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One price tag for impacts – a critical reflection on the standardization of impact measurement and valuation

About the event

The second of Hilary term's R:ETRO - Reputation: Ethics, Trust, and Relationships at Oxford - seminar series.

Laura Edinger-Schons, Professor of Sustainable Business and Chief Sustainability Officer at Universität Hamburg will be the guest speaker for a seminar being hosted by Alan Morrison, Professor of Law and Finance at Saïd Business School, and Rita Mota, International Research Fellow at Saïd Business School and Assistant Professor at ESADE Business School, as part of the R:ETRO seminar series - Reputation: Ethics, Trust, and Relationships at Oxford.

In the quest for transparency about sustainability impacts of corporations, various initiatives are developing and piloting methods of impact measurement and valuation, ie, the assignment of monetary values to businesses’ positive as well as negative impacts on people and the environment. In this seminar, I propose to examine the process of quantification and standardization of sustainability impacts with a special focus on the potential ambivalence within these processes.

While quantification and standardization promise to bring the unseen into the light and urge managers to take sustainability impacts into account when steering their companies, the idea of standardization has reached a myth-like status and implies the possibility of one central viewpoint on the value of impacts which neglects the multiplicity of worldviews and value judgments.

I argue that the process of method development and standardization which is currently underway lacks widespread participation and, as a consequence, could be viewed as a form of neocolonialism. Further, the omnipresent call for standardization can be argued to counter the need for distributed experimentation, which has been called for to address grand challenges like sustainability issues. I invite the group to reflect on our role as academic community in co-developing such standards.