Measuring sustainability performance innovations

Measuring sustainability performance of innovations

Commissioned by TransForum

Blonk Consultants developed an innovative holistic method, to measure the sustainability performance of innovations on environmental, economic and social indicators. The method was established during an interactive development process in which we drafted, tested and adjusted the method in several iterative rounds while evaluating TransForum’s innovative initiatives. The developed method consists of an extensive set of indicators and a method for scoring these indicators. The chosen approach gives accurate results for the most important indicators. For some indicators, the approach needs to be developed further.

TransForum was a Dutch public organization that promoted innovation and developed knowledge for sustainable agriculture and liveable rural areas in the period 2005-2010. It strived for a better understanding of sustainable metropolitan agriculture by learning from innovative, multi-stakeholder project development.

Why measure sustainability performance?

Measuring sustainability performance is complex because an innovation does not necessarily result in improvements in all aspects of sustainability. For example, an improvement in environmental performance through a better feed conversion may be accompanied by a decline in employment opportunities or animal welfare. Negative effects often take place elsewhere in the supply chain and are easily neglected in the innovation process. So, there is a need for an approach that enables an easy continuous assessment of sustainability performance that makes possible trade offs in the sustainability field visible. Such an approach is helpful to guide innovations over time and prevent the introduction of non-sustainable innovations, or to detect and improve shortcomings of still promising innovations. The philosophy of assessing and guiding innovations over time is illustrated in figure 2. One must realize that the baseline is often characterized by a slow but steady improvement in sustainability performance.

How to measure sustainability performance

The methodology developed evaluates and explores possibilities for sustainability improvements for local effects, global effects and system effects. The method is based on different existing international standards and scientific publications. The most important guidelines and approaches used are:

  • Life Cycle Assessment, including ISO 14040 and ISO 14044;
  • Social Life Cycle Assessment;
  • Guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative, ISO 14064;
  • Poverty footprint;
  • International Labour Organization Conventions;
  • Corporate Social Responsibility guidelines ISO 26000.

The scoring system combines qualitative and quantitative assessment results. Critical success factors are identified, which give essential information on risks and opportunities and can be used for strengthening the design or defining the conditions for (further) investments and making the initiative operational.

For what kind of innovations

The methodology is applied for innovative products, innovations in production systems, innovative production chain connections or innovative initiatives/ services. An example of a project on innovative production chain is a new housing system for laying hens, called Rondeel. The sustainability propositions of Rondeel are improving animal welfare and labour conditions for farmers and employers. Rondeels score on sustainability performance has been measured and a summary is displayed in figure 3.

More information about this project?

Please contact Hans Blonk, director.
E-mail hans@blonkconsultants.nl
Tel +31 (0)182 579970