Gundula Cöllen

“Why impact measurement is also becoming a valuable tool for companies”

“You should measure things you care about. If you‘re not measuring, you don‘t care and you don‘t know.” – STEVE HOWARD (Chief Sustainability Officer, IKEA)


Companies around the globe are spending increasing amounts on CSR and sustainability activities. At the same time, they are spending more resources in terms of time and money on producing glossy sustainability reports. A recent KPMG survey[1] on CSR reporting revealed that more than 70% of the largest companies publish sustainability reports annually, however, few of these companies systematically track the impact of their sustainability/CSR activities in terms of the value these bring to the community and to the business. As a result, CSR and sustainability budgets are not used to their maximum potential and the possible social, economic and environmental impact is drastically reduced.

There is real opportunity for companies to increase their societal impact through the effectiveness of their CSR spending, and to show that they genuinely care about creating shared value. This can be done through rigorous impact measurement and more transparent and meaningful reporting of their CSR/sustainability activities. Moving away from CSR being just a marketing strategy to boost brand image, impact measurement studies are a valuable tool to help raise corporate reputation amongst consumers and employees by telling compelling stories of change.

One of the most commonly followed approaches for reporting is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. These guidelines have already helped raise the level of sustainability reporting, as the GRI indicators assist a company in describing its economic, environmental and social footprint.  However, most of these indicators only track outputs and as yet, do not help the company measure the change it contributed to.  An example is GRI’s requirement on reporting on the average hours of training that the organization’s employees have undertaken during the reporting period. But what happens as a result of investing in training?  How were stakeholders impacted by these activities? Rarely do they go as far as to try to analyse the change that their support creates. However, there are signs that this approach may be about to change; the green shoots of a new understanding are beginning to emerge.

More and more companies that have a genuine interest in making a difference to society have begun using resources to better measure and track the impact of their CSR activities and raise the level of their reporting. It has gone beyond simply communicating, “What did we do?” to “What change did we help bring about / contribute to?” After all, measuring and transparently communicating about CSR, shows that you are committed to bringing about meaningful change.

About the author

Gundula Cöllen is a social impact consultant with a particular focus on the Social Return on Investment (SROI) methodology. She received the SROI practitioner status in 2010 and has been serving as a lead assessor of SROI reports to the global SROI network since then. Gundula is the co-founder of the CÖLLEN&PÉRON GmbH based in Berlin, Germany. She also serves as the international quality assurance partner for IQ Business’s Sustainability and Social Impact Measurement division.

[1]Source: The KPMG Survey of Corporate responsibility reporting 2013 (survey covered 4100 of the largest companies across 41 countries)


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