WECONNEX in Geneva – How are we doing on measuring those SDGs?

Maria Castillo (Investors Relations & Acquisitions at WECONNEX) represented us at a two-day conference in Geneva and summarized her main insights from the most relevant panels.

An insight on the UNRISD Conference on Measuring and Reporting Sustainability
On Monday 3rd of June, the two-day conference on Measuring and Reporting Sustainability organised by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) kicked off with Allen White’s, Co-Founder of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), speech. It was recognised that not much has been done since the second generation of GRI guidelines was released in 2002, in terms of action.

Allen White mentioned that measuring and reporting is the reflection of the character of any institution. Measuring and reporting is now a necessity – it transformed from being extraordinary (in the 90’s) to exceptional (00’s) to expected (today). He also highlighted the need to move beyond disclosure, as disclosure is a means and not the end game to show our impacts.

Perspectives from UN Agencies
Different UN Agencies participated in the first panel. It was interesting to see the lack of communication between agencies, but it is fair to say that each one provided interesting insights from the activities they are pursuing.

In a nutshell, UNCTAD has released a “Guidance on core SDG Indicators” to disseminate good practice on corporate reporting. Also the UN Statistics Division has a Global Indicators Framework that consists of 232 unique indicators with a clear methodology. And the UN Global Financial System is going to release “Principles for Banking Reporting” to encourage the Banks’ duty to contribute to Sustainable Development.

Review of Impact Indicators – GRI, IRRC, PIR and GIIN
We need to start reporting for purpose. This means making use of simple but effective indicators (preferably the ones that have been already collected) and moving beyond financial capital reporting (as only 50% of an organisation can be explained by their financial statement). This can lead to behavioural change. The conclusion brought up repeatedly was that investors are moving beyond financial reporting and that this movement of measuring and reporting is driven by societal expectations.

GIIN shared their work on IRIS+, a system for measuring, managing and optimizing impact (with strong research and evidence behind their indicators). “The Impact Management Project” from Principles for Responsible Investment is a group of global organisations working to create a comparable framework for sustainability reporting. It was also shared that work is being done to break down indicators to be compatible with SME’s.

Measuring Outcomes and Impacts – Case Ben & Jerry’s
Ben & Jerry’s approach to measuring impact provided great insights into an organization that took action on their own, rather than waiting for official sustainability guidelines. Imprinting sustainability concerns in the DNA of a company can shape the focus of the organization, and defining what needs to be measured is the responsibility of the company itself. We need to know what we want our impact to be, only than we can define what we need to measure.

The Role of Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) in Measuring and Reporting Sustainability
This session emphasized the structure of cooperatives as the opportunity to move from “darkness to light”. Being focussed on their members’ interests, cooperatives do not solely focus on financial gains.

• They are founded on the idea that working together solves social problems
• They have a purpose – not profit maximisation but the well-being of their members
• Reporting is a must – as the members want to know how things are
• They have targets, a mission, measure and report on their purpose

Several questions arose from these statements:
• Is the SSE a parallel economy?
• And when cooperatives get too big or move to a second generation, doesn’t the purpose get lost?
• When they are too big, after many layers of governance, does it not end in a top-down approach?

Take-aways for WECONNEX and our NEXUS projects
Indicators for agriculture are arguably still at an early stage, considering the complexity of their interconnected impacts. Tackling the opportunity to lift people out of poverty by creating more resilient livelihoods and functioning market systems appeared as central themes, opening the door to NEXUS model developed by WECONNEX.

There was consensus on the need not only to provide technology to smallholders but increase their independence and negotiation power to truly improve their livelihoods. Therefore, the agreement among participants was that there is a need to establish indicators that can be used along fair, shorter and more effective value chains.

Furthermore, cooperatives the way our projects create them are a good way to stay true to our purpose, as they are a means to clearly establish the problems we want to solve in rural communities, they increase awareness of the impacts that our projects unfold, which, consequently, can be measured and reported on.

To conclude, the main challenges for measuring and reporting are:
• Lack of consistency – most of the companies personalised their measuring and reporting activities. This leads to inaccuracy for comparable data.
• SDG washing – lack of full disclosure
• Disclosure is not relevant – what is disclosed is not useful
• Lack of context in reporting
• Data presentation – is it easy to get access? Is the data verified?

Work has been done to create frameworks, matrixes, indicators, methodologies – but everything is still far from being standardized. A lot of challenges are present leaving room for sustainable washing and “cherry picking”. However, the recommendation is to start using what is already out there to measure and report the impacts of our activities. The current best practices are GRI, GIIN IRIS+.

The Sustainable Development Goals can be a blessing to a business: they contain what society wants, what governments will support and what businesses can pursue. Especially for the private and NGO sector, the SDGs can unite the various stakeholders necessary to jointly actually contribute to getting one step closer to their fulfilment by 2030.

Source: nexus ch

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