Individual Sustainability Benefits Evaluation

Sustainability seems to come up almost everywhere you look at the moment, and the challenges the world is facing are obvious.

Everyone is being told to make sustainability a priority, but engagement and progress by organisations are lagging:

  • There is often no clear overall internal responsibility.
  • There is ever more overwhelming detail to get to grips with.
  • Resources and finances are already stretched.
  • Any existing activity mostly focuses on what is mandated.
  • Motivation – which underpins everything else – is confused and constrained.

There are many issues and challenges facing those looking to engage with sustainability:

Beyond a vague sense that “sustainability” is about “doing the right thing” for society and the environment, its meaning often isn’t clear – especially for business.

A foundational and commonly-quoted definition comes from the 1987 UN report, Our Common Future:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

But note how this refers to “sustainable development” and not “sustainability” – the latter is the desired outcome, whereas the former is how you (ideally) get there; both need to be in focus, but often aren’t.

So, whilst “ESG” is often used interchangeably with “sustainability”, we think this is both too simplistic and too narrow.

Why? Because ESG is primarily focused on business and – whilst this is an oversimplification – it mostly describes “sustainable development” or “how you get there”.

However, less in focus with ESG is what “sustainability” outcomes look like – a broader, all-encompassing vision that is most fully described in the UN SDGs – and where business is only part of the overall picture (alongside governments, NGOs, academia, etc).

Given the differences between “sustainable development” and “sustainability” – and between ESG and the SDGs – no wonder it often isn’t clear what people mean by “sustainability”.

A key challenge with defining “sustainability” is that it continues to grow in scope.

The 1987 Our Common Future report broadly looked at five areas – resource use, investment, technology, institutions and the environment – and proposed six specific applications: population, food security, the loss of species and genetic resources, energy, industry, and human settlements.

Since then, though, the SDGs have not only developed those areas into much more detail, but also added several significant additional focuses – including work, education and justice. 

The SDG Impact standards – and especially the various ESG methodologies out there – all also reflect newer cultural priorities, with substantial focuses on gender equality, racial equality and other forms of diversity. 

And then the EU’s CSRD goes even further, requiring reporting on “business strategy and the resilience of the business model”, and demanding information on “intellectual, human, and social and relationship capital”.

These things may well be important – both to “sustainability” and in general – but the key point is that “sustainability” is a moving target, reaching into ever more sensitive areas, and widening in scope.

One thing that unites the various “sustainability” agendas – whether coming from an ESG or SDG perspective – is that they each claim to be the one to follow, at least implicitly.

For example, the WEF – perhaps the major “player” within ESG, with its “stakeholder capitalism” agenda  – sets out its stall for being best-placed to unify and drive the ESG agenda, and claims that it stands behind “…the world’s plan for peace, prosperity, and a healthy planet”; meanwhile, the EU instead claims as part of setting out the CSRD that it is the best-placed to act.

However, a KPMG report reveals that the WEF’s standards fail to directly reference three of the SDGs –  “Zero Hunger”, “Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure” or “Sustainable Cities and Communities” – so are these SDGs less important?  To be set aside?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those within the SDG camp have said that “[ESG] approaches are insufficient – and no longer future-fit…and that these “…are undermining progress towards sustainability and achieving the SDGs”.So, do those seeking to “be sustainable” choose ESG or SDGs?  Do they choose an agenda, some agendas, bits of some agendas, bits of all agendas, or all agendas?

Sustainability-related issues are complex, and trying to control complex things usually ends badly – at best with pushback; at worst, with dramatic unintended consequences (such as destroying rainforests to meet biofuel quotas).

Nevertheless, sustainability methodologies typically all adopt a “command and control” approach – i.e. “do these things, in these ways, enforce them, and results will follow” – and this is first seen in the explosion of ever more detailed standards.

For example, the WEF’s “stakeholder capitalism” agenda proposes 55 metrics, all presented in a 96-page document – with abundant references to ISO standards, legislation, and other sources of best practice – and they’re not alone:

  • Despite efforts to consolidate ESG into one standard, the EU’s CSRD has already said it will retain its own additional requirements.
  • The SEC has released a 490-page document on its plans for climate-related disclosures.
  • The UN’s 17 SDGs break down into 169 targets, with 221 indicators to gauge progress.

Meanwhile, process-wise, each methodology tends to say (or imply) that it needs to be followed in full, by everyone, creating huge scope for waste and no scope for considering trade-offs and priorities.

Again taking the WEF as an example, they advocate a “disclose or explain” approach, where every one of their ESG metrics is intended to be covered by everyone, and yet these include:

  • Paris Agreement-aligned greenhouse gas emission targets.
  • The number of megalitres of water and amount of phosphorus fertiliser consumed.
  • The congruence of company lobbying with its stated ESG targets.
  • Monetary losses from fraud convictions.
  • ESG as a factor in acquisitions and investments made.

Are these appropriate metrics in every sector?  Are they appropriate metrics for most SMEs in any sector?

Moreover, everything is to be driven top-down: leaders are to make strategic commitments, which are in turn to drive cultural change and redefine operating models, and this is all to be backed-up by assurance, certification, and – increasingly – legislation and penalties.

Amidst the compulsion, there is little scope for motivation, for proportionality or – most unfortunately – for true embedding.

Sustainability-related activity is often perceived as – and often is – “on top of” regular work, and that seems unsurprising when it’s typically being driven down into and within businesses.

Perhaps if the work and costs involved were trivial, that would be less of an issue, but as an example, the EU has said with its CSRD that it will cost each affected company EUR 1.2m in one off costs and then EUR 3.6m annually – and that’s in its best-case scenario.

Methodologies frequently refer to user training materials and programs, and both the SDG and ESG perspectives are pursuing external assurance frameworks and accreditations.

The European Parliament has said that CSRD information should be “subject to a mandatory audit”.

With consultants and certifiers acknowledged to be WEF partners in the ESG world – and with consultant, certifier and standard-setting feedback weighted heavily within the SDG community – queries about conflicts of interest might be understandable. Either way, it is no wonder that the WEF has said that “[t]he [ESG] ecosystem is buzzing with activity” and it is business that is mostly picking up the tab.

So, the effort expected with sustainability – even demanded – is enormous, but business is exhorted to “look beyond” short-term financial gain, despite it being acknowledged that most companies do not have “sufficient incentives, time or resources” to engage, with most not obtaining any sustainable competitive advantage.

It is no surprise that some commentators are now sounding urgent notes of caution.

On the one hand, business is indispensable for sustainability.

It needs to be the source of many of the new solutions and approaches needed, and is even said in Our Common Future to be “…perhaps the main instrument of change”.

However, business is often a step removed from the “sustainability” vision – especially in the SDG context, where many of the goals and measures are at a level “above” what most businesses can directly aim at.

Business also often seems to have been viewed through the sustainability lens from the outset with something approaching suspicion: it is said in Our Common Future to “often” have little regard for the impacts on others, that it may operate recklessly and that it can’t be expected to participate voluntarily.

Such observations are sometimes justified, but the generalisations seem unwarranted, and it is little wonder that businesses aren’t clear where they stand.

A strong value-based case for businesses to engage with sustainability can be made – that is what the Sustainability Benefits Evaluation is all about – but little effort seems to have been expended to date in doing so.

Claimed opportunities and benefits for business are more often than not “away from the negative” – e.g. staying on the right side of government policy, pre-empting the circulation of misinformation, etc. 

But even more “positive” benefits are also discussed in mostly general and indirect terms (e.g social licence to operate, scope to innovate, or simply general economic and market improvements).

Indeed, the benefits presented are even said to be so indirect that there is no clear causal relationship claimed – that the evidence for them is “anecdotal” or potentially just the result of “divine coincidence”.

Of course, there are some things that business simply should do because they’re the right thing to do, and business clearly benefits – as does everyone – from general benefits, like a healthier environment and a more equitable society.

But given the costs and effort involved, it doesn’t seem unreasonable for business to at least ask what else is in it for them, and how else they might benefit when contributing to delivering benefits for everyone else.

To date, though, the WEF only refers to “the belief” that sustainability is crucial to business, and how businesses pursuing it are the “most likely” to create value, whilst a group dedicated to promoting ESG can only claim that “some” companies have seen improved performance through ESG.

We think this is unsustainable.

I found the Sustainability Benefits Evaluation highly thought-provoking and illuminating, and think it will greatly help address the challenges we face with sustainability.
Sally Guyer
Global CEO, WorldCC
Global CEO WCC

The Sustainability Benefits Evaluation addresses these challenges by getting you to think about sustainability in a complementary, new way that has been almost mostly totally absent in sustainability circles to date – how your organisation might directly benefit from sustainability:

  • Establish and clarify rationale and motivation.
  • Maximise the value of existing activities.
  • Reveal potential opportunities beyond compliance.
  • Improve alignment with customer expectations and goals.
  • Focus resources on the highest impact areas and minimise waste.
  • Embed sustainability from the bottom-up.
  • Raise the bar for your organisation and for the wider sustainability cause.

Exposure, often for the first time, to the idea that there could be synergies between the sustainability agenda and your organisation’s interests: the two do not have to be “opposed”

Rather than just blindly wading in, know why you’re engaging, whether that engagement is purely pragmatic – to satisfy external demands, etc – completely aligned with your own values and goals, or (most likely) somewhere in between.

Clarity will allow you to communicate effectively to the rest of your organisation, helping to motivate and unite it, to truly embed what you are doing – all backed-up by internal evidence and rationale.

Be able to present to the outside world what you’re doing, and why, to demonstrate that it has been fully thought-through, is fully-evidenced and supported by your organisation, and isn’t just a tokenistic box-ticking exercise

Authentic Sustainability
that is truly

how it works and what you’ll get


you will be sent an email with a unique link to click

Immediately after purchase, we will send you an email with the unique and secure link you’ll need to click to access your evaluation. We don’t recommend you use a mobile phone for this: the process is most effective when you can see a wider context on a bigger screen and can more easily type in comments.

Email Invitation

you will be guided to securely access your response by setting a password

You will be prompted to set up a password that allows you to save and return to your evaluation at any time. After you have submitted your evaluation, this password allows you to access your ‘Response Report’. If you forget your password, you can click ‘forgotten password’ on the login screen to reset it.

Secure Access

you will be asked to read and evaluate 32 potential benefits of Sustainability

You will be presented with 32 potential benefits of Sustainability – organised into 5 tabbed sections (Risk Mitigation, Internal Improvements, New Opportunities, Market Profile and Intrinsic benefits). For each benefit, you will be asked to what extent it matters to your organisation, and to comment on specifically why and how. You will also be asked to enter any additional benefits that you value.


complete your evaluation and get your Response Report

Upon completion, you submit your evaluation and will be given a PDF report of your response to download, print or share. This report collates and analyses your evaluations, summarises key takeaways, and suggests how to use what you have learned.

Response Report


For anyone with an interest in, or role related to, sustainability – try out a fresh new approach to sustainability to see how it might look in your organisation

Recommended Starting Point

Features include:

  • evaluate 32 potential sustainability benefits
  • experience a new way of thinking
  • capture observations and opportunities
  • PDF report: response summary and analysis
  • comprehensive suggested next actions
  • discount on Team evaluation

Recommended Next Step

All features of “Individual”, plus:

  • engage a representative team*
  • extend a new way of thinking
  • automated invitations, reminders and updates
  • PDF response report for each team member
  • aggregated and anonymised Team PDF report
  • identify alignment or perception differences
  • establish shared purpose and motivation
  • clarify priorities and refocus resources

* max 15 people per team


For organisations ready to fully spread and scale sustainability – surface and channel everything needed to empower and embed vision and emergent best practice

Coming Soon

All features of “Team”, plus:

  • engage entire organisation
  • team/role comparison reporting
  • capture supporting evidence
  • capture suggested actions
  • custom content and process
  • interactive reporting dashboard
  • configurable and downloadable reports
  • advanced comment analysis and processing

From £xxxxx excl. VAT

To purchase an evaluation or if your requirements are not supported by the available options