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Introduction and Preface

The Common Good Balance Sheet – The Core

The Common Good Balance Sheet is the “core” of the Economy for the Common Good. It puts human beings and all other living beings and their successful interrelationships at the centre of economic activity. It transfers recognized relational and constitutional values to the market by rewarding business protagonists who conduct and organize themselves in a humane, mutually appreciative, cooperative, solidarity-based, ecological and democratic manner.

It makes societal values the values of business as well.

The function of the Common Good Balance Sheet

The Common Good Balance Sheet measures entrepreneurial success in a new dimension. The economy should serve the Common Good, and at the entrepreneurial level this can be documented by the Balance Sheet (together with the Common Good Report). As a financial parameter, profit gain is too weak to reflect the actual goals of economic activity, these being to create use values, satisfy needs, endow life with meaning, ensure participation of all, promote co-determination and gender democracy, make the planet ecologically sustainable and promote quality of life.

Profit gain says nothing about increasing the Common Good. Profits can rise when supplier prices are squeezed, employees are dismissed despite good business results, taxes are evaded, women are discriminated against and the environment is exploited. Profit gain is merely measured in money, and money can only measure exchange values, not use values – whose availability and distribution constitute the actual purpose of economic activity.

In the Economy for the Common Good, profit gain is merely a means to a goal. The goal is to increase the Common Good. Profit gain may no longer be maximized or increased at any price. It must serve as a means to attaining this new goal.

The Common Good Balance Sheet finally measures what really counts. The Common Good Matrix  “intersects” basic and constitutional values shared by the majority – human dignity, solidarity, ecological sustainability, social justice and democracy – with the stakeholders of companies –  employees, suppliers, customers, financers, the Sovereign, future generations, nature. The Common Good indicators formulated at the interfaces (points of intersection) aim to assess entrepreneurial conduct and the contribution it makes to the Common Good.

At present, methodical assessment is made on the basis of Common Good points which are rewarded for pro-active conduct concerning the 17 indicators. This point system should not suggest that it is possible to measure a company’s contribution to the Common Good with absolute mathematical precision. The goal is to make a reasonable, plausible and consistent assessment as to where the enterprise finds itself on its path to the Common Good. The current Matrix constitutes an initial stage in the development of a measuring instrument which needs to be re-evaluated, defined more precisely and adjusted to changing framework conditions on an ongoing basis.

The Common Good Matrix, Report and Audit Opinion

The Common Good Matrix provides a one-page overview of the 17 Balance Sheet indicators as well as the negative criteria and it performs pedagogical, political and public relation tasks. It is not part of the actual Balance Sheet process conducted by the company, association or institution in question.

The package of reporting procedures consists of two elements: the Common Good Report and the Audit Opinion (or peer evaluation, as the case may be).

The Common Good Report provides comprehensive documentation of the company’s Common Good orientation by describing the activities it engages in regarding each of the 17 indicators according to a template developed by the association.

The Audit Opinion uses the layout of the Matrix to document (on one clearly laid-out page) externally evaluated scoring results. At present, one must differentiate between peer evaluations and Audit Opinions. Peer evaluations entail companies assessing each other in the framework of a group evaluation after having taken part in a joint learning process, whereas Audit Opinions entail having a company/organization evaluated by an independent external auditor.

The Common Good Report and the Audit Opinion together make up the Common Good Balance Sheet.

The evaluation table used to calculate the Common Good points is called the Balance Sheet Calculator. It serves as a tool for self-assessment on the part of companies as well as for the task of the auditor but is not part of the Common Good Balance Sheet. 

Assigning Common Good points

Common Good points are assigned for 17 measurable Common Good indicators. The companies themselves decide to which extent they fulfil the expectations of each indicator. This means that the points are only assigned for voluntary accomplishments which, as a matter of principle, always extend beyond minimum legal standards. The intention behind this principle is as follows: today most companies are very far away from the Common Good ideal (optimal environmental and climate protection, co-determination of all, distribution justice, gender equality, highest attainable degree of respect for human dignity). Theoretically, one could force companies to conduct themselves as “ideally” as possible by creating the legal standards necessary for achieving this. However, this would not prove successful because the self-seeking (egoism) of companies extends so far that they would resist the instalment of any higher binding standards with all their might – at least in the current democratic system, in which profit is the goal. The method of making higher standards voluntary but clearly rewarding them through legal measures if they are met (via taxes, customs, interest rates, orders, etc.) could solve this muddled situation. It would be possible, for example, to define five attainable, colour-coded levels and reward companies which reach them by introducing five respective VAT categories. For example:

-1000 to 0 pointsred80% VAT
1 to 250 points orange 60% VAT
251 to 500 points yellow 40% VAT
501 to 750 points light green 20% VAT
751 to 1000 points green 0% VAT

Through this incentive, more and more companies would participate and advocate this gentle political form of guiding entrepreneurial pursuit in the direction of the Common Good. The Common Good Balance Sheet would instigate a process which would pick up companies where they are today, in the actual state, and motivate and guide them in the direction of the target state “in keeping with the market” but without use of any direct coercion.

In this process, the Common Good Balance Sheet would act as a catalyst. The more companies there were which did business in accordance to Common Good criteria, coming closer and closer to Common Good goals in the process, the more criteria currently incorporated into the Common Good Balance Sheet could be transformed into minimum legal standards and the more room there would be for new, more refined, voluntary Common Good criteria. This way the entire entrepreneurial landscape would move along a time vector in the direction of the Common Good. Continuiing in the “world of old values” would put companies at increased risk of going bankrupt because they would have to pay more and more taxes, customs and interest and would no longer be awarded any public contracts. The pioneer companies, i.e. the “Common Good maximizers”, would have a much easier time of it because Common Good conduct would lead to success.

Common Good Colours for Consumers

To increase the visibility of Common Good success, five or ten Common Good levels could be defined and colour-coded. This would especially help consumers because in the future, the Common Good Balance Sheet should appear on all products and services, similar to a bar code. Consumers could tell from the colour which “league” the manufacturing enterprise was in. The colour could also include the Common Good score. Whoever wanted more detailed information could scan the bar code with his or her mobile phone and download the company’s entire Common Good Balance Sheet online. Common Good Balance Sheets would be public, thus fulfilling a previously unredeemed promise of the market economy, namely for all market participants to provide complete and symmetrical information.

17 indicators, their evaluation and elucidations in the Handbook

Like its predecessor Matrix 4.0, Matrix/Balance Sheet 4.1. consists of 17 indicators which encompass the five universal values (human dignity, solidarity, ecological sustainability, social justice, democratic co-determination and transparency).

Each indicator is broken down into one to four sub-indicators with corresponding levels of relevance – low, moderate and high. Each sub-indicator addresses a topic-related or organizational aspect of the question:

“How can value X be realized in relation to stakeholder Y?”

The evaluation of individual indicators and that of all sub-indicators is performed according to categorization in one of four levels: First Steps (1–10 %), Advanced (11–30 %), Experienced (31–60 %) and Exemplary (61–100 %).

Through use of sub-indicators, we have attempted to describe values as comprehensively as possible. Companies and auditors are free to describe and evaluate additional aspects, however.

For example A1 Ethical supply management:

Sub-Indicator

First steps (10%)

Advanced

(11-30%)

Experienced

(31-60%)

Exemplary

(61-100%)

Regional, ecological and social aspects / superior alternatives are considered

 

Relevance: high

… selectively in cases of products with negative social and/or ecological effects (eco-power)

… in regard to several key P/S

… in regard to the majority of key P/S …

 

+ in comparison very low consumption or clear reduction of critical materials with no superior alternative (see FAQs)

… in regard to all key procured P/S …

 

+ innovative solutions for avoidance of critical materials with no superior alternative

Active examination of impact of procured P/S and processes to ensure verification and determine the form and extent thereof

 

Relevance: moderate

Internal examination through actively sought information on the issue

 

Integration of social and ecological aspects into contractual matters (Code of Conduct  / Code of Ethics)

Internal audit in cases of hazards and key suppliers

 

Trainings (seminars, workshops, time budgets for expert discussions) of all employees in the purchasing process

Routine evaluation of social/ecological effects and  alternatives

 

Guaranteed by independent audit (for ex. P/S certified in accordance with social/ecol. labels, cooperation with NGOs)

Multi-stakeholder initiative (for ex. with market partners, NGOs etc.) in regard to social and ecological aspects

Basic structural conditions for fair pricing

 

Relevance: low

No purely price-driven supply processes (among others auctions, tendering processes)

 

No bonus system for purchasers dependent on purchasing price

Long-term, cooperative relationships are given preference over changing, cost-oriented ones

Evaluation of purchasers’ behaviour through routine discussions with employees focusing on the challenges posed by ethical supply

Innovative structures in supply management (for ex. participation in alternative currency concepts, economic approaches of solidarity-based  agriculture, etc.)

The overall score for the indicator is given in increments of 10 percent. For example, A1 “Ethical supply management” is fulfilled to an extent of 10 %, 30 % or 70 %.

Last year, some exaggerated efforts were made to ‘mathematize’ the Matrix using sophisticated Excel sheets and two-digit scores after the decimal point. Measurability is a common business phenomenon, but it often only gives you a sense of false security and pseudo-precision. In our opinion, the Common Good can be evaluated but not precisely measured.

As soon as the Economy for the Common Good has been written into law via an economic convention, the scores must be made highly conclusive and stand up in court, for example. We are working on this. Please remember that every child needs time to grow and develop. The Matrix is only four years old and is only – or should we say, already – a rough diamond.

All documents are available on our website under Companies/Pioneers: balance.ecogood.org

Room for creativity and evaluation

The Common Good indicators included in the Matrix should not keep companies from searching for their own ways of serving the Common Good. For this reason, they should not only strive towards fulfilling the individual indicators but also always pose the “global question”:

  • How can I best promote and fulfil value X in regard to stakeholder Y?

Through such striving in common (lat. “com-petere”), new and more precise indicators, criteria and examples are found all the time. The Matrix facilitates the search by formulating 17 indicators: the goals which they formulate (for ex. “transparency”) merely give examples for concrete implementation. This allows companies and organizations to devise their own, equally valuable implementation steps. This also gives companies some room for creativity and Common Good auditors (see below) a certain degree of latitude for evaluation. The Balance Sheet does not, therefore, prescribe “rigid” criteria but rather allows for a certain measure of flexibility so that companies can contribute to advancing the idea of a Common Good Balance Sheet. What counts most is to move in the right direction.

A maximum of 1000 points

All criteria add up to a maximum score of 1000 points. Per criterion, a maximum of 90 Common Good points can be obtained. The Common Good Balance Sheet was designed to be applicable for enterprises a) of all sizes; b) in every sector and c) in every legal form – from sole proprietorships and non-profit associations and medium-sized family businesses to public corporations and public universities.

Perhaps the currently applied point system is not the best method for measuring the Common Good. One problem is that it allows for compensation effects (for ex. offsetting of ecological damages through increased social measures), which is critically questioned in the sustainability debate. We hope to take such concerns into account in the further development of this tool.

In the first and second reporting years, the “best” companies earned between 550 and 675 points. We go on the assumption that any “normal” company which has not concerned itself with the Common Good very much in the past would probably receive between minus 100 and plus 100 points. This seems to be a realistic standard of comparison. No company is exemplary in all areas and no expectations of being able to reach the 1000-point mark should be raised.

Besides, in the first years we do not want to place too much focus on points because

  • the process and the report should have priority over scoring;
  • the indicators and the distribution of points are sure to change significantly during this period of time;
  • the auditing process will become more refined and the auditors will gain expertise in conducting it.

For this reason, we made some changes in the Matrix 4.1 to prevent undue mathematization:

  • the weighting of the sub-indicators is no longer expressed in the form of percentages but in terms of three relevance levels – low, moderate and high;
  • the results for each individual indicator are only given in increments of 10%, for ex., 10 %, 20 % or 30 %.

Overall revision of the scoring method is planned for Matrix 5.0. At present, various notions are under discussion ranging from elimination of the point system altogether and restriction to a colour-coded evaluation to retention of this system as a precise form of evaluation. We will discuss this topic in detail with extensive involvement of those concerned.

Negative criteria

The problem which arises from the fact that some behaviours which are extremely detrimental to the Common Good are currently legal can be solved by use of negative criteria. For example, anyone who violates human rights or ILO core labour standards, instigates hostile takeovers, produces nuclear energy, declares profits in tax havens to minimize fiscal revenue, produces genetically modified food or builds large power plants in ecologically sensitive regions receives somewhere between 100 and 200 minus points.

Various types of companies

To avoid having multiple versions of the Common Good Balance Sheet, only one is currently in use, which is applicable for all types of enterprises: sole proprietorships, farms, service providers, family businesses, medium-sized companies, public enterprises and global corporations.

Since there are a multitude of special aspects regarding any given company which must be taken into account, we have begun differentiating each indicator. For the current version, Matrix 4.1, such differentiation began with six aspects, but we must wait for Matrix 5.0 to see systematic implementation of such differentiation. It will distinguish enterprises in terms of:

  • size (oriented to the definition of the EU Commission)
  • threshold values for turnover and the annual balance sheet
  • sector (oriented to NACE sectoral classification[1])
  • regional risks
  • position in the added-value chain (B2B, B2C etc.)
  • market power.

In addition, guidelines for special user groups are being developed. At present, guidelines for sole proprietorships already exist. In addition, there are two task forces for universities and municipalities.

Over the course of time, these guidelines will be transformed into manuals devised to transfer the universal Balance Sheet/Matrix to special areas of application.

Participation of respective pioneers in this area is desirable. Such task forces currently consist of an editor, an auditor and a representative of the sector in question.

The Matrix itself should remain universally applicable, It should, however, be designed for all enterprises and organizations.

Common Good Audits & Common Good Balance Sheet Auditors

How are Common Good Balance Sheets audited? This is done completely analogously to the way chartered accountants in business audit financial balance sheets. A new group of freelance Common Good auditors should take on this task. To begin with, the Balance Sheets will be drawn up and controlled internally (using controlling, internal auditing processes) and then taken to an external auditor for verification, who then issues a so-called Audit Opinion. The Balance Sheet in question is not “valid” until such an Audit Opinion has been issued. In contrast to financial balance sheets, the Common Good Balance Sheet offers numerous advantages:

  • It is easily understandable for everyone because the criteria are easy and humane;
  •  It is accessible to the general public;
  • Numerous stakeholdershave a vested interest in it being accurate, which means that many alert eyes will be focused on it. Any attempts of falsification would soon be discovered. Should a Common Good auditor (repeatedly) verify a falsified Balance Sheet, that person would risk withdrawal of his/her professional licence. This would greatly minimize the probability of fraud and corruption.
  • Companies have a vested interest in obtaining as high a score on their Common Good Balance Sheet as possible because of the advantages this would bring. Nevertheless, the level they aim to reach for each indicator would be “voluntary,” which means that except for the audit system, no public agency or bureaucracy would be required to oversee the process. The Common Good Balance Sheet guides the conduct of companies in a market-conform manner without triggering any additional regulatory orgy.

Analogous to separation of consultancy services and financial auditing in customary business, auditors and consultants serving companies which decided to draw up a Common Good Balance Sheet would also have to be legally separated.

Considering the complexity of this matter, it is also conceivable for audit teams to replace individual auditors, at least in cases of large companies. This would improve the auditing results even more and make them even less susceptible to corruption. At present, the expert team of auditors is working on a dual procedure for first and second auditors. In additional, visits would be paid to companies periodically, in analogy to periodical tax audits of (large) companies.

To facilitate gradual engagement with the reporting process, companies could team up and evaluate each other during the first years (“peer evaluation”) and postpone having a fee-based audit conducted. Auditors would draw up an opinion for each peer evaluation as well, but such evaluations would differ clearly from any official audit opinion.

The editorial team

The previous selection of indicators, the current versions of elucidations and the manual as it exists today constitute the beginning of a long process which many people should participate in, bringing various kinds of experience, expertise and creativity to it. The editorial team, which was made up of 16 people in 2012, has worked on a 100% volunteer basis from the very start, and should continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Only the coordinator receives a small expense allowance. The goal for 2013 was to appoint one editor for each of the 17 indicators who would gather a small “indicator team” together to pursue further development of the indicator they are responsible for, including any necessary accompanying documents. All the elucidations should name this editor as a contact person, who welcomes feedback for further processing and improvement. The goal of the overall process is to incorporate a multitude of opinions and experiences which then culminate in a thoroughly democratic process, a directly elected economic convention. For more information go to “The idea”/”History” on our website.

Historical development and prospects for the future

Matrix 1.0: it was developed by attac companies and published in the first edition of the book “Die Gemeinwohl-Ökonomie” by Christian Felber (Deuticke, 2010; now available in English: “Change Everything: Creating an Economy for the Common Good,” ZED Books, London 2015)

Matrix 2.0: this was a modification of the Matrix which was worked on by an editorial team until February 2011 following the initial wave of feedback after the symposium “Unternehmen neu denken,” which was held on 6th October 2010. At this time there were still 50 criteria.

Matrix 3.0: for this version the editorial team reduced the number of goal indicators to 18 (still called “criteria” at this time) after pioneer companies had their first encounter with version 2.0, made efforts to apply it and calculated their results. It formed the foundation for the decision made by almost 60 companies in 2011 to draw up a Common Good Balance Sheet on a voluntary basis.

Matrix 4.0: it was the valid Balance Sheet for 2012 and early 2013 and it served as the basis for Common Good Reports and the Balance Sheet press conference on April 24th 2013. The earlier indicator Affirmative action and dealing with disadvantages persons (C5 in Matrix 3.0) was integrated into C1 Quality of workplace.

Matrix 4.1: is an improved version of Matrix 4.0., with certain measures having been taken to tone down mathematization of the evaluation. It was published and took effect on 1st March 2013. A transition phase started in late June 2013 during which it was also possible for audits and peer evaluations to be conducted on the basis of Matrix 4.0. From 1st July 2013 on, only reports drawn up on the basis of Matrix 4.1. were accepted

Matrix 5.0: this version will depart from the point system even more; overall scores might be eliminated altogether. At the same time, more aspects concerning specific sectors and company size will be taken into account and individual guidelines and handbooks will be compiled. The Balance Sheet will be adjusted annually over the course of several years; in other words, the rough diamond will be polished. The goal is to incorporate the expertise, experiences and opinions of thousands of entrepreneurs, private persons, researchers, organizations and protagonists into it.

After about five years, a democratically elected economic convention should prepare legislation on the basis of our preliminary work. The version formulated for this piece of legislature and accepted by the democratic Sovereign (possibly on the basis of systemic consensus) will be the first legally binding Common Good Balance Sheet for all companies.

Participation in further development of the Matrix

The Matrix is a living entity and we wish to continue developing its content. For this we need participation and feedback. A wiki was established in mid-2012 which contains valid online versions of Matrix 4.0 and Matrix 4.1. Every entrepreneur, consultant, auditor and activist is welcome to contribute their knowledge to the wiki. To do so, please use the commentary function and add suggestions beneath the indicator in question.

Link: balance.ecogood.org

New features of Matrix 4.1

Feedback which we have received and processed has led to some substantial changes. The concept “criteria” has been replaced by the concept “sub-indicators,” and the concept “Common Good Balance Sheet” is now used exclusively for externally audited Common Good Reports accompanied by an Audit Opinion, but no longer for the calculating programme used for assigning points.

Further changes in the most recent Matrix are:

  • weighting of sub-indicators as follows: low, moderate, high relevance;
  • elimination of “Basic documentation” and standardization of the manual;
  • more precise definitions of individual indicators;
  • expansion of the editorial team from six to sixteen editors;
  • a quick test for companies;
  • development of a beginner‘s balance sheet for companies which wish to draw up a simple version of the Common Good Report;
  • At the sub-indicator level, the following indicators have changed slightly or substantially: B1, C1, C4, C5, D1, D4, E1, E4.

Information on the process of drawing up a balance sheet

The reporting period can be decided by the company itself, which can choose between calendar year or fiscal year.

The deadline for Balance Sheet press conferences held in the year 2013 was 17th April 2013, which was one week before the 2nd International Common Good Balance Sheet press conference. It was possible to present Balance sheets audited/evaluated by peers before this date to the public at the regional press conference in question. External audits take about 4 to 6 weeks. For this reason we requested that Common Good Reports be submitted at least seven weeks before the Balance Sheet press conference. Display of the peer opinions takes approx. 1 to 2 weeks. For smooth organization of the press conferences, it was crucial that these time limits are adhered to. For more detailed information on the press conferences go to presse@ecogood.org.

Each pioneer company can now choose between three different forms of reporting (“seeds of change”):

1st seed of change: the company can become a member of the association and donate a sum equal to or higher than the membership fee; it is entitled to use the services of the Economy for the Common Good and draws up an internal balance sheet which does not get published. 
Logo/web banner:  Supporting Company of the Economy for the Common Good or Member of the Economy for the Common Good.

2nd seed of change: the company can become a member of the association and draw up a Common Good Balance Sheet together with other companies in a peer group. After mutual auditing, the balance sheet can be published with the designation “peer evaluation.” The company is entitled to participate in the Balance Sheet press conference.
Logo/web banner: Pioneer company of the Economy for the Common Good with peer-evaluated  Common Good Balance Sheet.

3rd seed of change: the company can become a member of the association and draw up (ideally in a peer group) a Balance sheet which is externally audited and published with an obligatory link to the homepage.         
Logo/Web banner: Pioneer company of the Economy for the Common Good with audited Common Good  Balance Sheet.

Related resources


[1]     https://wiki.gwoe.net/display/Redaktion/Diskussionsstand+branchenspezifische+Aspekte+Matrix+5.0