Social impact: what does it mean, and how should we measure it?

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationEditorial


Businesses around the world——including the 181 CEOs in the Business Roundtable—increasingly assert their intention to deliver positive environmental and social impact. We are bombarded with headlines about companies wanting to “do good by doing well” and to achieve “profit with purpose”. In particular, business leaders speak of, and report on, their organisation’s “social impact”. It seems everyone wants to make a (positive) social impact.

But what do they mean by this? How do they operationalise the term? And how can we measure it and hold businesses to account? Contrary to the positive energy and intentions, without a robust understanding of what we mean by impact the risk of “impact washing” looms, in which businesses continue their same old practices but reframe their activities in the language of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and purpose.

Despite efforts to standardise an understanding of “social impact”, there remains a need to widely socialise a shared meaning of the term. This blog strives to help by offering an account of its origins and evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Specialist publicationThe Economist Intelligence Unit Perspectives
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2020


  • sustainability
  • social impact
  • corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • SDGs


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