Straight Talk: We Are What We Measure
The data and signals we track and respond to are telling. As Donella Meadows wisely stated, “The shared idea in the minds of society, the great big unstated assumptions — unstated because unnecessary to state; everyone already knows them — constitute that society’s paradigm, or deepest set of beliefs about how the world works.” Indeed, what we measure says a lot about what we value.
In order to improve the relevance of information to which our region pays attention and responds, Sustainable Pittsburgh publishes the SWPA Sustainability Goals and Indicators Report. The report’s 29 goals and measures reflect the systems-level issues our region needs to improve upon for true progress — for sustainable development.
Regarding the prospects for alignment with the true north of sustainability, we find optimism in the rapid pace at which the corporate world is responding to consumer and market signals. For example, remarkable is the advent of new performance criteria being used to assess what CEOs are paid. The Conference Board is holding a conference about this positive trend. For example, Royal Dutch Shell recently committed to linking executive bonuses to the corporation’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Microsoft is tying executive bonuses to workforce diversity goals, as are Johnson & Johnson and many others. Alcoa ties 20 percent of executive cash compensation to environmental, social and governance stewardship, including voluntary GHG reductions, energy efficiency, and diversity goals. Such leading companies are responding to investors and other stakeholders that demand enhanced disclosures for responsibility. They are harbingers of the global movement to redefine the measures of what matters for true progress in the fits-and-starts pathway to sustainable development.