Measuring Sustainability - Zones of Control & Influence

There are basically four zones of influence an organization has on sustainability in the world.

There are basically four zones of influence an organization has on sustainability in the world.

What is sustainability?

For the purposes of this article, we will include the following within "sustainability" (taken from The Natural Step)

The organzation eliminating its contribution to environmental issues:

  • pollution from mined substances
  • pollution from substances produced by society
  • environmental degradation by physical means

And ensures that people are not subjected to conditions that undermine their capacity to meet their needs within society - specifically:

  • in no way puts the health of its stakeholders at risk
  • in no way prevents its stakeholders from having a voice
  • in no way undermines the opportunity for its stakeholders to learn and grow
  • in no way undermines the opportunity for its stakeholders from being treated impartially
  • in no way prevents it stakeholders from creating meaning in the their lives

Zone 1: Control

Within an organization's operations you have almost complete control over its impact on society and the environment.

You can make sure people are treated, paid, and heard as well as given opportunities to grow and create meaning.

You also have control how the resources you use are gathered and processed.

Zone 2: Significant Influence

Within your supplier and customer networks you have considerable influence that you must not ignore.

We can all think of recent cases - like Nike - when the organization did not influence their supplier network and were held accountable for non-sustainable activities.

Think of the efforts make by coffee shops to ensure their coffee bean growers are treated fairly.

How you market, build, distribute and support your products/services, the waste created as your customers use and dispose of your product, also significantly influences your customers...think of automakers like Smart and Tesla.

Zone 3: Moderate Influence

Organizations have moderate influence over their stakeholders through the information provided and the context in which it is presented. If your strategy is towards higher sustainability, your communications need to make that clear so that you attract the right investors, guide the communities you operate in, and influence your competitors.

How, where and when you donate is also a lever for influencing the world you operate in.

Zone 4: Knock-on Influence

As your suppliers, customers, stakeholders and sponsored organizations interact with their networks, your influence can still be felt through knock-on effects. You need to guide your zones 1,2 and 3 in a way to maximize your impact on zone 4.



Organizations cannot change the world at once... but each organization can proactively improve sustainability within their zones of control and influence.

The Sustainability Scorecard

Within the sustainability scorecard we need to set targets, measure and monitor an organzations progress across all four zones.

Brett Knowles

Brett Knowles is a thought leader in the Strategy Execution space for high-tech organizations. His client work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fortune, and many other business publications.

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