Sustainability Context

Principle: The report should present the organization’s performance in the wider context of sustainability.

Information on performance should be placed in context. The underlying question of sustainability reporting is how an organization contributes, or aims to contribute in the future, to the improvement or deterioration of economic, environmental and social conditions, developments and trends at the local, regional or global level. Reporting only on trends in individual performance (or the efficiency of the organization) fails to respond to this underlying question. Reports should therefore seek to present performance in relation to broader concepts of sustainability. This involves discussing the performance of the organization in the context of the limits and demands placed on environmental or social resources at the sector, local, regional, or global level. For example, this can mean that in addition to reporting on trends in eco-efficiency, an organization may also present its absolute pollution loading in relation to the capacity of the regional ecosystem to absorb the pollutant.

This concept is often most clearly articulated in the environmental arena in terms of global limits on resource use and pollution levels. However, it may also be relevant with respect to social and economic objectives such as national or international socio-economic and sustainable development goals. For example, an organization may report on employee wages and social benefit levels in relation to nation-wide minimum and median income levels, and the capacity of social safety nets to absorb those in poverty or those living close to the poverty line.

Organizations operating in a diverse range of locations, sizes, and sectors need to consider how to best frame their overall organizational performance in the broader context of sustainability. This may require distinguishing between topics or factors that drive global impacts (such as climate change) and those that have more regional or local impacts (such as community development). When reporting on topics that have positive or negative local impacts, it is important to provide insight into how the organization affects communities in different locations. Similarly, distinctions may need to be made between trends or patterns of impacts across the range of operations versus contextualizing performance location by location.

The organization’s own sustainability and business strategy provides the context in which to discuss performance. The relationship between sustainability and organizational strategy should be made clear, as should the context within which performance is reported.​

  • The organization presents its understanding of sustainable development and draws on objective and available information as well as measures of sustainable development for the topics covered in the report
  • The organization presents its performance with reference to broader sustainable development conditions and goals, as reflected in recognized sectoral, local, regional, or global publications
  • The organization presents its performance in a manner that attempts to communicate the magnitude of its impact and contribution in appropriate geographical contexts
  • The report describes how sustainability topics relate to long-term organizational strategy, risks, and opportunities, including supply chain topics