Mary Wroten Rebecca Shelby Merriam Haffar and Deb Heed
Published 3 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Image: Benjamin Lambert/Unsplash
A clear definition of corporate social sustainability — the ‘S’ in ESG — remains elusive. To address this challenge, Ford partnered with the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute to define social sustainability and identify metrics to track improvements.
A clear definition of corporate social sustainability — the ‘S’ in ESG — remains
elusive. Many companies engaged in sustainability have clear metrics regarding
environmental sustainability, but less so social sustainability. While social
impact frameworks and
are increasing, there is not yet an aligned definition or metrics for measuring
This is a challenge that the Ford Motor
Company is experiencing firsthand.
According to Mary Wroten, Ford’s Associate Director of Sustainability, “Ford
believes that the freedom of movement drives human progress, but we are often
asked: ‘What is human progress and how is it measured?’ This project is an
opportunity to answer these questions in a way that can benefit not just Ford,
but all companies struggling with this question.”
To address this challenge, Ford partnered with the Erb Institute for Global
Sustainable Enterprise at the University of
Michigan to define social sustainability (or what Ford refers to as “human
progress”) and identify metrics to track improvements. Through this two-year
study, we developed a Model of Human Progress at Ford for reporting on
social impact, informing social sustainability-related decision-making, and
guiding the development of future social strategies. The Model was designed to
be sector agnostic so that it could be used across all sectors to strengthen the
comparability of social performance data between companies. We shared our
findings recently at the Sustainable Brands™ 2020 Corporate Member Meeting. Below is a
summary of our Model, its associated metrics, and the key takeaways from our SB
workshop in September.
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Research revealed that Ford enhances the social dimension of human progress
through four core ways (or “ends”): preserving human rights, protecting
human health, safety, and wellbeing; increasing access to mobility (which
represents the “social good” that the company’s products and services provide),
and enhancing economic prosperity in the community. These four “ends”
represent the foundation of Ford’s Model of Human Progress, which we visualized
as a wheel given the mobility context.
These “ends” are also applicable at other companies and within other sectors
(with minor changes, as shown in Table 1). Within this Model, our data revealed
that the twin concepts of stakeholder trust (in the company) and innovation (in
products and processes, which continually improves functions and quality) were
key enablers of social impact and human progress. Without trust and innovation,
stakeholders will not choose to engage with Ford, and thus fail to realize the
human progress benefits that this may incur.
To help Ford track progress on these four core impact areas, we then identified
appropriate metrics to measure the “means.” We also cross-checked the model
across various leading impact-measurement frameworks in use
to ensure alignment with current reporting expectations. We look forward to
detailing our findings in an upcoming whitepaper, to be jointly published by the
Erb Institute and Ford.
As part of our efforts to validate this Model and to determine the applicability
of its metrics across companies and sectors, last month we led a virtual
workshop with Sustainable Brands’ Corporate Members. Workshop
participants were divided into a series of breakout groups, according to their
companies’ sectors. Each group was asked to consider how the different social
impact areas within the Model are achieved within their companies, and whether
the metrics we identified would be appropriate for them to use.
At a top level, many participants expressed their frustration with the lack of
comparability in defining and measuring social sustainability. Others described
the challenge of capturing the multi-dimensional and largely qualitative nature
of social impact in a single quantitative metric, including how the model might
be too broad and how it could directly demonstrate social impact compared to
Based on the feedback from the workshop discussions, many of the impact areas of
the Model (and their associated metrics) appeared to be sector-agnostic. One
area that appeared to be the most sector-dependent was the “increase access to
social good,” and several groups focused their discussion on identifying the
nature of this good in their companies’ own unique contexts.
In addition to this, other groups also found that a single sustainability
program may in fact drive human progress across all areas of the Model
simultaneously; and would need to be tracked using multiple social impact
metrics from Table 1, each capturing a different dimension of impact.
Overall, these discussions generated extensive insight into how the Model and
its metrics may be applied within different companies and sectors, and some of
the modifications needed to do so. More work is underway to integrate this
information into the study team’s wider validation process, and we look forward
to sharing our final results with you in the future.
Published Oct 13, 2020 11am EDT / 8am PDT / 4pm BST / 5pm CEST
Mary Wroten joined Ford Motor Company in 1996 and is the Director of Global Sustainability.