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Social boundaries: What do they mean at the scale of organisational performance?

We are rapidly approaching the limits of our Earth's environment carrying capacities - rivers are running dry, greenhouse gas emissions are impacting climatic conditions and we are experiencing a mass extinction of biodiversity. At the same time, millions of people are living in conditions below what internationally can be considered as our social thresholds in relation to basic, yet critical, human needs such as hunger, literacy, poverty and political freedom. In short, we are reaching the limits of our planet.

What are social boundaries?

In 2012, Oxfam released their “doughnut”, chartering a safe and just space in which human and planetary well-being are assured. Living within the “doughnut”, we ensure all of humanity have access to basic social rights - dignity, prosperity and fulfillment - whilst remaining within the environmental limits, which must not be crossed if the earth is to remain in its current state.

Following our planetary boundaries practitioner research (Article 13, 2014), over the past 4 months Article 13 has undertaken practitioner research to explore how different organisations (public and private) around the world are attempting to address the eleven societal thresholds identified by Oxfam and how they are measuring their impact. In particular we were interested in how different organisations are addressing these thresholds at different scales - local, national, global.

This research

Over this series of 4 blogs, we will share some of the emerging insight from this research [for the full report, please contact Jim Ormond at and see @Article13 for updates].

We begin with the eleven social thresholds themselves, what they are, how we can measure them and why they matter.

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