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The Road to Context:
What You Need to Know About Contextual Strategy and Goal-Setting (Part 1)

It seems like 2017 is becoming the year of ‘context,’ as the incorporation of sustainability context edges its way into more and more panel conversations and into leading corporate practice.

It seems like 2017 is becoming the year of ‘context,’ as the incorporation of sustainability context edges its way into more and more panel conversations and into leading corporate practice.

Since the beginning of the sustainability context conversation, we have seen the introduction of various methodologies, frameworks, tools, and ideas that aim to support the embedding of context into sustainability performance. There is little doubt that resources, concepts and initiatives such as Context-Based Sustainability, Planetary Boundaries, The Doughnut of Planetary Boundaries and Social Foundations, the MultiCapital Scorecard, the Science-based Targets Initiative, The Natural Step, The Future-Fit Business Benchmark, Reporting 3.0, Net Positive, and even the UN Sustainable Development Goals have all shaped the direction of the sustainability context conversation. Many companies have committed to setting science-based GHG emissions-reduction goals, but only a few companies are taking a contextual view in their core strategies or reporting effectively on the impacts that they impose on socio-ecological issues. What’s holding them back?

As a result, the Embedding Project assembled a Global Community of Practice (CoP) on contextualised strategy-making, where interested companies participated in a process to bring these ideas and tools together under an overarching framework to help explain how companies are approaching the concept of context. The result is our free “Road to Context” guide, which lays out four key steps to contextualising your strategy and goals. At each step, we review some of the methodologies, frameworks, tools and ideas that are shaping how companies are contextualizing their core strategies and developing contextual goals.

Implementing a contextualised strategy means:

  • Acknowledging the need to operate within global, regional, and/or local socio-ecological thresholds;
  • Transparently understanding and prioritising a set of focus areas in relation to key socio-ecological trends at the global, regional and/or local level;
  • Setting strategy and goals by transparently articulating the current performance gap and what portion of this gap the business will address; and
  • Transparently tracking performance against realistic trajectory targets.

The idea of our guide is to help your company better articulate public positions clarifying what role you will play with respect to global socio-ecological issues (such as climate change, water scarcity, and human rights). But importantly, it is also about better allocating your resources by transparently prioritising where it makes the most strategic sense to direct your efforts. This prioritisation is anchored in an understanding of your own impacts and your ability to influence the impacts derived from your supply chain, the use of your products and services, or the companies that you finance.

Our “Road to Context” guidebook will be launched during a workshop titled Contextualizing Sustainability Performance: Tools for Corporate strategy-making and Goal-setting, later this month at SB’17 Detroit.

In our next blog, we will talk about our supplemental casebook, which illustrates how these steps are being applied in practice, by comparing and celebrating the efforts being made by early adopters of a contextual approach. We will also share some key insights about what we have learned from comparing their context journeys.