When it comes to sustainability management and planning – or any strategic management and planning endeavor – measuring performance serves vital functions, signaling whether or not a plan or strategy is succeeding, acting as a bridge between planning and implementation, and allowing for informed corrective action.  It means setting up systems of measurement and accountability to know that desired outcomes are being met as planned.

While this sounds simple enough, we frequently encounter organizations that do not systematically measure their sustainability performance. As a result, they may have ambitious goals but no way of knowing if they’re achieving their desired outcomes. What’s more, they may be missing out on the opportunity to use performance metrics to foster dialogue about what’s important to them, a tactic the City of Aspen, Colorado took with the help of Brendle Group this spring to develop an environmental sustainability dashboard.

As an organization’s or community’s sustainability efforts mature over time, many naturally evolve into more integrated approaches with a focus on stronger performance measurement and management. We’re seeing this in the ski and tourism industry we serve, where ski areas are measuring their greenhouse gas baselines and setting future targets through the National Ski Area Association’s Climate Challenge. Local governments like Fort Collins, Colorado have hired dedicated staff with expertise in data quality management to help measure and manage their sustainability programs.

As the adage goes, what you can measure you can manage, and when it comes to sustainability, staying in it over the long haul is the key to success. Many sustainability plans, such as those addressing climate mitigation, have long-term horizons that require performance measurement to stay on track.

Communities and regions across the country have also found that performance measurement in the form of sustainability indicators is the “glue” that binds together their efforts, acting as vital signs for topics like ecosystem health, economic resiliency, and social well-being. That’s the intent, for example in the Yellowstone region and in Toledo-Lucas County, Ohio, where Brendle Group is working to develop sustainability metrics and indicators as part of broader sustainability planning efforts. Even at the scale of a small company and building like ours at Brendle Group, we take stock of our performance every year and use performance metrics to tell us where we need to apply increased thought and action to work toward our goals.

Does your community, organization, or company track its sustainability performance? How have you benefited, and what have been your challenges? We invite you to leave your thoughts, tips, and other comments on our blog.