Performance Indicators

Financial Report Sustainability Report

The statements found in financial annual reports provide the organization’s financial performance according to generally accepted accounting principles, also referred to as GAAP.  Three statements are standard:

  • balance sheet;
  • income statement (also called results of operations or operating statement); and
  • cash flow statement.

Two or three years of statements are available for trend analysis of performance.  The statements are found toward the back of the annual report along with the notes which provide additional information to interpret the statements.

Reports often contain a set of indicators in three separate sections of the report:

  • economic;
  • environmental; and
  • social.

Indicators representing material impacts of the organization will help the reader to assess an organization’s performance over a period of three to five years.

There is no standard set of reporting principles, such as financial accounting GAAP. However, there are guidelines available, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) that provide core indicators and additional indicators for each of the three dimensions of sustainability. If following GRI, every organization reports core indicators. Additional indicators are for advanced reporters.

Indicators can be found in two locations:

  • throughout the report as various topics are discussed; or
  • all together in one place (similar to a scorecard or the financial statements), usually toward the end of the report.

What Happens in Practice?

Coca-Cola, a global beverage company, accounts for its performance in seven key areas:

  • Beverage Benefits,
  • Active Healthy Living,
  • Community,
  • Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection,
  • Sustainable Packaging,
  • Water Stewardship, and
  • Workplace

Click here to view.

Suncor, an energy company, provides key performance measures in a summary report and a full performance report on its website. Click here to view.
Fast Facts

Based on a sample of nearly 500 of the largest corporations in the world producing sustainability report, the majority use indicators to monitor progress:

67 percent had performance measurement systems and set future targets

– Source: CSR Trends 2010

What Stakeholders Say…about Performance

“In the institutional market there is a growing acceptance that environmental and social factors have an impact on the long-term investment performance and investors want to ensure that those factors are taken into consideration in portfolio decisions.”

“In the retail market, for the ordinary individual investors, I think there is a growing consciousness that their investment decisions have an impact on the state of the world. Capital can be deployed to companies either to improve sustainability or to work against it. Just as consumers are becoming more conscious of their roles as ethical consumers, similarly investors are becoming more conscious about their roles as ethical investors.”

“I think companies that are reporting are more in tune with what’s going on internally and what their impact is. If they are not doing reporting, there are a lot of things that they will miss. Sustainability reporting acts as an audit on a lot of different factors just like a financial audit.”

– Quotes from Stakeholders


Just as the three most common financial statements have different purposes in interpreting performance, a sustainability report has different types of indicators in three categories: economic, environmental, and social.

An organization should use a mix of indicators. The mix can consist of any of the following:

  • input, output, outcome
  • efficiency, effectiveness
  • leading, lagging
  • eco-efficiency, cross-cutting

(See the Performance Module for more detail.)