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Key Practice Area - Data & Metrics - Developing Social Metrics
Key Practice Area: Data & Metrics

Developing Social Metrics

May 2011

Learn how leadership companies have approached the challenge of reporting on their social impacts, and new tools for identifying social indicators throughout the product/service lifecycle.


While companies increasingly are reporting the environmental, social and governance impact of their products, the "social” leg of the triple bottom line has received less attention. In this section, you will find:

Case study: Learn how the Coca-Cola Co. is improving its water usage and giving back to communities.

Presentations: "Looking to the Future: Developing Social Metrics,” from the October 2010 EHS Management Forum features presentations by:

  • Catherine Benoit, Social Assessments and Strategy Director; New Earth and Lead Developer; UNEP Social Life Cycle Assessment Guidelines
  • Paul Bowen, Water Technology Director, The Coca-Cola Co.
  • Tom Laginess, Sr. Sustainability Specialist, BASF Chemicals

Resources: This list of recommended resources will help you learn more about labor conditions worldwide and assist you with developing a social life cycle assessment

Case Study

How Coca-Cola Co. is improving their water usage and giving back to communities

In 2004, The Coca-Cola Co. committed to improving its global water impact both environmentally and socially. The beverage company recognized that water, the main ingredient to its product, is "a limited natural resource facing unprecedented challenges from over-exploitation, increasing population and poor management,” according to a company report.

The following year, Coca-Cola sent a risk model of 300 questions to 1000 of their plants to help determine the social metrics of their water use. During the next three years, the company profiled each facility, built a global profile, examined how to solve the issues and mitigate the risks, and built it into a business plan.

With all that information, the company developed a global water vision with the goal to "safely return to communities and nature an amount of water equivalent to what we use in all of our beverages and their production.”

With Coca-Cola embarking on a new territory, Paul Bowen, Water Technology Director, said they were faced with a large challenge.

"Nobody told us how we were going to do this, so we had to figure it out,” he said.

One of the key areas of the company’s global water stewardship strategy is plant performance, which provides clear useable metrics of their water efficiency and wastewater treatment.

The company also looks at where the various plants sources their water. Each plant must complete a source vulnerability assessment and have a source water protection program.

"By 2013 they’ll all be done so we’ll know what the risks are in each of those plants to the source of water and what they need to do,” Bowen said.

Goals around Social Sustainability
Their strategy also includes sustainable communities, where they look at community water partnership and replenish programs.

"Without sustainable communities, our business or any business cannot be sustainable,” Bowen said. "We try to help the communities where we operate to be sustainable.”

The final piece of Coca-Cola’s strategy is leadership, where they raise global awareness of water use and its impacts on communities through partnerships with groups like The Nature Conservancy or the World Wildlife Fund.

To achieve their main goal around water use, the company set performance targets focused on reducing, recycling and replenishing.

Reduce: To be the most efficient converter into water in beverage as possible. As part of their partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, they set a goal to improve water efficiency by 20 percent by 2012 using a 2004 baseline.

Recycle: To align the company's entire global system with stringent wastewater treatment standards which require returning all the water that is used in its manufacturing processes to the environment at the level that supports aquatic life by the end of 2010

Replenish: To expand and support healthy watershed and sustainable community water programs to balance the water used in finished beverages.

These targets help strengthen the environmental and social aspects of the communities where Coca-Cola operates.

Tracking Goals

Bowen said some of the goals are easier to track and measure than others. As far as the company’s reduction goal, in Oct. 2010 Bowen said they were on track to meet the target goal.

"We’re making more beverages with less water,” he said.

The recycling goal is also easy to measure and track. "We’ve got 90 percent of our operations and 96 percent of our wastewater volume completely aligned with our corporate standard,” Bowen said in 2010. He anticipated the company would meet the goal by mid-year 2011.

Measuring Social Metrics
The replenish goal, which is most closely tied to the social aspect, has been the hardest to measure, but the company came up with a formula:

Total amount of water used in manufacturing-treated wastewater=product volume and amount to replenish.

"We do that by establishing community partnerships and projects,” Bowen siad. In 2010 Coca-Cola had around 280 projects in more than 80 countries.

In Bolivia, the company reforested a watershed to help protect it. In Mali, it provided a well and sanitation facilities. In Indonesia it offered hygiene promotion programs, reforestation and promoted green schools.

To quantify how much those projects actually add to the watershed, the company partnered with organizations like the Nature Conservancy; together they determined these efforts had replenished about 15=16 percent of the volume.

While much work has already gone in to making Coca-Cola’s water usage more sustainable, Bowen said, "We’ve got a ways to go."


Click here to view the "Looking to the Future: Developing Social Metrics” presentations from the October 2010 EHS Management Forum.

This content is freely available to NAEM members only. If you are not an NAEM member and wish to purchase these presentations, please contact Briana Warner at


Social Metrics Resources

Guidelines for Social Life Cycle Assessment of Products

Created by the Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), these guidelines present the Social and socio-economic Life Cycle Assessment (S-LCA). The S-CLA is a technique to assess and report on the impacts of a product’s life cycle and provides the technical framework for stakeholder engagement.


International Organization for Standardization

Most commonly known as ISO, this network is the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards.

International Labour Organization

The ILO is the international organization responsible for drawing up and overseeing international labour standards. An agency of the United Nations, the organization’s website provides a variety of publications, such as flagship reports on all aspects of work from around the world.

Global Reporting Initiative

A network-based organization that pioneered the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting framework.

ISEAL Alliance

This global association for social and environmental standards develops guidance and helps strengthen the impact of standards for business, governments and consumers.

United Nations Global Compact

The Global Compact is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.

Social Accountability International

This organization’s mission is to advance the human rights of workers worldwide. They’ve developed a variety of services for companies, trade unions, NGOs and governments for more socially responsible practices.

Fair Labor Association

This organization is dedicated to ending sweatshop conditions in factories around the world. The FLA has developed a Workplace Code of Conduct, based on ILO standards, and created a practical monitoring, remediation and verification process to achieve those standards.

People 4 Earth

This organization influences both consumer and company behavior. People 4 Earth focuses on increasing consumer awareness and inspiring companies to create safe, healthy products.

New Earth

This organization initiates, facilitates and implements strategies to help achieve sustainable development around the world. Their current flagship projects are Earthster and Social Hotspots Database.

Social Metrics Tracking Tools


Earthster is a tool to collect, analyze and publically disseminate data about social and environmental performance in the supply chain.

Social Hotspots Database

This database creates visibility in the supply chain. It shows which country-specific sectors represent the greatest share of worker hours in a given supply chain, which ones have the greatest risk of human rights and social issues, and which ones represent opportunities to implement positive change.


Sourcemap is a free online service where users can create open supply chains for products, food and travel, using a shared carbon catalog and life cycle assessment (LCA) tools.

This database project shows the origins of thousands of products, from cell phones and computers to vehicles.


This United Kingdom-based traceability service allows information relating to any product to be received and sent by users anywhere within a supply chain. Companies can send information about their materials and processes to their customers.

Global Social Compliance Programme

This business-driven program is for the continuous improvement of working and environmental conditions in global supply chains. It provides a “global cross-industry platform to promote the exchange of knowledge and best practices in order to build comparability and transparency between existing social compliance and environmental compliance systems,” according to its website.


Ecological Intelligence

By Daniel Goleman
This book shows the hidden environmental consequences of what people buy and make. Goleman also discusses why many products are falsely labeled ‘green’ and teaches consumers and businesses alike how to better assess how green they actually are.

Raising the Global Floor: Dismantling the Myth That We Can’t Afford Good Working Conditions for Everyone

By Jody Heymann and Alison Earle
The book addresses working conditions worldwide through analyses of the connection among labor conditions, national competitiveness and unemployment rates. The authors also examine the impact of legislation on improving working conditions in various countries.

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