What is impact management?
All enterprises have effects on people and the planet – through their products or services, their distribution channels, their operations and governance and their supply chains.
Impact management is a process of figuring out which effects experienced by people and the planet are material, both positive and negative. Guided by this assessment, and our intentions and constraints, we set impact goals and financial goals. We put in place the governance and processes to deliver consistently on those goals, and also collect new information about the experience of people and the planet so that we can continuously improve.
We can start managing our impact at any time – whether we’re already running an enterprise, or have a portfolio of enterprises, or we’re starting something from scratch. Explore how to understand the experience of people and planet, define your intentions and constraints, set impact and financial goals and deliver & improve impact.
Why do we need shared fundamentals to manage impact?
Many of us are looking to manage our impact. Whether we experience the effects ourselves, run an enterprise, invest our money, study social science or make policy decisions, our decisions rely on sharing information about impact with each other. For example, enterprises rely on information about impact from the people they affect and investors rely on information from enterprises.
To manage impact, we therefore need a shared understanding of the effects that people and planet are experiencing. This informs the goals we all set and deliver against, and allows us to adapt our approach as we learn more about what’s working (or not).
We all want to use resources, frameworks and tools that are best suited to our context. The important thing is to be able to look at whatever information we share with each other about impact and observe the same fundamentals.
Hundreds of practitioners, from different contexts and countries, have come together to agree on shared fundamentals for how we communicate impact to each other. Having widely shared fundamentals that help us to manage our impact does not mean that we all use the same resources, frameworks or tools. We want to use resources, whether proprietary or ‘off-the-shelf’, that suit our own context. Some people want detailed information frequently; others want less detailed information, less frequently. But it does require us to be able to look at whatever information we share with each other about impact and observe the same fundamentals.
Why are shared fundamentals important for enterprises?
Any enterprise directly affecting people or the planet – whether a large multinational, a small business or a non-profit – has an interest in understanding the impact it has, positive or negative. Some care because the creation of positive impact for people and planet is why they exist; some are driven by a concern about regulatory and reputational risk; some see it as a way to unlock commercial value (for example, cost-cutting through energy savings or increasing workforce retention or customer loyalty); some want to harness commerce to create positive impact that can run under its own steam; and some just believe that businesses should respect society and want to live up to that ideal.
Whatever their agenda, shared fundamentals allow enterprises of all kinds to understand the impact goals of others (from their customers and employees, to investors or funders, to policymakers), so that those working together can agree on how best to deliver and improve.
Practically-speaking, if an enterprise’s stakeholders have a shared understanding of what impact is and how to manage it, it’s easier to collect and share the right data. An enterprise that understands and describes its social and environmental impact according to the same fundamentals that other disciplines use (such as social science or development) will also find it easier to work in partnership with others, for everyone’s benefit. Read more about our shared understanding of impact here.
Why are shared fundamentals important for investors?
In finance, we use shared fundamentals about performance – such as return, volatility and liquidity – to describe and manage against our respective financial goals. We also use asset classes, which group investments with similar financial performance, to facilitate alignment with investor expectations. Financial capital flows, and the investment management ecosystem has grown, not just because we have common accounting standards but because we have evolved these shared fundamentals for communicating and aligning our expectations. It would be impossible to uphold ‘fiduciary duty’ if we didn’t.
Investors also need shared fundamentals for understanding the effects that different underlying enterprises – or portfolios of enterprises – have on people and planet. Without this, we are faced with a growing array of labels that make it hard to understand which investment products offer investors the best chance to achieve their intentions and goals.
ESG integration? Negative or positive screening? Best-in-class? Responsible or Sustainable or Impact investing? Thematic investing? Values alignment? Widely shared fundamentals for describing impact will help all of us to differentiate investments on the basis of their effects on people and planet – and facilitate more efficient matching of the growing array of investment opportunities with the intentions and goals of different investors.
Explore the section on Goals to see how a shared understanding of investments’ effects on people and planet can help us to categorise the landscape of investment opportunities.