The importance of measuring and evaluating your CSR impact

Taco Terheijden, director of cocoa sustainability at global chocolate supplier Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate, explains the new approach the organisation is taking to monitor, measure and evaluation its wide-ranging sustainability strategy.

Measuring the impact of sustainability programmes is a challenge that transcends industry and sector. At the simplest level, we can ask ourselves a few straightforward questions, such as are we reaching our targets? Are we improving the circumstances and livelihoods of individuals and communities? And are our measures aligned to our good business principles?

But clearly these are too high-level to be sufficient. Instead it is fundamental from the outset to take steps to align and embed the sustainability program within the business or brand strategy. By fully integrating it in this way, we can more clearly establish the ways by which we monitor, measure and evaluate all our sustainability activities.

In the case of Cargill, with our cocoa and chocolate business, a growing insight of the issues facing farmers in the five countries where we source cocoa made us aware of the need for a sustainability strategy that was intertwined with our company strategy. As a result, our whole program is directed to achieving two overall objectives, to improving the livelihoods for farmers and their communities in these geographies, and in so doing, simultaneously secure the sustainable supply of cocoa and chocolate products.

A strategic approach to learning

To ensure we are making a real step change around sustainability and continuing to move the program on to the next level, we have significantly evolved our approach, from going beyond measuring reach and adoption to focus on the outcomes achieved on the ground, as I will explain.

An outcomes-focused approach is a difficult model to execute. Determining the outcomes that you want to achieve at the outset of a program stretches organisations; it requires them to see the world through the eyes of those whose lives they are aiming to improve or change in order to identify and design the right interventions.

Although this is stretching and challenging for organisations – because it will require them to look forward into the unknown and break from ‘normal’ business thinking – it will provide a springboard for creating activities and interventions that are more grounded because they are based on prioritising needs. At the same time, it can inspire more ambitious thinking, and hence, the creation of new initiatives that can deliver positive impacts.

In practice, this evolution in approach has led us to the creation of a Results Framework, which helps us understand how our actions are delivering these results, so we can develop, plan and target our work more effectively. By breaking things down into sequential steps, we assess the contribution made by our programs towards our medium and long-term goals, allowing us to continuously evolve and improve our approach in a transparent way.

This focus means we not only record the number of farmers trained to use fertilizer correctly, but also the number of farmers who are using the information, applying their learning, and actually using fertilizer correctly. And now we focus on the long-term outcomes of our programs, such as the percentage increase in yield or profitability as a result of farmers’ correct use of fertilizer, which ultimately will contribute towards a lasting market transformation.

So the question is: how do you build a process that is strong and robust to effectively monitor and evaluate these outcomes, build in feedback and integrate it into the business?

In my experience, beyond what is happening within the cocoa sector more broadly, you have to start by first looking inside the organisation itself. Try to identify the processes and tools that are at your disposal. Almost every organisation has business processes in place that are either directly or indirectly aligned to their sustainability programs. When you have worked out what is usable and valuable within your existing processes, focus on what data is missing and finally, try and determine practical ways that you can collect and share it.

In our cocoa and chocolate business, we are collecting data by putting tablets into the hands of people on the ground. At the foundation of our approach, we established baseline data for our farmers and farmer cooperatives, and then we started to go deeper. So we went from collecting more straightforward data – such as information about the farmer, the farm location and their membership of a farmer cooperative, etc – to precisely measuring the size of the farm, identifying the environmental conditions and farmers’ use of shade trees, as well as their use of pesticides and fertilizers, and other factors.

Because we are capturing quantitative and qualitative data, we are building a complete picture, which we are able to share with the farmer and farmer cooperative to enable better decision making. Our premise is to ensure that these data-driven insights enable us to learn and continually improve our programs to ensure that they are impactful.

How to become a learning organisation

No one can say that they have the perfect method for monitoring, measurement and evaluation. As mentioned, we all need to learn from best practice. I believe that it’s important for sustainability professionals to understand the good work that is being done by organisations both inside and outside their sector.

Within our sector, 10 companies involved in the cocoa supply chain – including Cargill, suppliers manufacturers and retailers – came together to create CocoaAction. The aim was to align their individual sustainability strategies and objectives in ways that would benefit them, the cocoa sector as a whole and, most importantly, cocoa farmers and their communities. We are achieving more by learning and acting collectively, whilst retaining our freedom to act individually.

Outside of the sector, ISEAL and the Sustainable Trade Initiative provide insights and platforms to strengthen sustainability standards systems and scale-up sustainable trade by building impact-oriented coalitions, respectively. The UN Sustainable Development Goals enable sustainability practitioners to hold up the big themes and goals to corporations, as a framework and a guide. Certainly, the SDGs have helped to underline Cargill’s commitment to empowering women in cocoa origin countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.


It’s important that as sustainability professionals we do not under-estimate the cultural landscape of our own organisations when it comes to designing an outcome-driven program. Many of us will find that we are working in risk-aware organisations. That tends to mean that a lot of focus can go towards looking back, to what we know and can control, rather than looking forward to what we don’t. We need to challenge that mind-set and look a little more into the unknown.

In tandem with this, I think we should be less concerned about how far we are on the journey and more concerned about what we have achieved and what more we can do. It’s a little like applying the glass half-full and half-empty quote to our sustainability programs. The optimist says the glass is half full. The pessimist says the glass is half empty. Instead, I prefer to think about it another way, and show colleagues how much work has been done in getting ‘the sustainability stuff’ into the glass in the first place, and moreover, be sure to demonstrate the tangible results as identified in the Results Framework. In this way, I believe that we can do more to keep our activities moving forward, and at the same time, ensure that we approach things with an attitude and mind-set that enables us to be as ambitious as we can be.

Taco Terheijden is director of cocoa sustainability at Cargill Cocoa & Chocolate. He spent six years in cocoa trading with Cargill, before heading the company’s commercial program in Ghana from 2007-2010. Since then, Terheijden has led the company’s cocoa sustainability strategy, including the creation of the Cargill Cocoa Promise.

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