Published 3 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
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The Sustainable Development Goals serve as an urgent call to action for companies to pay as much attention to their extra-financial performance as to their financial performance.
In a previous
we discussed how a defensive response to the SDGs achieves nothing; and a
selective response risks causing negative trade-offs, which undermine any gains.
Instead, a holistic response is required: Any company seeking to contribute
positively to one or more SDGs must also strive to eliminate any negative
contributions elsewhere, due to activities across its value web.
This begs the question: What do ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ really mean in this
context? When it comes to financial performance, the answer is clear. A company
may make a profit, or it may make a loss — and the transition between the two is
called the financial break-even point. When a company breaks even, it is doing
just enough to sustain its own existence. But what is the equivalent when it
comes to the other two dimensions of the Triple Bottom Line?
Understanding one’s impacts on people and planet in a holistic way demands a
clear definition of the extra-financial break-even point for business. Any
company reaching this point would be doing just enough to sustain the
socioeconomic and natural systems upon which it — and humanity as a whole —
depends. Going beyond this point would be the extra-financial equivalent of
making a profit — for example, by increasing people’s wellbeing, reducing
The need for a well-defined extra-financial break-even point — and for a way to
steer progress toward and beyond it — is what led us to create the Future-Fit
Truly sustainable businesses address the many interconnected social and environmental challenges that brands and their customers face — and strive for net-positive outcomes and impacts, in addition to growth. SB's latest guidebook can help your company navigate the path toward enhanced brand sustainability with key insights, actionable steps and a holistic framework that defines a roadmap for good growth.
The Benchmark identifies 23 Break-Even
which cover all critical business areas — from worker wellbeing and water use
through to procurement practices and product performance. Together, these goals
describe what every company must do to eliminate its own negative impacts — and
to exert whatever influence it has (e.g. through its purchasing power) to reduce
the negative impacts of others whose activities it depends upon.
The figure below considers extra-financial impacts across two dimensions —
positive vs negative, and direct vs indirect. The Break-Even Goals sit within
the bottom-left quadrant.
When a company makes any progress toward the Break-Even Goals, it is reducing
its risk of inadvertently slowing down our collective progress toward an
environmentally restorative, socially just and economically inclusive future.
But that’s only part of the puzzle. Long before it reaches all Break-Even Goals
— which may take many years — a company may act to create positive impacts
itself, or to improve the impacts of others. The Future-Fit Business Benchmark
captures any such activity through 24 Positive
which describe systemic outcomes which actually speed up our collective
progress. These sit within the other three quadrants of the above figure.
Between them, the Future-Fit Break-Even Goals and Positive Pursuits characterize
all of the ways a business can contribute — positively and negatively — to the
Let’s look at a holistic response to SDG 13: Climate Action. Every company
must strive to eliminate all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from its operations;
and to ensure that its products and services do not force its customers to emit
GHGs, either. Such actions count as progress toward the Break-Even Goals.
But what if a company were also to actively help others (such as its suppliers
or customers) to eliminate their own GHG emissions? Or what if it could find
ways to physically drawdown
from the atmosphere — in its operations or through its products — or support the
efforts of others who have found ways to do so? Any such outcomes would be
recognised via the Positive Pursuits.
This example serves to illustrate how the Future-Fit Business Benchmark frames
extra-financial impacts in a holistic way — placing as much emphasis on
surfacing new opportunities as on reducing existing risks. It can help your
company formulate an SDG
which is as ambitious as it is authentic.
The Future-Fit Business Benchmark is a free-to-use public good that has been
evolving since 2014 with in‑depth input from global companies, institutional
investors and academic experts. To find out more, visit
Published Jul 8, 2020 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Geoff is an entrepreneur whose experience spans sustainability consulting, high-tech startups, and academic research.