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Revised SEEBALANCE® Methodology allows for improved assessment of social aspects

September 26, 2017

With SEEBALANCE® being introduced in 2005, BASF for the first time presented a methodology designed to measure all the three pillars of sustainability – environment, society and economy. This methodology has now been fundamentally revised in terms of assessing social aspects: qualitive factors will from now on be increasingly spotlighted. SEEBALANCE® is valuable when it comes to identifying relevant topics and opens up new opportunities on how to improve sustainability along the value chain.

Measuring sustainability is an important prerequisite for making strategic decisions. BASF has developed several instruments to measure sustainability whereby the utilization of each method depends on the concrete purpose or issue in question.

Thanks to the SEEBALANCE® methodology, it is possible to measure the ecological and economic consequences of alternate products or processes while simultaneously integrating findings on their impact on society into the analysis. Social criteria and objectives – such as education, health or working conditions – are becoming increasingly important which is why these factors are also addressed by the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals). For this reason, social aspects also have an increasing impact on marketing and management decision-making processes.

When BASF introduced its SEEBALANCE® methodology in 2005, the possibility to integrate all three dimensions of sustainability into one weighted result was an absolute novelty. Back then, all indicators were evaluated quantitatively, which was especially challenging in case of the social analysis. Back then but also still today, the amount of data on relevant social indicators has often been insufficient, especially concerning data on social factors on a global scale. Interpreting the results has thus occasionally posed a challenge. “Nowadays, the perception of social factors has changed enormously. Those factors have for instance gained prominence and become more tangible also because of the clear target definition set by the SDGs. Thus, we had enough reasons to revise our SEEBALANCE® method,” says Dr. Peter Saling, Director of Sustainability Methods at BASF SE.

SEEBALANCE® still makes use of BASF’s Eco-Efficiency Analysis method to evaluate environmental factors and costs of a product. However, the social dimension will from now on be evaluated through a so-called “social analysis” which is based on a two-stage procedure. In both stages, social conditions for workers, consumers and society are analyzed and evaluated. „We have based this ‘social analysis’ on newly developed standards and findings – such as for instance those gained at the Roundtable for Social Metrics or at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development,” Saling explains.  

A so-called „Social Life Cycle Assessment” in which information from specific data bases and company information are evaluated and made transparent represents the first stage. In addition to that, the second stage consists of a so-called “Social Hot Spot Assessment”. In this stage, central social hot spots along the corresponding value chain are assessed and evaluated. Hot spots are for instance characterized by issues such as working conditions, health care, human rights, or aspects concerning the equality of men and women in a certain country or industry. Comparing specific products of the same kind which can be produced in manifold ways and, above all, in different locations can serve as an example: apart from environmental factors and costs, the social conditions in each particular location are integrated into the analysis. Among those are issues such as the fair pay of local workers, regulated working hours, a functioning health care system or similar matters. The results of the social analysis and the Eco-Efficiency Analysis together constitute the SEEBALANCE® methodology.

SEEBALANCE® thus enables a direct comparison between different alternatives. Apart from obtaining precise statements on the alternative with the best results in each category, customers also receive information on the potential for optimization of each of the three dimensions which can be derived separately, with the goal of increasing sustainability along the value chain. Additionally, the methodology allows for a comparison of single criteria with the SDGs which, for instance, results in direct statements on how the SDGs are being addressed by a certain product. An example would be the contribution of a product towards sustainable cities.

„The feedback we received on SEEBALANCE® after the first external presentation of the method as part of the Life-Cycle-Management Conference LCM in Luxemburg held in the beginning of September was very positive,“ says Dr. Dirk Voeste, Vice President Sustainability Strategy at BASF SE. The audience consisted of participants with a background in science, economy, politics and of NGO representatives. “The revised SEEBALANCE® methodology is another way of proving our claim of assessing and steering sustainability in an integrated way and including those findings into our decision-making and business practices.”

Birgit Hellmann
Global Sustainability Communications