Number of low-flow water faucets/equipment
  • % of water recycled and re-used

How to Track?

There are sophisticated Environmental and Sustainability Management Systems (EMS/SMS) that help companies track and monitor performance and metrics. For most small to medium sized businesses, these systems could be more than is needed. First, determine the source and where the data will come from. Then, determine the best tracking mechanism. Data is already being collected in company databases and financial systems. Find out if there is a way to add a field or property to an existing data tracking source already used in the company. If not, then determine if it can be simply tracked in a spreadsheet or simplified database. Once a tracking source has been defined, then determine the frequency in which to add or report on the data. Engage the staff that are already in the systems and will ultimately be accountable for measures in the tracking process and decisions.


The International Sustainability Indicators is an organization that provides information to measure progress toward sustainability for communities and companies.

Bob Willard, author of The Sustainability Advantage, developed Excel spreadsheets both for large and small businesses to calculate return on investment on sustainability initiatives. The line items topics he lists in his spreadsheets (i.e. employee retention, recruitment, operational efficiencies) are areas in which companies can also track and measure data.

A report called Measuring and Valuing Environmental Impacts by the Network for Business Sustainability offers a good overview of measuring specifically environmental aspects. 



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