Why complexity matters when measuring sustainability

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

This is part of a series examining the pitfalls of sustainability measurements, drawing on lessons from outside the business world. For more, see parts 1, 2 and 3.

In the last two months, our atmosphere has passed the 400-ppm carbon threshold. Unlike the sound barrier, this number doesn’t mark an abrupt physical change of state. It’s a symbol of the now increasingly likely future when climate change substantially affects life on earth.

Still, even as a negative marker, 400 ppm tells us just how urgent it is that even useful and popular tools such as metrics take more leaps. Metrics aren’t just markers. In order to guide us, metrics should take account of the reality of the complex world in which we actually operate, no matter how unfamiliar or uncomfortable that may sometimes seem. Systems thinking needs to be better understood, taken to a higher level and brought into the world of metrics.

We note that systems thinking is starting to come up in sustainable business conversations, but remain concerned about persistent mindsets that ignore complexity. Without it, sustainability practitioners are unequipped to grapple with a point that should come up early in metrics work: “Did we just miss something very important?”

Author: Laura B.

I'm the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center's Sustainability Information Curator, which is a fancy way of saying embedded librarian. I'm also Executive Director of the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. When not writing for Environmental News Bits, I'm an avid reader. Visit Laura's Reads to see what I'm currently reading.

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