The path to tracking our impact

By Tori Calver

SBN Impact Report
For almost 20 years SBN has been focused on working with business to transform business. Last year we re-evaluated what role we could, and should, be playing.   

When I joined the SBN team last year, our CEO Rachel Brown talked about her vision to transition the organisation away from its traditional membership model into a network of impact investors. This was about moving the focus away from servicing individual members, to harnessing their collective power to meet the stark challenges we face through climate change, resource depletion and the degradation of our natural environment. For the SBN team the shift was a challenge to pick up our pace and hold ourselves accountable for our work.

In this transition SBN deliberately chose to use the word ‘investor’, though we knew it had problematic connotations. We wanted to increase the value of social and environmental returns (too often downgraded or ignored in the ‘triple bottom line’). In order to show the ‘returns’ back to our network, we set about delivering our first Impact Report.

Our first step was to get some outside help. Enter Adrian Field of Dovetail. Adrian hosted three workshops with our team. They focused on helping us to identify what we wanted to achieve and how we would go about measuring it. In our organisation we have three core programmes: Acting on Climate; Designing out Waste; Regenerating Nature. Within each programme we looked at what data we could use to document progress, identifying both what we wanted to measure and what could actually be measured

We mapped out short-term and long-term success in each core programme using the Big Shift Framework – a six-phase process of creating system change that SBN has been using since 2014, adopted and adapted from Forum to the Future.

SBN focuses, in particular, on the first four steps: Building on the need for change; Diagnosing the System; Creating Pioneering Practices; and Enabling the Tipping Point. The final two steps (Sustaining the Transition and Setting the New Rules of the Mainstream) are about continuing to establish and scale the change and require widespread government and business support.

System change is obviously a long process with multiple players. SBN definitely can’t achieve it alone. So, we have mapped out our slice of impact within each of these spheres, identifying where we are working to influence and effect change.

Just over a year on from our strategic shift as an organisation we have published our inaugural Impact Report.  It tells our system change story based on what is measurable. We have aimed to be transparent, accountable and honest. We recognise that our impact needs to be bigger and go wider. In the report we share our successes but also our challenges, as measuring our impact is not without difficulty. The systems to measure financial performance are well established, but this is not true of the systems to record social and environmental outcomes.

We are a network where connections are made. We can talk about events where we bring people together, but it is harder for us to measure all the tangible outcomes that occurred because of those people meeting. We are ultimately reliant on surveys and on-the-ground feedback for that.

Despite the challenges in recording our impact we believe we have much to celebrate. We will continue to hone our measures and processes as we look to scale our impact further.

SBN exists because of its network of impact investors. None of the work achieved could have happened without them and it’s our hope that the social and environmental impacts outlined in our report validates their investment in us.

You can download our Impact Report here. We’d love to know what you think, so please send any feedback to tori@sustainable.org.nz.