Sustainability ambitions – measurement and reporting – your action please!

Doing the maths. Sustainability reporting – the devil’s in the detail

ABB has published its Sustainability Objectives for 2014 and we ask you for your feedback on our challenges

ABB has launched its sustainability ambitions for the next few years and, as a first step, has published its Sustainability Objectives for 2014. As head of Sustainability, I’d like to share some observations on the ambitions and near-term objectives and ask for your feedback on our challenges.

In ABB, we are fortunate that many of our products and systems are already contributing to that ‘more sustainable world’ we are all striving for, through energy and resource efficiency which are their inherent characteristics.  They have been doing so for many decades – and the positive impacts have been seen along the value chain. This means we don’t have to initiate a massive ‘green-wash’ campaign to make poor products seem less damaging. Many of ABB’s offerings make huge savings in energy use and also contribute to harnessing low carbon renewable energy sources, thus reducing CO2 output and mitigating climate change.

The 2014 objectives, which mark the first steps towards our 2020 ambitions, build on the focus areas we have been working on as a function and as a business for the last few years.  The latest objectives are an evolution – we are not coming up with a big, new bright idea (that may or may not work), rather we are refining and consolidating what has been working in the past.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice some new topic areas for 2014 – particularly integrity and Human Resources-related objectives.  This isn’t a ‘land grab’ by the sustainability function for other areas of responsibility and the respective functions of Legal and Integrity and Human Resources.  But including these areas is an acknowledgment that they are material to ABB’s success, and people outside the company are interested in hearing about these areas.

Ratings agencies and investors who we engage with (DJSI, FTSE4Good, MSCI, Hermes and other investors and analysts) expect us to  include the areas of integrity, diversity, human capital development and labor practices in our wide-ranging briefings.  And they dig around our successes and failures, which in this age of instant communication – social media with its ‘hashtagging’ and ‘googling’ – are available to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

As some bright management guru once said, ‘if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.’ So we have started to extend our range of KPIs for sustainability business topics – and not just, as in the past, for energy use. This work is ongoing.

So I said I wanted some feedback on our challenges  And these are they:

I would be very interested to hear your views on how we can best measure progress in these areas – because in many cases there are many ways of measuring these topics and their outcomes. Problem is, there are very few ways of measuring that make real sense or contribute to driving real sustainable change. Should it be lead or lag indicators, quantitative or qualitative – broad methodologies or kilos/grams per product. It’s a minefield, whatever GRI or the ratings agencies say.

In addition, and thinking of how best to set targets and measure progress let me share one of our ever-present challenges – that of geographic and sector complexity, especially when we come to consolidate a report to our internal and external stakeholders.  We have some 150,000 people working in 390 locations in about 100 countries, some making a million products a day and others making a few a month. And that’s not to mention the service or project businesses which complicates things further.

Over to you!


Image credit: Tom_Brown 6117 under a CC license via Flickr

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About the author

Adam Roscoe

I am the Head of Sustainability Affairs at ABB. In a previous life I trained as a journalist and worked as one for eight years. My interests outside work include cycling, cooking, current affairs, history, Daft Punk and writing.
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