How can Governments, Multilaterals and Foundations learn from Reporting 3.0’s Work Ecosystem?

By Ralph Thurm & Bill Baue

Do you know your TMDL? Of course not, as this is a fairly obscure acronym that stands for “Total Maximum Daily Load,” an element of US Clean Water Act enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency:

A TMDL is the calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant allowed to enter a waterbody so that the waterbody will meet and continue to meet water quality standards for that particular pollutant. A TMDL determines a pollutant reduction target and allocates load reductions necessary to the source(s) of the pollutant.

Why are we pointing this out? As you can tell from the emphasis added to the above quote, TMDLs enact a thresholdsand allocations approach, essentially flipping the traditional Sustainability Context application on its head. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) articulated this Principle (that plays such a central role in Reporting 3.0’s work) in a bottom-up (micro à macro) framing of “the organization’s performance in the wider context of sustainability”; TMDLs reverse this framing to work from top-down (macro àmicro) approaches, with government stewarding resources from a broader systems perspective that cascades down to the impact level.

What’s the issue?

We start thus to point out that governments, multilaterals, and foundations tend to operate at higher leverage points than companies — more at the meso to macro level. These players thus hold significant sway in triggering the kinds of transformative change needed to address our super wicked problems by spurring a shift to a Green, Inclusive, and Open Economy. Furthermore, governments, multilaterals, and foundations primarily represent not just market interests, but advocate for the interests of humans and our fellow species in the earth’s ecosystems.

Why it’s important?

However, Context-Based approaches such as TMDL are more of an exception than the rule for governments, multilaterals, and foundations alike. Often, governments, multilaterals, and foundations approach problem-solving in stove-pipe / symptoms-based ways, instead of integral / holistic / root-cause ways.

For example, Reporting 3.0 has worked with a foundation that focuses on entrepreneurs creating new sustainable business models, which is clearly a worthy approach; we at Reporting 3.0 have continually advocated for augmenting this with a focus on intrapreneurs transforming existing business models within large companies to tap into larger-scale impact. The foundation continually responded that this approach does not fall into any of their program areas.

While we lamented the ability to tap into further funding for ourselves, we had a much deeper concern about this foundation’s theory of change falling short on the scalability front. And we find that this is not an isolated case amongst foundations; the standard foundation model focuses on specific issues for program-based funding with accountability metrics that often remove the issue from its larger context.

And this critique can be applied to the government and multilateral worlds as well. This is precisely why the United Nations Environment Programme launched the Science-Policy-Business Forum: to “strengthen the interface between science, policy, business and society by tearing down traditional sectoral barriers and building consensus around key issues.” UNEP invited Reporting 3.0 to present on our Global Thresholds & Allocations Council work at the First Scoping Meeting of the Forum at UNHQ in New York in May 2018.

How can you tackle this?

Reporting 3.0 is establishing a Governments, Multilaterals, and Foundations Support Group, with the goal of support flowing mutually. Specifically, we at Reporting 3.0 frame our Blueprint Recommendations broadly to apply to governments, multilaterals, and foundations as well as corporates, investors, NGOs, etc… As well, our overall transformational approach is applicable for implementation by governments, multilaterals, and foundations.

For example, in April 2018, we convened a workshop in The Hague for a handful of Dutch Ministries where we plotted their programs on the Strategy Continuum, and identified a number of ways to enhance their approaches. Generalizing this more broadly, other governments, multilaterals, and foundations can benefit by looking at their work through the r3.0 lens to:

  • Clarify the effectiveness of policies vis-à-vis the system value creation challenge;
  • Position programs and their targets within the nano / micro / meso / macro continuum;
  • Design success measurements that transcend incremental solutions in favour of necessarily transformative, scalable solutions;
  • Right-size ambition levels, lest solutions remain too narrow to create system value;
  • Reward Positive Maverick thinking that questions your organization’s own unconscious biases, hidden agendas, hierarchical obstacles, and organizational shadows;
  • Take a context-based approach to sustainability that sets thresholds & allocations to respect capital resources that are vital to creating wellbeing.

Of course, Reporting 3.0 welcomes support of our programs, including:

  • Support for updating and writing of more Reporting 3.0 Blueprints to expand benefits for all (that you can also benefit from);
  • Support for various dissemination programs that Reporting 3.0 is offering, within your region, within your industry, within your focus group;
  • Becoming a member of the Reporting 3.0 Transformation Journey Program, which has a specific workstream for governments, multilaterals and foundations. Here we work with you to make best use of the Reporting 3.0 tools in a generic program, and help you applying the use of the instruments for your own benefit.

What will you have learned afterwards?

Governments, multilaterals, and foundations are indeed major amplifiers for change. Often their focus is too limited, on just one part of the world, one area of concern, one industry or supply chain. Reporting 3.0 applies the “transcend and include” approach of building off existing approaches while also introducing a broader context and mindset.

What will we discuss next time?

How can Civil Society Tap into the New Collective Consciousness to Spur Systemic Transformation? Please read part 23 here.

[Context of this series: This is part 22 of the Reporting 3.0 series that forms the basis of an Implementation Guide that summarizes the total value of Reporting 3.0 in implementing a future-ready sustainability strategy and disclosure approach, in line with the idea of a Green, Inclusive and Open Economy. By posting these articles here Reporting 3.0 seeks feedback in the writing process of the final document, to be released as Blueprint 5 at the 5th International Reporting 3.0 Conference in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on June 12/13, hosted by KPMG, see www.2018.reporting.org]