As corporate sustainability performance reporting becomes increasingly popular, questions remain about its rigour and relevance to enhancing corporate competitiveness.

A new report, led by Cranfield School of Management, reveals the extent to which organisations are adopting new management practices associated with measuring and reporting their social, environmental and economic (SEE) credentials.

While leading companies aspire to become “net positive” by maximising their positive SEE impacts, the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility’s report stresses the need for a more evidence-based approach and science-based targets.

The report is based on a study of a large cross-section of Fortune 100 companies, many of which are manufacturers using a science base to inform their strategic conversations.

Dr Palie Smart, lead-author of the report, said: “As sustainability reporting matures, firms are increasingly looking to improve external perceptions of their disclosures, while recognising the need to use more diverse sources of evidence to support management practices and back up their claims.

“By incorporating scientific evidence into decision-making on setting SEE performance targets, firms not only improve the quality and authenticity of their actions and reporting but also enhance their reputations for monitoring social and environmental performance.”

The report revealed that by benchmarking companies’ progress on tackling key environmental areas, such as reducing carbon emissions and water use, against externally verified scientific goals, stakeholders may gain greater confidence in firms’ overall performance as they begin to embed a science-based approach to setting sustainability targets.     

Barry Sheerman MP, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, said: “As a policy maker and politician, I welcome this report on science-based sustainability targets and evidence-based practice. This study shines a helpful light on the huge value companies can gain by adapting true vigour and the evaluation of their drive to achieve a greater level of sustainability.”

The Doughty Centre report was produced in collaboration with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Centre for Industrial Sustainability and the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing.

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Cranfield School of Management

Cranfield has been a world leader in management education and research for 50 years, helping individuals and organisations learn and succeed by transforming knowledge into action. We are dedicated to creating responsible management thinking, improving business performance and inspiring the next generation of business leaders. We work to change the lives of our students and executives by encouraging innovation and creative thinking, as well as the drive to succeed and make a real impact on their organisations.

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