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By Sophia Matthews and Jane Fiona Cumming

When we think of sustainability, many of us immediately, and perhaps exclusively, think of greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental aspects of sustainability encompass far more than this – biodiversity, deforestation, and ocean acidification are all useful and important indicators, to name a few. Beyond environmental indicators, sustainability also includes social factors such as poverty, gender equity, education, and more. Access to energy and technology, for example, is one of the most obvious ways in which climate change and social justice are inextricable from one another – it is unfair and unrealistic to ask those without access to low-carbon solutions to decarbonise their economies. Social justice is a key aspect of a more sustainable future.

As part of our annual research, Article 13 monitors the world’s largest companies’ progress towards twelve social thresholds. These social thresholds are defined in Doughnut Economics, a visual framework for sustainable development that includes both Social Thresholds and Planetary Limits. The thresholds are derived from internationally agreed minimum social standards, as identified by the world’s governments in the Sustainable Development Goals [1]. Kate Raworth, who coined the social thresholds theory, says: “there is always a question of how limited resources are to be distributed and used. If that question is left unspoken, it can lead to political stalemate, injustice, and suffering.” [2]

This blog outlines Article 13’s findings on corporate performance towards achieving social thresholds using data from 243 of the world’s largest companies.

Overall, 58% of companies have set time bound targets against at least one social threshold, but only 19% of targets are at scale with what the world needs to close the gaps.

By “at scale with what the world needs”, we mean that the organisation is approaching the social threshold directly and within its sphere of influence has a plan to reach a threshold within a context relevant to their footprint.

The table below summarises each social threshold, the gap that remains to be closed and corporate performance in 2021. We also look at how the pandemic has affected progress towards social thresholds.

Article 13’s Perspective

In the table above, you may have noticed that there is often a significant difference between the percentage of companies setting targets related to a social threshold and the percentage of companies setting targets at scale. At Article 13, we measure (1) how many companies are measuring their performance; (2) how many companies are setting time-bound targets accordingly; and (3) how many of such targets are at scale with what the world needs. The latter of these categories is the most important for measuring our progress towards Social Thresholds – it separates targets contextualised by science from the rest of the pack. Targets that are not at scale usually occur either because (a) a company lacks the expert guidance necessary to understand which actions are meaningful; or (b) a company is looking to improve their likeability without taking meaningful action by capitalising from consumer preference for strong sustainability profiles. Either way, we can recognise that targets set at scale are more valuable in terms of achieving scientifically backed ambitions.

As is apparent in the table above, we still have a lot of work to do. Gender and social equity have the greatest traction among the world’s largest companies, but the gaps between targets and targets at scale are relatively large. For all other social thresholds, ten percent of companies or less are setting targets, and five percent or less are setting targets at scale. In the 21st century, corporations are among the most influential economic and social actors – it would be very difficult for us to achieve social justice without them on our side. Social justice can only be achieved if we catalyse these powerful corporations into action.

To learn more about corporate performance on Social Thresholds, check out our latest research at If target setting for social thresholds is of interest to your organisation, please contact Article 13.


[2] Kate Raworth, Defining a Safe and Just Space for Humanity (2012).

[6] International Labour Organisation (2019).

[9] International Telecommunication Union (2019).

[14] The World Bank.


Kate Raworth: Doughnut economics Twelve “social thresholds” which we must strive to ensure every person reaches. See also Oxfam and the Welsh Doughnut.

According to Kate Raworth, “The twelve dimensions of the social foundation are derived from internationally agreed minimum social standards, as identified by the world’s governments in the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015” so are material to this message.


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