Sustainability Assessments: World-Wide or Within Your Company…It All Matters

World Leaders, environmental experts, and social and economic dignitaries attended the Rio+20 Conference held in Rio de Janiero this past June, producing a 49 page document entitled The Future We Want , detailing insights from the past, and outlining the future focus of Sustainability practices for our World. The Conference, officially known as The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), was the third in a series of United Nations collaborative assessments of the future of our planet.

In Rio in 1992, the Conference was called The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED); ten years later, in 2002, in Johannesburg, World Leaders and invested participants attended The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). Sustainable development takes care of the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations, focusing on economic development, social development and environmental protection.

In June, the attendees committed to “working together for a world that is equitable, just, and inclusive, to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development, and environmental protection to thereby benefit all.”

Are we any better off twenty years later? Have there been actual improvements to our World, achieved by the practice of green conservation, sustainable construction, and fair practice? Have we fed the poor and eliminated our need for fossil fuels? According to Rio 20+, “we” are working on it although not as far along as originally hoped.

We can see the activity around us: less plastic in throw-away water bottles, emission controls, re-cycling initiatives and practices, celebrity concerts to aid impoverished nations, and non-profit foundation hands-on training to eradicate hunger through sustainable farming and conservation practices. But the conference concluded that there have been set backs to past initiatives due to unrest, natural disasters, economic, food and energy crises around the globe. The following concerns were determined as primary focus points, in order to go forward:

  • Eradicating Poverty is the greatest global challenge facing the world today, an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
  • Reaffirmation of the Rio Principles and Johannesburg Past Action Plans, including inter alia, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Assessing the progress, as we strive toward the goals.
  • Mainstreaming sustainable development, by integrating economic, social, and environmental links.
  • Education toward the changing of unsustainable patterns of consumption and productivity in poorer regions, protecting and managing their natural resources, where their economy is usually based.
  • Re-assessing as new challenges emerge.

Sustainability assessments are not only the responsibility of World Leaders, Foundations, Celebrities, and Large Corporations. Individuals, in their daily life, and small to mid-sized businesses must make an effort to assess what they have done or need to do within their own environment to protect the future of our planet. There will be an eventual “tipping point” when even more will be accomplished, if we all do our part.

You can read the complete Rio+20 document in the link above, and contact us at eco-officiency for further planning ideas about what you or your business can do. We can help you assess the situation where you are, and achieve your sustainability goals.

It begins with a small step in the right direction.

Sustainability Assessment Recommended Books

There are a few books that can also help organizations conduct their own self sustainability assessments. Here are the top recommended sustainability assessment books;

Flawless Consulting, Peter Block: This is a classic book on conducting assessments for any topic. It was published more than a decade ago and still highly relevant.

Sustainability Assessment: Criteria and Processes, Robert Gibson: A book specifically on conducting sustainability assessments.

Corporate Sustainability Planning Assessment Guide: A Comprehensive Organizational Assessment, Donald Fisher: This manual is designed to serve as a guide for an organization s self-assessment on its corporate sustainability efforts.

Business Guide to Sustainability, Darcy Hitchcock and Marsh Willard: Winner of Choice Magazine – Outstanding Academic Titles for 2007 in Sustainability category. Both Marsha and Darcy are sustainability consultants and the book discusses each primary of an organization and provides their SCORE assessment tool for each primary department and division.

Sustainability Assessment Tools- Small to Medium Sized Businesses

Some organizations want to conduct their own sustainability assessments. If so, here are some assessment tools and resources;


eco-officiency: Developed in Excel, this sustainability assessment tool has over 360 questions customized for each primary area and department of an organization. Departments include Administration, HR, IT, Facilities and Operations, Marketing and Communications, Purchasing, Finance, Accounting, Product and Research/Development, Events and Conferences. Organizations can have departments answer the questions themselves or it can be conducted at a management meeting. The cost to download this sustainability assessment is $75.

Three Steps to Eco-Efficiency, Canada: This assessment tool was developed by the Ministry of Environment of Canada to assist small and medium-sized manufacturers to develop an eco-efficiency program that is custom tailored to their business needs. The tool is a free download.

Earth Charter: This assessment is a free download available from Earth Charter International. The assessment is designed to improve practices based on the Earth Charter principles.

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Measuring Impact Framework: The WBCSD developed a framework to assess the contribution of business to the economic and broader development goals in the societies where business operates. It is designed to help companies understand their contribution to society and use this understanding to inform their operational and long-term investment decisions, and have better-informed conversations with stakeholders.

The International Society of Sustainability Professionals released in 2010 a consolidated list of Sustainability Assessments. For members it is a free download and for non-members there is a fee to download.

Sustainability Assessment Questions: Understanding Your Footprint

Although there are robust and technical environmental audits, often small companies don’t necessarily need such detail to understand their environmental impacts. Smaller companies can conduct sustainability assessments that are more geared to their business. Assessments not only review the footprint of organization operations but will also identify opportunities to improve environmental stewardship, save money, improve productivity and increase customer and employee loyalty.

To conduct your own sustainability assessment, reach out to each department or division of a company and hold informational interviews. Although more information can be gathered through in-person meetings, an organization can also conduct an assessment via an online survey. Develop a series of questions that ask specifically what each area is doing to reduce resource use and minimize environmental impact.  Some organizations also like to assess the social side of business and determine how employees are engaged in the community and the non-profit organizations they support.

Here are is a list of some sample questions to ask by each sustainability topic area:

Waste Management: Is recycling provided as an option? If so, what percentage of the employees participates in office recycling?

Suppliers and Purchasing: Are office supplies purchased made from post-consumer recycled material? How many of your vendors are local suppliers? Has your purchasing department developed in guidelines that take into account green businesses practices?

Paper Reduction: What paper reduction policies and/or practices has the company done? Is the company’s marketing giveaways made from recycled material and/or recyclable?

Energy Conservation: How has your company tried to reduce energy? Do you own any energy star equipment? Does staff turn off equipment in the evenings?

Water Conservation: How has your company tried to reduce water? What water saving devices are installed in your facilities?

Toxins and Chemicals: What types of cleaning chemicals are used in your office? Is there any toxic or hazardous material located at the facilities?

Transportation: If you have a transportation fleet, what measures have you taken to reduce driving?

Employees: Does the company have any communications educating employees about conservation of resources?

Philanthropy: How does your company contribute to the community? Donations? Volunteer programs?

Test Your Green Knowledge

Want to test your green knowledge? Well now you can with National Geographic Green Guide Quizzes.

These quizzes are 10 questions each and do a good job to see if you really know your stuff. Don’t worry if you get the answer wrong, it will give the correct information so you can get 100% the second time around. Topics range from various rooms and mechanical aspects in your home to topics such as organic gardening, plastics, water, travel and energy.

These quizzes are fun and easy to take. Consider using them before sustainability trainings or integrate them into your green team meetings.

Key Elements to Prepare for a Sustainability Plan: Conduct an Assessment

Step 2: Conduct an Assessment

It is important to get an overview of what green initiatives a company has already started along with the areas that have the potential for improvement with regards to environmental and social responsibility. Reach out to each department or division of a company and hold information interviews. Although more information can be gathered through in-person meetings, an organization can also conduct an assessment via an online survey. Develop a series of questions that ask specifically what each area is doing to reduce resource use and minimize environmental impact.  Some organizations also like to assess the social side of business and how engaged they are in the community and supporting non-profit organizations. Eco-officiency has developed an assessment tool with a series of questions for each major department of an organization that can be downloaded at under the Resources tab.

There are a number of assessment tools on the market here are a few other recommendations; SCORE; PROBE; WBSCD Measuring Impact Framework

SCORE Assessment

green light bulbA great new easy assessment tool, SCORE is a sustainability self-assessment that identifies opportunities to improve sustainability performance within small and medium sized companies. It also provides a baseline measure against other companies who have taken SCORE to determine where a company lies with sustainability measures within different departmental areas. It was developed by AXIS Performance Advisors in conjunction with the International Sustainable Development Foundation and the Zero Waste Alliance. On their website, they have licensed facilitators to administer SCORE, including eco-officiency who services the Denver/ Boulder metro area.