The SIGMA Guidelines, in particular the Executive Summary are aimed at anyone interested in the contribution organisations can make to sustainable development. The SIGMA Management Framework and SIGMA Toolkit, focused on practical details, are of particular value to those managers and personnel who are responsible for directing, planning or implementing sustainable approaches in their organisations.
A flexible approach
The SIGMA Guidelines are designed to allow flexibility in the way they are used by organisations according to their individual circumstances. For example:
| ||The SIGMA Guiding Principles set out a framework to help organisations understand how they can contribute to sustainable development. Organisations may adopt these, use them to develop or benchmark their own principles, or work with other compatible principles for sustainable development.|
| ||The SIGMA Management Framework can be used to build on existing management systems and approaches or as a stand-alone framework for managing sustainability issues in an organisation.|
| ||Organisations may move through the Management Framework at different speeds and give different phases different emphasis depending on their individual circumstances and the level of maturity of their sustainable development policies, strategies and programmes.|
| ||The phases can be used to institute a formal management system or as guidance to deepen and broaden existing management practice without the formal structure and documentation of a management system.|
| ||The SIGMA Toolkit offers a range of tools – for organisations to use when appropriate.|
Certification and assurance
It is important that organisations ensure their activities and reports are credible.
Certification is a process that uses a specified set of criteria, principles and standards, and is carried out by a third party to attest that prescribed requirements have been fulfilled.
Assurance is an evaluation method that uses a specified set of principles and standards to assess the quality of a reporting organisation’s subject matter, to establish confidence and credibility. This should include the systems, processes and competencies that underpin its .
It is important to distinguish between the two approaches. Certification is predicated on the need to follow prescribed approaches or specific requirements. Assurance is more focused on the overall outcome than the following of prescribed steps.
The SIGMA Guidelines are not intended for certification purposes. SIGMA believes assurance is an important component of credibility. We also believe that the unique nature of sustainable development requires an innovative and flexible approach – unlikely to be delivered through a conventional ‘requirements-based’ certification scheme. Sub-phase MRR4 of the SIGMA Management Framework outlines how organisations can assure their processes and reporting, in particular by engagement with stakeholders.
An evolving topic
Sustainable development is a dynamic topic and our knowledge and understanding is ever developing. Wherever possible we have provided signposts to additional sources of information.
Improved performance is the key aim of the SIGMA Guidelines. This is achieved not by prescribing levels of performance in the Guidelines themselves, but by setting out how organisations should set performance targets, which are consistent with the operating principles they have adopted; measure their performance against these targets over time and report against them – taking action to remedy any situations where the level or speed of performance improvement is insufficient to achieve the targets that have been set. The SIGMA Guidelines can be used with standards and guidelines that prescribe levels of performance, or to assist benchmarking of performance.