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The Ins and Outs of Sustainability Measurement and Reporting in 2020

Can you imagine such a scenario: it’s mid-21st century, the whole planet is suffering from the dust storms and the shortage of food as a result of crop blights which are a major threat to humanity’s survival. Taking into account current environmental issues, such a plot could easily become a reality for our children. Therefore, if you don’t want the future generations to be the main characters of the movie Interstellar (2014) - the actions need to be done today!

“We - the current generation - have the responsibility to make the world better for future generations.” - Priscilla Chan.

Recently it’s been clear that our planet is in crisis. Precisely, global economic challenges and political instability as a cause of extreme poverty, scarcity of natural resources and food shortages. Moreover, according to the NASA analyses 2019 was the second warmest year on record. Consequently, the record-breaking temperatures were the reason for devastating Amazon fires in Brazil, the massive bushfires across Australia, and the fact Antarctica just hit 65 degrees, which is the warmest temperature ever recorded.

Nowadays, reducing the carbon footprint is the predominant indicator to stabilize the initial crisis. From the global perspective, governments and big corporations understand and communicate the policies that could conduct to the improvement of the environmental situation. However, our planet reached its peak point where each and every individual should commit to the sustainability principles for the sake of future generations. In that case, starting measuring personal effects on the planet using sustainable reporting systems is the first thing to do. Hence, it facilitates real action to establish social, environmental and economic benefits for everyone.

At 2muchcoffee we are passionate about modern tech solutions to existing challenges, it is crucial to have a profound level of expertise in a particular market niche. The urgency of the issue and the experience working with 20+ startups focusing on sustainable development made us create an overview of the market. We created introductory guidance on sustainability and the growing value of sustainable reporting systems for everyone who is interested in it.


What is Sustainability?

Still, for the majority of the population, the notion of Sustainability is quite a blur one. “Sustainability is treating the planet as if we planned to stay” - this is how Heartly Green, a sustainability consultant and activist is defined as the concept on her Instagram account. It is consciousness and awareness that human activity will impose certain costs on the natural environment.

Origin of sustainability. The notion of sustainability first appeared in the Brundtland Report (known as Our Common Future), published in 1987. This document was developed for the United Nations in order to warn about the negative environmental consequences of economic development and globalization. The aim of this document was to offer solutions to the problems arising from industrialization and population growth.

In the 21st century, the new academic discipline emerged - sustainability science. The main focus of which is to examine the interactions between human, environmental and engineered systems in order to comprehend and contribute to solutions for urgent challenges (such as, pollution, land and water degradation, climate change, etc.).

Moreover, sustainability is managed and studied over different frames and contexts of environmental, social and economic organisation. The focus differs from the overall sustainability (carrying capacity) of the planet earth to the sustainability of specific ecosystems, economic sectors, regions, states, individual goods/services, lifestyles, behavior patterns and so on. Basically, sustainability can entail the full compass of biological and human activity or any part of it.

Three pillars of sustainability. Talking about today, sustainability tries to secure present needs without compromising future generations. The main condition to do so is not to avoid any of the essential 3 pillars of sustainability: environmental protection, social development, and economic growth.

  1. Environmental sustainability suggests that nature and the environment are not an inexhaustible resource and so, it is necessary to protect them and use them rationally. There are several ways of reducing negative human impact, like environmentally-friendly chemical engineering, environmental resources management and environmental protection.

  2. Social sustainability promotes social development while seeking cohesion between communities and cultures to achieve satisfactory levels in quality of life, health and education.

  3. Economic sustainability concentrates on the equal economic growth that generates wealth for all without harming the environment.

So, why sustainability important? In fact, many of the challenges that humans face today (climate change and global warming, water scarcity, food shortages, etc.) can only be tackled from a global perspective and by promoting sustainable development. Sustainability is defined as a process of creating and maintaining conditions, under which population and nature can exist in a harmonious environment, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in equilibrium. Such conditions increase both current and future opportunities to meet human needs and aspirations.


Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the United Nations General Assembly's current harmonized set of seventeen future international development targets. These include the following goals:

  • To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  • To achieve universal primary education

  • To promote gender equality and empower women

  • To reduce child mortality

  • To improve maternal health

  • To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

  • To ensure environmental sustainability (with a focus on providing access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation)

  • To establish a global partnership for development.

Sustainability in business has become a common trend nowadays. Sustainability stimulates businesses to reevaluate their economic analysis and frame decisions in terms of years and decades considering more factors than simply the profit or loss on the next quarterly reports. It is a common practice to establish sustainability goals first and then work towards them. For example, the goal could be to cut the emission by 10%, lower energy usage or sourcing products from fair-trade organizations. So, when the company would achieve its sustainability goals and reduce their carbon footprint, they will be able to call themselves “sustainable” or “green”.

Why Sustainability Today is More Important Than Ever?

From the dawn of time, the Earth has gone through warm and cold phases. Forces that contribute to climate change include the sun’s intensity, volcanic eruptions and changes in naturally occurring greenhouse gas concentration. However, the records indicate that today’s climatic warming is appearing much faster than ever before and can’t be explained by the natural causes alone.

Precisely, devastating floods, storms, and fires are all the outcomes of the anthropogenic causes of global climate change. More specifically, greenhouse emissions (GHG) generated by humans are the leading cause of the earth’s rapid change in the climate.

The cause of climate change is simple. When energy from the sun is reflected off the earth and back into space (mostly by clouds and ice), or when the earth’s atmosphere releases energy, the planet cools. When the earth absorbs the sun’s energy, or when atmospheric gases prevent heat released by the earth from radiating into space (the greenhouse effect), the planet warms.

Greenhouse gases play an important role in keeping the planet warm enough to inhabit. But the amount of these gases in our atmosphere has skyrocketed in recent decades. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides “have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.” Indeed, the atmosphere’s share of carbon dioxide—the planet’s chief climate change contributor—has risen by 40 percent since preindustrial times.

The burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas for electricity, heat, and transportation is the primary source of human-generated emissions. A second major source is deforestation, which releases sequestered carbon into the air. It’s estimated that logging, clear-cutting, fires, and other forms of forest degradation contribute up to 20 percent of global carbon emissions. Other human activities that generate air pollution include fertilizer use (a primary source of nitrous oxide emissions), livestock production (cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats are major methane emitters), and certain industrial processes that release fluorinated gases. Activities like agriculture and road construction can change the reflectivity of the earth’s surface, leading to local warming or cooling, too.

Though our planet’s forests and oceans absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and other processes, these natural carbon sinks can’t keep up with our rising emissions. The resulting buildup of greenhouse gases is causing alarmingly fast warming worldwide. It’s estimated that the earth’s average temperature rose by about 1 degree Fahrenheit during the 20th century. If that doesn’t sound like much, consider this: When the last ice age ended and the northeastern United States was covered by more than 3,000 feet of ice, average temperatures were just 5 to 9 degrees cooler than they are now.

Hence, the Earth's global surface temperatures in 2019 ranked second-warmest since 1880, according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). So, we won’t even discuss whether is global warming real or not, simply watch the following video to clear everything out.

Outcomes of climate change. As climate change transforms global ecosystems, it affects everything from the places we live to the water we drink to the air we breathe.

Extreme weather

As the earth’s atmosphere heats up, it collects, retains, and drops more water, changing weather patterns and making wet areas wetter and dry areas drier. Higher temperatures worsen and increase the frequency of many types of disasters, including storms, floods, heat waves, and droughts. These events can have devastating and costly consequences, jeopardizing access to clean drinking water, fueling out-of-control wildfires, damaging property, creating hazardous-material spills, polluting the air, and leading to loss of life.

Air pollution

Causes of air pollution and climate change are inextricably linked, with one exacerbating the other. When the earth’s temperatures rise, not only does our air gets dirtier—with smog and soot levels going up—but there are also more allergenic air pollutants such as circulating mold (thanks to damp conditions from extreme weather and more floods) and pollen (due to longer, stronger pollen seasons).

Health risks

According to the World Health Organization, “climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year” between 2030 and 2050. As global temperatures rise, so do the number of fatalities and illnesses from heat stress, heatstroke, and cardiovascular and kidney disease. As air pollution worsens, so does respiratory health—particularly for the 300 million people living with asthma worldwide; there’s more airborne pollen and mold to torment hay fever and allergy sufferers, too. Extreme weather events, such as severe storms and flooding, can lead to injury, drinking water contamination, and storm damage that may compromise basic infrastructure or lead to community displacement.

Indeed, historical models suggest the likelihood of being displaced by a disaster is now 60 percent higher than it was four decades ago—and the largest increases in displacement are driven by weather- and climate-related events. (It’s worth noting that displacement comes with its own health threats, such as increases in urban crowding, trauma, social unrest, lack of clean water, and transmission of infectious diseases.) A warmer, wetter world is also a boon for insect-borne diseases such as dengue fever, West Nile virus, and Lyme disease.

Rising seas

The Arctic is heating twice as fast as any other place on the planet. As its ice sheets melt into the seas, our oceans are on track to rise one to four feet higher by 2100, threatening coastal ecosystems and low-lying areas. Island nations face particular risk, as do some of the world’s largest cities, including New York, Miami, Mumbai, and Sydney.

Warmers, more acid oceans

The earth’s oceans absorb between one-quarter and one-third of our fossil fuel emissions and are now 30 percent more acidic than they were in preindustrial times. This acidification poses a serious threat to underwater life, particularly creatures with calcified shells or skeletons like oysters, clams, and coral. It can have a devastating impact on shellfisheries, as well as the fish, birds, and mammals that depend on shellfish for sustenance. Rising ocean temperatures are also altering the range and population of underwater species and contributing to coral bleaching events capable of killing entire reefs—ecosystems that support more than 25 percent of all marine life.

Imperiled ecosystems

Climate change is increasing pressure on wildlife to adapt to changing habitats—and fast. Many species are seeking out cooler climates and higher altitudes, altering seasonal behaviors, and adjusting traditional migration patterns. These shifts can fundamentally transform entire ecosystems and the intricate webs of life that depend on them. As a result, according to a 2014 IPCC climate change report, many species now face “increased extinction risk due to climate change.” And one 2015 study showed that mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and other vertebrate species are disappearing 114 times faster than they should be, a phenomenon that has been linked to climate change, pollution, and deforestation—all interconnected threats. On the flip side, milder winters and longer summers have enabled some species to thrive, including tree-killing insects that are endangering entire forests.

What is global governance for sustainable development?

Almost all accounts of the world at the beginning of the 21st century acknowledge that social, political, economic and ecological environments are fundamentally changing. Attempts to grasp the nature of this transformation along with the structures and qualities of the emerging new order make frequent reference to two central concepts: globalization and global governance. Their relationship, however, is less clear. One valuable approach to delineating the two phenomena says the process of globalization creates the demand for global governance.

In simple terms, globalization may be thought of as the widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness in all aspects of social life, ranging from the cultural to the economic and spiritual. This interconnectedness is a key reason for government failures. As sovereign borders are getting porous and the frontier between national and transnational forces are blurring, external effects have a much greater impact on the responsiveness and problem-solving capacity of nation States. In this view, global governance has emerged as the social, political and economic reaction to the process of globalization, incorporating many of its ontological assumptions. In short, global governance is a distinct form of sociopolitical steering in the era of globalization.

Moreover, global governance that supports sustainable development is one of the great challenges facing political decision-makers, in Europe and beyond. The vital question for European societies is to design effective, stable and legitimate governance systems at local, national and international levels that ensure sustainable development.

Nevertheless, global governance is failing when we need decisive actions towards sustainability issues. The paradox of our times is that, as global problems become more complex and threatening, our global institutions lose their force as organizing frameworks for inter-state cooperation. David Held, Master of University College, Durham and Professor of Politics and International Relations at Durham University, explains what are the reasons for such paradox during the TEDx event.

We suggest watching the video “Global Challenges - Kristian Rönn” (2017). A project manager and researcher at a global challenges foundation and CEO and co-founder of Normative - software tool for measuring corporate sustainability, Kristian Rönn, presents the topic of his talk Why effective altruists should care about global governance. The presenter stressed on the fact that there are precise risks currently transcend national borders, and we need to have new global solutions that our system of global governance struggles to deliver.

The early years of the new millennium are often described as an era of profound transformation. The end of the Cold War altered the international system from a bi-polar world to one of the multiple spheres of power. Technological developments have changed the ways we process and distribute information. At the same time, humankind is no longer limited to simply modifying local and regional environments but has entered into a phase of change of a truly planetary dimension so profound that some scholars are using a new label to describe our time: the Anthropocene.

In a talk about how we can build a robust future without wrecking the planet, sustainability expert Johan Rockström debuts the Earth3 model - a new methodology that combines the UN Sustainable Development Goals with the nine planetary boundaries, beyond which earth's vital systems could become unstable. Learn about five transformational policies that could help us achieve inclusive and prosperous world development while keeping the earth stable and resilient.

In this context of large-scale transformations, social scientists of all stripes are concerned about the perennial question of governance, how humans regulate their affairs to achieve common goals and react to an increasing environmental threat. In particular, attention has focused on steering politics in the nation-state and the international community.

Global Governance and Sustainable Development. Global governance for sustainable development features a plurality of actors, in particular the increasing involvement of non-state actors.

Hence, business used to be depicted as a primary source of the world’s environmental problems. Today it is increasingly a vital contributor to solving those problems. However, any serious attempt to solve the challenge of climate change will require that the substantial contributions of business and civil society be taken into account.

Even though many companies initiate corporate sustainability programs, the majority of them do not identify proper metrics and consider how to monitor the success of the program in a substantial manner.


Why Do We Need Sustainability Reporting?

Corporate sustainability reporting and the measurement of environmental, social, economic and governance performance are going to be discussed in this section. These are necessary tools of top management for the company strategy choice of sustainable success. In doing so, the relationship between company performance and these factors is important, therefore, the need to develop the modern and advanced methods and metrics to identify them mainly based on the quantification with the possibility of utilization of information and communication technology.

What is sustainability reporting? Sustainability reporting is a process of creating organizational reports that provide information about environmental, social and economic impacts caused by its everyday activities. Additionally, a sustainability report introduces the organization’s values and governance model as well as indicate the link between its strategy and dedication to a sustainable global economy.

Sustainability reporting can help organizations to measure, understand and communicate their economic, environmental, social and governance performance, and then set goals, and manage change more effectively.

Reasons for doing sustainability reports. There are many companies now producing an annual sustainability report and there is a wide array of ratings and standards around. There are a variety of reasons that companies choose to produce these reports, but at their core, they are intended to have a positive impact on society, the economy and a sustainable future.

Often they also intended to improve internal processes, engage stakeholders, persuade investors and ensure trust due to being transparent about the risks and opportunities they face. Consequently, it leads to better decision-making practice, which helps build and maintain trust in businesses and governments.

Many companies are actively integrating sustainability principles into their businesses, according to a recent McKinsey survey, and they are doing so by pursuing goals that go far beyond earlier concern for reputation management—for example, saving energy, developing green products, and retaining and motivating employees, all of which help companies capture value through growth and return on capital.


The corporate annual sustainability report has become a common way for businesses to report out annual progress on sustainability initiatives. Needless to say that sustainability reporting has a lot of benefits.

Benefits inside the business/corporation:

  • Increased understanding of risks and opportunities;

  • Emphasizing the link between financial and non-financial performance;

  • Influencing long term management strategy and policy, and business plans;

  • Streamlining processes, reducing costs and improving efficiency;

  • Benchmarking and assessing sustainability performance with respect to laws, norms, codes, performance standards, and voluntary initiatives;

  • Avoiding being implicated in publicized environmental, social and governance failures;

  • Comparing performance internally, and between organizations and sectors.

External benefits consist of:

  • Mitigating negative environmental, social and governance impacts;

  • Improving reputation and brand loyalty;

  • Enabling external stakeholders to understand the organization’s true value, and tangible and intangible assets;

  • Demonstrating how the organization influences, and is influenced by, expectations about sustainable development.

Who should report? Sustainability reports are released by companies and organizations of all types, sizes and sectors all around the world. Thousands of companies, public authorities and NGOs across all sectors have published reports that reference the GRI Standards.

Major providers of sustainability reporting guidance include:

Sustainable Reporting Process. The process of sustainability reporting is similar to all performance-based business management processes. It usually involves such steps as:

  • Setting the sustainability goals of the company. The most crucial step since it should guide the rest of the process. The company should depict the clear vision of why it wants to integrate sustainability efforts into business operations. A company will need to evaluate whether its focus is on continuous improvement in its own individual actions or if it is measuring its performance relative to a broader target, such as a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

  • Measurement stage. The next move is to develop the key performance indicators (KPI) that will be used to measure progress toward the goals. It is needed to take into account the company’s financial, human and information technology resources while choosing the suitable KPIs. At this stage, data needs to be collected, validated for accuracy and stored.

  • Evaluation of the performance. The main aim of this is to convert raw data into useful information so the thoughtful organizational decisions will be undertaken in the future. The main components include data compilation, data analysis, and communication.

  • Managing the performance. The company should be prepared to react according to the sustainable report outline. This stage is the prerogative of management. Management should review sustainable performance information routinely. The reporting process is a cycle and the management phase then proceeds back into the first step of defining initial sustainability goals.

The Sustainable Business Case Book provides you with more detailed specifications on what needs to be included in the sustainability reporting process.

Challenges with Sustainability Reporting. Sustainability is now seen as the business paradigm for the 21st century. Decisions regarding corporate sustainability pose a significant dilemma for managers: to weigh social and environmental concerns against economic results.

Integrating sustainability indicators into daily decision-making is a fundamental element of sustainability performance management systems (SPMS). Defined as the process of identifying social, environmental, and economic drivers that influence the success of an organization and measuring progress against those drivers, SPMS has been regarded as the best way to capture the complexity of the triple bottom line framework.

In fact, like any other performance-based business process the accuracy is the key to produce the relevant data. Sustainability investing continues to grow in popularity, but the lack of standardization in sustainability reporting poses a challenge for investors wishing to maximize the social responsibility, and minimize the social damage, of their investments. The authors, who previously studied sustainability ratings issued by the mass media, now turn their attention to rankings used by the investing community itself. The findings indicate that they may be a more reliable barometer of a company’s commitment to environmental, social, and governance impact; nevertheless, further research into the long-term link between sustainable practices and value creation is needed.

Corporations are moving in the right direction; however, more work needs to be done to improve the quality of sustainability reporting.


There are a lot of sustainability articles that elaborate on the scientific relevance of a sustainable environment. However, humanity reached the pick-point where severe climate change is a vivid consequence of human activity on the planet.

Consequently, the greenhouse emission is the leading cause of the rapid change in the climate. That is why reducing the carbon footprint is the predominant challenge that needs to be solved.

In order to stabilize the crisis, businesses (both startups and big corporations) have to generate sustainability reports - in order to validate and ensure that the whole process from the raw material to the finished product or services was done correctly. Currently, the sustainability report identifies the impact enterprises (big or small) had on our planet and global sustainability.

In fact, such reports are a crucial element in the mechanism of detecting turbulent areas and improving sustainability worldwide. However, the idea is far from reality. There are a lot of challenges while producing sustainability reporting, therefore, there are some platforms that strive to change it and automate the whole procedure. For example, Normative - a platform that is able to change the old approach towards the reporting system and develop strong sustainability initiatives worldwide.

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Top comments (2)

johnkazer profile image
John Kazer

As a sustainability professional who dabbles in webapp dev I can say this is an excellent article on the subject. The world of sustainability and environmental data has not been very extensively explored yet by the dev community but is a) huge b) interesting and c) full of important purpose!

2muchcoffeecom profile image

Thank you for your comment! We glad that you find it interesting and there will be more articles exploring the world of sustainability in the future. So, stay tuned!