Context-Based Sustainability (CBS)
There is a growing consensus, we think, that the time for context-based sustainability in corporate sustainability management may have come. And none too soon, mind you. After all, the concept has been firmly ensconced in the Global Reporting Initiative’s guidelines for sustainability measurement and reporting for more than a decade now. What exactly is context-based sustainability, or CBS, though?
Very simply, CBS is an approach for measuring, managing and reporting sustainability performance against standards of performance for what impacts on social and environmental resources in the world must be (or not be) in order to be sustainable. Such standards, in turn, are (a) grounded in the principle of ensuring stakeholder well-being, (b) take the existing state of relevant social and environmental conditions explicitly into account, and (c) should not, if generalized to the population as a whole, put the quality or sufficiency of vital resources or human well-being at risk.
The determination of context in corporate or organizational settings is a three-step process. The first step is to determine which vital capital resources in the world an organization is having impact on, or should be having impact on, in ways that can affect stakeholder well-being. The second step is to determine whom the responsible population is for preserving, producing and/or maintaining the vital capitals involved. The third step is to determine what an organization’s proportionate duties and obligations are to have impacts on vital capitals, given the results of the first and second steps.
Once an organization has determined what its duties and obligations are to have impact (or not) on vital capitals, such duties and obligations can be used as standards of performance, against which actual impacts on vital capitals can be measured, managed and reported. Note here that such standards of performance are (a) specific to an organization in light of what it does and who its stakeholders are, and (b) can be entirely self-selected and need not necessarily reflect consensus-based standards of any kind.