For several years, I have worked with Future-Fit Foundation to develop a Future-Fit Business Benchmark. Work began in mid-2012. We had two public drafts, in 2014 and 2015, and received hugely helpful input from a wide range of sustainability practitioners and issue-specific experts. After incorporating all that feedback, this week saw the launch of Release 1. There are five firsts that make this a significant milestone.
- First science-based definition of the extra-financial break-even point for business
Based on best-available systems science, and in particular building on the work of The Natural Step, Release 1 defines the necessary and sufficient aspirational goals for any company that wants to be fit for the future on a socially-stressed, and carbon-, water-, and resource-constrained planet. There are two parts to Release 1. Part 1 introduces the key concepts, underlying science, and the 21 future-fit goals. Part 2 presents a set of key fitness indicators (KFIs) with which companies can self-assess their progress toward each goal, on a scale of 0-100%. These goals and indicators together define the extra-financial break-even point for business. This is a big first.
- First aggregation guidance for a complete suite of supply chain impacts
Few would take issue with the notion that a company is responsible and wholly accountable for impacts within its direct control, such as those caused by its own operations and the design of its products. But from a systems perspective, a company is also mutually accountable for certain activities in its supply chain: namely, any operational impacts caused by outsourcing core business functions (e.g. manufacturing), as well as any cradle-to-gate impacts caused by the creation of the physical inputs the company needs to deliver its products and services (ingredients, components, etc.). Release 1 clearly defines the boundaries of such mutual accountability, and offers guidance on how to assess and aggregate performance across the supply chain: another first.
- First open-source and free-to-use benchmark for extra-financial performance
Third-party sustainability raters typically ask a company to complete exhaustive questionnaires – often requesting commercially-sensitive information – and then feed the responses through a proprietary black-box methodology to calculate the company’s ‘score.’ Because the scoring process is opaque, the results fail to provide the rated company with much actionable insight about where and how to improve. The Future-Fit Business Benchmark offers a new approach, one which equips companies with a transparent, free, and open source means by which to self-assess their progress toward clear goals. Only if a company wishes to talk publicly about its future-fit performance (and there is no obligation to do so) must its calculations be independently assured. (Note: the Future-Fit team is in the process of developing a standardized assurance process in collaboration with one of the world’s biggest audit/assurance providers).
- First step toward a benchmark that measures true positive impact
A future-fit business is one that creates value while in no way undermining – and ideally increasing – the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever. Release 1 defines the do-no-harm threshold that a future-fit business must reach: the minimum any company must do to gain its entry ticket to the sustainable future. Building on this foundation to assess positive impact – in a concise, credible and comparable way – will be the focus of Release 2.
- First in a suite of complementary benchmarks
As the engine of our global economy, business is a massive lever for change. But society as a whole will only become future-fit if everyone plays their part – cities, national governments, households, and so on. As soon as the Future-Fit team can secure sufficient resources to prevent attention being diverted away from the business community, work will start on a suite of complementary benchmarks to help other entities in the socioeconomic system understand and pursue future-fitness too.
So Release 1 of the Future-Fit Business Benchmark is an exciting milestone. The proof of its value will be how quickly it gets traction in the business community – and the Future-Fit team is working hard on a range of initiatives and partnerships to make that happen. That’s a topic for another article, but in the meantime if there is anything you can do to help please get in touch.