Impact measurement and reporting largely remains a woolly science, with a dizzying array of frameworks, benchmarks, and reporting.
Within the development finance and impact investing communities, especially, a plethora of approaches abound. Development finance institutions like the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and FinDev Canada have announced impact frameworks (see https://www.dfc.gov/our-impact/impact-quotient-iq and https://www.findevcanada.ca/sites/default/files/2018-05/development_impact_framework.pdf).
Meanwhile, impact investors have mainly rallied around IRIS+, a system for measuring, managing, and optimizing impact overseen by the Global Impact Investing Network (see https://iris.thegiin.org/). And the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank, launched the Operating Principles for Impact Management aimed at promoting greater discipline and transparency in impact investing – to date, 104 signatories have hopped on board.
More broadly, myriad international oversight bodies and other entities continue to announce a confounding array of policies, rules and directives – notably the European Commission (see https://ec.europa.eu/info/business-economy-euro/company-reporting-and-auditing/company-reporting/non-financial-reporting_en), the US Securities and Exchange Commission (see https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/sec-proposal-human-capital-reporting.aspx), and the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (see https://www.cdsb.net/).
Why is this so important? Simply put, ESG investing is big business. The community of investors driven by environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals has doubled over the past four years, and currently stands just over $40 trillion – yes that’s trillions with a “T”. And all these investors need help answer a simple yet profound question: how do I know my dollars are making a difference?
Cutting through this morass of measurement and monitoring, we are seeing green shoots of clarity and common purpose from an unlikely corner of innovators: step forward accountants!
Two fascinating and promising developments have recently hit the radar, and are worth tracking closely in coming months.
First, World Economic Forum has teamed up with Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG, and PwC – the four biggies of the accounting world – to develop a set of “Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics” (SCMs). These SCMs (see https://www.weforum.org/reports/measuring-stakeholder-capitalism-towards-common-metrics-and-consistent-reporting-of-sustainable-value-creation) are designed to help companies enhance their sustainability reporting, by aligning traditional reporting on ESG indicators with their contribution to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They comprise a set of 21 core metrics – mainly quantifiable – along with 34 expanded metrics focused on sustainable value creation. The overall objective is to promote long-term sustainable value by aligning corporate goals with the long-term goals of society via the SDGs.
Second is the Impact-Weighted Accounts Project at Harvard Business School (see https://www.hbs.edu/impact-weighted-accounts/Pages/default.aspx). The goal of the project is to radically improve impact transparency among companies by linking impact and profit. Of the 1,1,694 companies tracked with positive EBITDA in 2018, it concludes that “252 firms (15%) would see their profit more than wiped out by the environmental damage they caused, while 543 firms (32%) would see their EBITDA reduced by 25% or more.” The project hopes this impact transparency will help inform government policy, investor motivations, and even consumer choices.
While still in their formative stages, these initiatives provide encouraging signs of tangible progress in how we should think and act on meaningful impact measurement.