The Earth Institute Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management provides a rigorous analytic base to help inform sustainability decision-making. Our research addresses the fundamental issues facing professionals and policy makers implementing sustainability strategies. We seek to better understand the mechanisms behind sustainability management, in order to develop and promote more effective public policies and organizational practices. We analyze sustainability strategies and initiatives, examine methods of valuing sustainability practices, and study the impact of policies that stimulate sustainability innovations and trends. The goal of the program is to develop models to overcome barriers to institutionalizing sustainability in organizational operations. We aim to hasten the integration of sustainability principles in the management of organizations by providing the data necessary for decision-making.
Our research agenda was developed following exploratory conversations with roughly twenty sustainability officers at major multinational corporations. A few key themes emerged from these conversations. But the most common, and the most critical, was the absence of agreed-to sustainability metrics and the challenges associated with this gap. To begin to address these issues, our first major project is a study on sustainability metrics, which began in fall 2013. The long-term goal of this study is to serve as foundation to inform the discussion of a global network of scholars and practitioners, working towards developing a set of generally accepted sustainability metrics.
Through our research, we hope to address the following issues in the field of sustainability today:
- The absence of widely accepted sustainability metrics and the presence of multiple certifications and standards make measuring progress and comparison to peers difficult.
- Linkages must be made to conventional financial indicators.
- A common language about sustainability performance is needed.
- The lack of certainty about policy and regulation hinders long-term investment.
- Success should be measured by progress, not simply disclosure.
Our research will facilitate the integration of sustainability principles in the management of organizations by providing the data necessary for decision-making. Sustainability remains a vague concept, without a synergy of existing indicators to measure success.