These days, the word sustainability is thrown around quite liberally. In some cases it has become a catchall phrase for nearly everything having to do with local enterprise, and some organizations seem to toss around the word without much consideration of its meaning. However, in the years before sustainability gained status as a trend, people at PCC Natural Markets were considering how to integrate a greater awareness of sustainability issues into their cooperative organization, as well as measure specific outcomes of their activities.
Back in the year 2000, a committee made up of board and staff went through a process of looking at how the co-op’s work toward greater sustainability could be quantified. Their work had resulted in a sustainability matrix that helps them measure the results of their triple bottom line goals:
- Economic growth and sustainable business practices
- Environmental balance and eco-efficiency
- Social progress and corporate social responsibility
As the board gained traction in its work with Policy Governance® and developed their ends policies, measuring the mission became even more critical. Randy Lee, chief financial officer at PCC said, “The ends have such breadth that it’s important to break it down into components. It’s easier to see how we’re doing.”
At the time the matrix was created, Lee said it “was a matter of assembling what was, and organizing that info across departments. We used it to aggregate things, to see how we were doing on the triple bottom line.”
Although Lee said they don’t reinvent the matrix in response to results, it is still very much a work in progress. “Measuring the mission is the most rational thing to do and the hardest thing to do, but it’s also the most significant thing to measure…are we getting closer to where we intend to be?” Lee is looking for ways for the organization to stretch itself to manifest the co-op’s mission as a truly sustainable organization. “It’s nice when you have good results, but this also has the potential to help you see other things.”
Over the years they’ve added new metrics to their sustainability matrix, including the marketing department, for example, and its affect on sales of local and organic meats, produce and deli that serve the co-op’s mission to sell high quality, sustainably produced products. It will be measured by tracking the percentage of products sold that meet such criteria.
Lee said he has seen his own understanding of the correlation between the governance role and his job’s relationship to reaching their expected outcomes through the development of key indicators for organizational sustainability. He started out thinking of it as a useful management tool because it made accountability readily understood. Now he also appreciates the broader function of how doing it has also served the board and membership, “because it keeps reminding us to see if the co-op is going in the direction we intended.”