Earth System savvy metrics for corporations and investors

This project centres on developing metrics for corporations and investors to assess their impacts on key Earth System processes. It aims to provide the necessary (but currently lacking) tools to assess to what degree individual businesses, and capital allocation strategies/portfolios contribute to moving us away from, closer to, or further beyond well-known planetary boundaries.

A climate neutral economy is essential to reach Paris 2°C targets. But while reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is essential to stave off dangerous climate change, humanity also needs to develop strategies to avoid transgressing thresholds in other key Earth System processes.


Thresholds such as the Amazon forest dieback are often referred to as global tipping points, because if important global carbon stocks such as boreal and Amazon forests tip to savannah or degraded forests, they can rapidly go from being carbon sinks to becoming carbon sources. This means emitting CO2 and hence undermining global goals of carbon neutrality.

Research on Earth System tipping points has expanded rapidly in the last 25 years and highlights the risks of cascading tipping points – that is, once one region on the planet transitions into a new state, it may lead to the tipping of others, like a domino effect, with detrimental outcomes for global warming. There is growing consensus that current climate assessments do not yet include a range of processes that are very likely to be relevant for climate stabilization. 

This project develops a novel transdisciplinary approach to allow research on Earth System dynamics and interactions between planetary boundaries (such as climate, landuse and water) to inform financial decision-making of investors and firms.

The work is conducted in close dialogue with a set of industry partners who have agreed to play the role of tress-testing partners to ensure the metrics developed have high user salience. Scientific collaborators are GEDB the Beijer Institute and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

So far the project has developed a prototype metric

to assess environmental impact beyond carbon emissions called Earth System Imprint (ESI) because it simultaneously accounts for climate (CO2), land and water, and for the interactions among these three Earth System components. Further, the metric distinguishes impacts on land and water by region and vegetation type. While ESI incorporates complex Earth System Science models, its outputs can be understood by a wide, non-specialist audience. Thus, ESI could be used by actors in business and finance to improve their assessment of environmental impact and aid their decision-making.

To test the prototype, we are developing a case study using company data from the mining sector.  Preliminary results show that the ESI of mines (or other company assets) varies significantly depending on their location. Further, we observe that relying on carbon intensity to measure environmental impact can be misleading, as it fails to capture critical Earth System processes. Thus, using ESI to incorporate additional components of the Earth System has the potential to fundamentally change the way in which investors assess and value companies. A forthcoming paper also contributes a methodology on how to apply the metric  thus providing:

  • Businesses with a toolkit to identify their most harmful assets and set targets to reduce environmental impact
  • Investors with a way to prioritize their engagement and track transition progress
  • Banks and credit providers with a tool to assess and compare the expected environmental impact of projects seeking capital

Learn more about the science behind the tool  below, as well as a a brief introduction to ESI. 

Principal investigator


Beatrice Crona

Professor, Executive Director

We hope to contribute to a rapid shift towards a carbon neutral economy

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