Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A new CSR standard in Safeguarding

Using the Datamaran Research Tool, I looked for how many companies are talking about safeguarding in their sustainability reports. It seems, that safeguarding can be applied to just about everything.
  • Export Development Canada's 2016 Sustainability Report talks about safeguarding people and the environment 
  • Piraeus Bank talks about open communication with employees and safeguarding their ongoing development and elearning for safeguarding of Human Rights and Equal Opportunities in the workplace 
  • Wilmar International's 2016 Sustainability Report talks about safeguarding water quality
  • Statoil's 2016 Sustainability Report refers to safeguarding people, communities and assets
  • Stericycle's 2016 Sustainability Report refers to safeguarding sensitive information and helping protect against identity theft
  • Motorola Solutions 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report includes disclosures related to machine safeguarding
  • RSA Insurance Group refers to safeguarding customers' data and assets
  • American Water Works Co Inc. talks about safeguarding the nation’s long-term water supply as water demand grows
  • TDC goes for safeguarding trust and safety
  • Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation includes references to safeguarding of storm drains, overfill controls, and extensive use of LED lighting
  • SunArt Retail Group Limited includes safeguarding biodiversity
  • L'Occitane International SA goes for another type of safeguarding -safeguarding the future of bees while helping to build communities.
In fact, safeguarding has become so popular that I am thinking of safeguarding my personal ice cream supply for the next five years. As you can see, safeguarding can apply to just about anything and the use of the term safeguarding is bandied around quite freely in CSR and sustainability worlds with no real accountability for what safeguarding anything actually means and how to measure it. Maybe this is a shame, because there is one use of the term safeguarding that is arguably the most important use of all: safeguarding vulnerable children, youth and adults. I happen to know a bit about this, as my niece, Sarah Carlick, (Yay! Proud Auntie) is a leading expert on safeguarding in the UK, and runs The Athena Programme, one of the best known and most active consulting and training firms dedicated solely to safeguarding in the important sense of the word. Sarah has just completed her doctoral thesis on safeguarding, so we shall be calling her Dr. Sarah in the very near future! (Yay! Extremely Proud Auntie). Read Sarah's insights into safeguarding in a corporate context later in this post.  

Some companies stand out in their approach to safeguarding vulnerable children and adults. Pearson's Sustainability Report for 2016 includes a commitment to safeguarding adults and children. 

As a company engaged in education and supporting learners all over the world in schools, training and learning centers and other teaching facilities, and even virtual classrooms, human rights risks and challenges are very real for Pearson and it seems quite obvious that safeguarding would be directly relevant to this company's business.

Another company that has a safeguarding focus, and also rather obviously so, is LEGO. With a business designed to engage children, LEGO partners with UNICEF to implement and globally promote the Children’s Rights and Business Principles developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children, and to promote the importance of play for early childhood development. LEGO's 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report also discloses what LEGO is doing to safeguard children.

LEGO's Digital Child Safety Policy was developed as an industry leading practice to ensure the welfare of children interacting with digital channels. The policy is implemented through mandatory training for employees who work directly or indirectly with children online and also applies to partners who deliver LEGO® branded experiences.

Online safety is relevant not only for companies in the education and toy development sectors. It comes up regularly as a key material topic for companies that provide internet or media content. For example, Liberty Global (whose reporting I have supported for the past several years) has invested millions in protection of children while online and watching TV (one of the company's most material impacts) through collaboration on the development of an entire set of resources for children at different stages of development and exposure, parents, teachers and schools. In 2015, Liberty Global joined the ICT Coalition for Children Online, which aims to help young people in Europe make the most of their digital life and be better equipped to handle the challenges and risks it may bring. 

There are more positive examples of safeguarding out there, enough to convince you that safeguarding is an essential element of corporate responsibility. (For those who want a fascinating and sobering read on this subject, see also Joel Bakan's Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children). Many companies, especially food companies, have responsible marketing policies where the aim is not to market directly to children under age 12 - though in practice, exposure of children to marketing in all its forms today is impossible to monitor, I believe. Most companies today explicitly prohibit child labor in their supply chains. That's an obvious one in modern times, I guess, even though there is still much work to do to achieve safe supply chains. But there are endless, not so obvious other ways that children are exposed to and are potentially at risk from the practices of corporations. This may be unintentional but it should not be unknown. Corporations have a duty of care to understand the impacts of their activities on children. I believe, however, that this topic in the broader sense of safeguarding vulnerable children and adults has flown largely under the radar and is not explicitly included in sustainability frameworks and standards such as GRI or SASB, beyond responsible marketing and avoidance of child labor. I think this could be a new area for a potential performance and reporting standard.

I want you to hear from the expert herself, Sarah Carlick, Founder and Managing Director of The Athena Programme.

Why did you choose safeguarding as your area of specialist expertise?
"Safeguarding was my background as a social worker and probation officer which I was drawn to because of my passion for helping and protecting vulnerable people. Through my work and experience of safeguarding at both a national and international level, I am now able to incorporate all areas of this important and complex topic under one umbrella which I think is the most effective way of achieving results to benefit those that are vulnerable or at risk of harm."

In a business context, what are the connections to safeguarding? What are the key safeguarding risks for companies? 
"Governance, compliance, reputation, recruitment, social media communications, customer relations and interactions are all areas where safeguarding is a relevant potential risk that must be proactively managed. For companies or organizations that have services that are used or may be used by children, families or vulnerable adults, there may well be legal compliance issues (in different countries) as well a range of potential risk areas that are not currently legislated. While businesses often look outside for the impacts of safeguarding (for example, with services used by children), there is also an internal aspect. How do companies support their own employees who may be victims of domestic abuse, for example? I think there are many connections between the practices of business and corporate responsibility to protect vulnerable children and adults, and some may not be so obvious."

Does every company need a safeguarding policy? Can you give some examples of where such a policy might be needed?
"Not every company needs a policy, but some are required to have a policy and set of procedures, for example, those that are regulated or inspected, those that apply for external funding, or those that have residential services, schools, a charitable arm, or where they employ apprentices, teachers, mentors, nurses, dentists or manage learning environments, to mention just a few cases."

In what context is it important to train company employees in safeguarding?
"It is important as safeguarding is two-fold - both protecting and supporting your staff and as well as protecting and supporting those that use your services. There are many areas that come under safeguarding, for example, modern slavery, child sexual exploitation, on-line grooming and emerging risks such as prevention from radicalization."

What can you and The Athena Programme do to help companies practice effective safeguarding? 
"Whatever your needs, Athena can help any company with everything to do with safeguarding children and/or adults at risk. If it’s about safeguarding – we’re the experts. A first step we can help with for many companies will be to map the nature, scale and impact of their activities and identify the safeguarding hotspots - immediate and/or significant risks that need to be managed. From there, we can help companies develop tailored policies and procedures, formulate communications packages, deliver training for all staff and put in place monitoring and reporting tools. For companies who are not sure, we can or simply come and speak to your management, or deliver a lecture on what to watch for. We are always happy to listen to the challenges companies face, or help them decide what the challenges are and minimize potential risks. We have strong credentials from our work over the past 10 years, so we are confident that we can help companies do better in this area."

If you are interested in exploring more, contact Sarah here. Either way, I think we are going to hear a lot more about safeguarding, and not just safeguarding anything, but safeguarding those who matter most, our children and our youth and our friends and families and communities who may not be able to protect themselves. If that's not CSR, what is?

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen) or via my business website (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lindéngruppen: a shared transparency journey

Last month, I was honored to be invited to join the next stage in the transparency journey of a wonderful, privately-owned group of companies in Sweden. The parent company is Lindéngruppen, and it describes itself as "a second-generation family business focusing on sustainable long-term development of industrial companies". In 2016, Lindéngruppen’s wholly-owned companies had a combined turnover of approximately SEK 7.4 billion, and more than 3,200 employees in 27 countries. Lindéngruppen, based in Höganäs, Sweden was founded by Ulf G. Lindén in the mid-eighties and is now led by the Chairperson of the Board, his daughter,  Jenny Lindén Urnes.  

Lindéngruppen owns and runs four companies:

Beckers is a global industrial coatings company specializing in coil coatings and industrial coatings for metal. Beckers also provides finishes for consumer electronics and lifestyle appliances. 
Colart supplies the world’s most popular art material brands. Colart’s mission is to provide sustainable, creative tools and services to release pure expression.
Höganäs  is the world’s leading producer of metal powder and the main driver of the development of metal powder applications. 
Moorbrook Textiles produces woven-textile products from luxury fibers. 

These four businesses are primarily B2B, and do not have all that much in common in terms of the nature of their business, beyond their ownership and shared values as members of the Lindéngruppen family. But that is clearly enough to sustain responsible practice, as all four companies are guided by the enlightened, passionate and visionary leadership of the group's Chair, Jenny Lindén Urnes, whom I was privileged to meet at the first Lindéngruppen Sustainability Reporting Conference for the companies in the group last month. Her commitment to growing positive-impact businesses shines clearly as an inspiration for all.

At the one-day event, where company CEOs, sustainability, EHS and HR professionals came together as a group of more than 30 people, I shared my thoughts and insights about Sustainability Reporting, with a focus on the benefits for privately owned and smaller sized enterprises, and engaged in discussion with the business leaders. During the day, teams works on future scenarios and considered the challenges and opportunities that sustainable practice might bring. And all of this took place at Färgfabriken in Stockholm, Beckers' old paint factory built in 1889 and later converted into a cultural institution, supported by Lindéngruppen, now serving as a platform for contemporary cultural expressions, with an emphasis on art, architecture and urban planning, using approaches that help explore and understand the complexities of our constantly changing world. What a superbly fitting venue for a day of free thinking and collaboration.

The Lindéngruppen companies started their sustainability journeys well before this first shared experience, however. Each company has been applying sustainability principles and transparent practice in its own way with its own particular relevance and focus.

Beckers has been publicly reporting on sustainability since 2012 and its most recent Sustainability Report for 2016 is GRI compliant report with a focus on 8 core material topics underpinned by a sustainability vision.

In this report, Beckers shares the progress made in the development of Beckers Sustainability Index, a tool to help customers understand and make more informed choices based on data about the sustainability profiles of Beckers coating products. Last year, Beckers converted the index into an IOS/android app allowing customers to easily contrast the sustainability performance of different coating systems. This is an example of Beckers integrating sustainability in its core business through the products it sells, beyond managing the direct impacts of its production and other activities. It's about the impact of the business on society, not just about operating responsibly.

Colart's Sustainability Report for 2016-2017 reflects the color and creativity that are the essence of this company. Aligning with the UN SDGs, Colart identifies 12 goals that are most relevant for its business impacts and contribution to society. Using a seven-step "GET WISER" approach to sustainability strategy, Colart has been embedding awareness and understanding across all levels of the business, and engaging in creative platforms to promote the use of art for positive impact, such as “Hospital Rooms”, a UK-based mental health charity that commissions artists to create inventive environments and artworks for mental health units and holds art workshops for mental health service users. Aligning positive social impact with core business expertise helps make this partnership a success. 

Höganäs has just started its reporting journey with an initial internal report for 2016 that has not been published as the company prepares for external reporting for 2017. Nonetheless, having had the benefit of a sneak preview, I can say that the 2016 Höganäs internal report is a strong GRI-based report, reinforcing the sustainable contribution of metal powders that help reduce resource consumption and make manufacturing processes more efficient. There is much scope here, as metal powders from Höganäs are used in component manufacture, electrical applications and filters, surface coating, welding and brazing, water purification, cleaning of industrial wastewater, soil remediation and more. With more than 700 patents on metal powder processes and products, Höganäs invests in building its expertise and creating sustainable solutions for customers. With five central thrusts in its sustainability strategy to climb "Mount Sustainability", Höganäs is advancing climate neutral operations and sustainable offerings for customers while managing direct workplace impacts and engaging in communities. Höganäs is a partner in developing and advancing Swedish Sustainable Steel Vision for 2050 with other sector players in Sweden, playing a role in shaping a more sustainable future for the industry.  

Moorbrook Textiles, owners of the Alex Begg brand, is applying sustainability practices in its operations as part of its brand approach. This includes working to eliminate hazardous chemicals from all fabric production processes, ensuring aminal welfare in the animal fiber supply chain for wool and angora and developing traceability processes for sourced fibers. I understand that Moorbrook is also building a sustainability reporting capability and aligning its reporting processes with GRI Standards. So far, this work is internal and has not yet been published. Clearly behind the Lindéngruppen vision, however, Moorbrook has a positive sustainability story to tell and I look forward to hearing more.   

Lindéngruppen is an example of privately-owned, SME-scale, B2B businesses that are engaging with sustainability as essential supply chain partners for their customers and positive presences in their communities. It's inspiring to experience the passion that each company demonstrates in finding its own relevance and establishing its unique space along the sustainability spectrum. Led by a clear-headed, team-spirited and pragmatic Group Chief Sustainability Officer, Jenny Johansson, all companies in the group have the support they need to find their sustainability voice. And each is doing so at a pace that is manageable and enables maximum learning for each company along the journey. 

Lindéngruppen is proof that enlightened leadership and a practical approach is good for people, good for business and good for all of us, no matter the size or nature of the business. I wish all the Lindéngruppen team continued success and look forward to more Sustainability Reports of their progress.  

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen) or via my business website (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

WARNING: Strictly only for Reporting Geeks

The Urban Dictionary says: "Geek: An outwardly normal person who has taken the time to learn technical skills. Geeks have as normal a social life as anyone, and usually the only way to tell if someone is a geek is if they inform you of their skills." Merriam Webster's third definition of geek is more straightforward: "an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity." In the CSR-Reporting Blog dictionary, reporting geeks are simply "folks who breathe, eat, sleep and live all things sustainability reporting."

In the world of sustainability reporting, geeks have a place all of their own. Without geeks, reporting would never have achieved the major impact on the world it has had to date. Without geeks, we would still be begging companies for tidbits of information and clambering to understand whether they are performing in an ethical, responsible and sustainable manner. Without geeks, we would not have the opportunity to peruse the thousands of sustainability reports in all shapes, colors, sizes and languages that are published each year around the world, enriching our lives and making us feel that the world is a better place. Without geeks, sustainability reporting simply wouldn't happen - and then we would all be utterly miserable and the planet would be doomed.

So how do you know if you are a reporting geek? Here are some of the tell-tale signs:
  • Your read at least one Sustainability Report before breakfast every day
  • When someone asks you what you want for your birthday, you say: a brand new Sustainability Report 
  • You worst nightmare is a Sustainability Report that doesn't have a GRI Content Index
  • You read your kids bedtime stories from your favorite sustainability reports
  • You feel physically nauseous when someone talks badly of sustainability reporting
  • You recall that, as a child, whenever you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you always answered a sustainability reporter
  • You even read sustainability reports in languages you don't understand
  • You take a few sustainability reports to the gym every day and read them as you jog
  • You're in a restaurant and the first thing you look for on the menu is a materiality matrix
  • You prefer to read sustainability reports to watching Star Trek
  • Your favorite Christmas gift is a nicely-wrapped Sustainability Report
  • The shredder in your office has never seen a Sustainability Report
  • Your spouse is citing a Sustainability Report in your upcoming divorce
  • You attend the edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference in London every year.

The next conference, the seventh annual, in February 2018, designed by reporting geeks for reporting geeks and potential reporting geeks, boasts a stellar line up of speakers and an exciting program that any reporting geek will find invigorating, informative, incredible and impactful.

An opportunity to debate with experts, explore with peers, learn with other professionals, moan and groan in a safe environment where everybody empathizes, ask questions that only the reporting community can relate to and share in the fun that is sustainability reporting, the edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference will turn you into a reporting geek if you are not one already, or it will make you a geekier geek if you are already showing the signs. And who wouldn't want to put reporting geek on their resume? Can you afford to miss this unique opportunity? The CSR-Reporting Blog is offering a special discount for reporting and aspiring reporting geeks, so contact me if you want to take advantage of that.

What can the geek community expect at the conference?
  • Latest updates from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures 
  • Insights in aligning with the the non-financial EU directive 
  • Stories from innovators who are reshaping reporting using creative, digital methods
  • Discussion and tools to unlock the power of meaningful data 
  • Best practice examples for shaping your report to reach multiple and diverse audiences
  • Constructive insight from global experts on the key elements of a good report
  • Totally geeky conversations
  • A delicious lunch
  • A lot of fun in the company of many geeks
  • No ice cream, sorry
As the Chair of the conference, I will be around all day to meet and reconnect with you all, make sure things go smoothly, add a little provocation to the panel discussions, and lead one of the breakout sessions with a deep-dive on reporting on environmental and supply chain impacts. Sound geeky enough for you?
Of course, there are those of you out there that are secretly reporting geeks but afraid to admit it. It's time to come out. Reporting is mainstream. Reporting geekiness is something to be proud of. Proudly register for the edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference here (don't forget to email me for your discount) and tell all your friends. They will thank you.

See ya in London!

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen) or via my business website (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dr Sustainability is back!

Dr. Sustainability has been rather busy of late, engaging with stakeholders, making materiality assessments, chairing conferences and generally enjoying life on the sustainability reporting circuit. She has once again agreed to share her perspectives in response to reader questions EXCLUSIVELY on the CSR Reporting blog. She knows that the CSR Reporting Blog is the longest running blog about reporting in the stratosphere and that it is always packed with quality insights. Good quality, bad quality, who cares, it's always quality.   

Dear Dr. Sustainability: After almost 20 years of reporting, we don't have too much left to say. We have already described our policies, approaches and initiatives. Of course, we can easily update the quantitative data, but all the rest is as it always has been. Should we now experiment with different topics to report? For example, the fact that we have organic ice cream in our dining room? Or that we have reversed our smoke-free policy in our corporate offices to ensure we get value for money from our fire detectors? Or should we simply republish our latest report with a different image on the front? 
Dear Reporter: It's true that a year happens very quickly and even if you really scrape the barrel, there is not always enough to say. However, simply republishing your last report is not a good idea. After all, you want to differentiate yourselves from your competitors, correct? (Think about it!). In my view, you could be proactive and create some content specially for your report. For example, you could rebuild your corporate head offices totally out of post-consumer recycled waste that you have collected from all your employees and local communities. This is actually a long-term win-win, because then, instead of throwing out your office waste, you can use it to construct another office.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I heard that GRI and SASB are to collaborate on reporting standards. All SASB sector standards are to be integrated into GRI Standards and then, eventually, there will no longer be a need for a two separate organizations. I heard they are going to merge and call themselves Global Sustainability Standards Reporting Accounting Board Initiative (GSSRABI) headquartered in Amsterdam. Do you think this will help improve the quality of reporting over the long term? 
Dear Optimist: I think that's just absolutely fantastic. It's true that we need more collaboration in the sustainability reporting space. Usually, when you hear the word "collaboration", it means endless dialogue that doesn't get anywhere. At least, in this case, bicycle sales in Europe will increase.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We are in the process of planning our next report and we have engaged two different consultants to help us prepare it. The problem is the consultants can't agree on anything and every time one of them advises us on something, the other gives the opposite advice. How can we resolve this?
Dear Moneybags: You have two options. Only pay the consultant whose advice you choose to accept. Or, better, hire a third consultant to mediate between the existing two and decide on your behalf what is most appropriate. You may end up with a consultant-speak techno-babble report, but at least you won't be caught in the middle of consultant-speak techno-babble arguments.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear GRI is collaborating with the UNGC and others to create a reporting platform for the SDGs. Do you like this approach? 
Dear Collaborator: Of course, this is a wonderful approach. Collaboration is a great thing. And another new reporting platform is exactly what everybody needs. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Now that GRI Standards are published, are you seeing sustainability reports of higher quality? 
Dear Auditor: Oh yes. In particular, I am seeing a lot of investment in the reporting principles. One day, there will be an investment in reporting practice. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: My boss told me that sustainability reporting is just a phase and that it will disappear within 3 years. Should I be looking for another job? 
Dear Pessimist: Well, as the office cleaner, I wouldn't have thought this change will affect you significantly.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that GRI and IIRC are collaborating to make integrated reporting relevant to all stakeholders. Do you think this will be groundbreaking? 
Dear Stakeholder: Groundbreaking is probably not a word I would use. Backbreaking is probably closer to the truth.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: Why is it that sustainability reports are always about people, planet and profit? What about animals? I love animals. Why does no-one write sustainability reports that consider the needs of dogs, cats, elephants, lizards, snakes and hippos?  
Dear Zookeeper: The animal world is essential to sustainable development and many reports refer to the impact of corporations on biodiversity, wildlife, endangered species and other non-human life-forms. The problem is that pictures of wild boars and dead snakes on the cover of sustainability reports have been known to cause nightmares for the children of employees, and, in 2016, fourteen children were diagnosed with Sustainability Report Anxiety Disorder, a sickness usually only found to affect reporting managers. UNICEF has now banned animals from sustainability reports. In future, only nice photos of children and sunshine can be on the cover of reports.   

Dear Dr. Sustainability: For our last materiality assessment, it took absolutely ages to place the dots on the matrix. Every time I thought I had the right place for every dot, one of our executives or stakeholder groups decided that it should move up a little, down a little or to the left or the right. And when one dot moved, I had to move all the others. We decided on our most material topics ages ago, but it has taken 3 years just to agree where the dots should be, and now it's time for a new materiality assessment. How can I avoid the same problem in our new process?
Dear Dotty: Fix your dots down with SuperGlue. If anyone complains, fix them down with SuperGlue as well.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that GRI is looking for new organizations to collaborate with. They have exhausted collaboration possibilities with all the other organizations in the sustainability reporting space and are looking for new ways to enhance their reach. I have a small business that makes edible keyboards and I was wondering if GRI might be prepared to collaborate with me. Edible self-regenerating keyboards are a new sustainable tool for the future of work. They are organic, calorie-controlled, free of colorings, additives, added sugar and GMO ingredients and they are perfectly functioning keyboards until eaten, and regenerate themselves immediately after consumption. Using these keyboards, sustainability report writers can write, copy-paste, revise, copy-paste, send to legal and revise for days on end without ever having to leave their desk. This will have immense benefits for the speed of reporting, the productivity of reporting managers and the reputation of the firm. Do you think GRI will be open to promoting the edible self-regenerating keyboard as an essential sustainability reporting tool alongside GRI Standards?
Dear Businessperson: The edible self-regenerating keyboard certainly sounds like a worthy innovation. In fact, thank you for the samples. I gave them to a report-writer and she has already eaten 16 and she hasn't even finished the About this Report chapter. As for GRI, they may be interested. You just have to make sure that the keyboard has quick keys for standard reporting phrases. For example:

  • CNTL+E: We are proud of all we have achieved but there is more to be done.
  • SHIFT+K: Even in a challenging economy, we have still upheld all our CSR values and continued to contribute to the community. 
  • SHIFT+P: As a customer-centric company, customers are at the center of all we do.
  • CNTL+Y: Employees are our greatest asset.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: My CEO is committed to compliance but he says beyond compliance is totally an own-goal. He will not listen to reason. So all we have to report in our annual sustainability report is how compliant we are. Is it worth publishing a report? 
Dear Optimist: Compliance is a wonderful thing and your stakeholders will be comforted to know that you are compliant. You can write a great report about being compliant. You can tell compliance stories and case studies. You can take photos of your executives being compliant. You can include compliance videos. You can talk about the meaning of compliance and how it affects your organization. You can talk about the incidences of non-compliance and how you addressed them. You can reflect on the nature of compliance and the need to build a compliance culture. You can identify compliance targets and report your progress against them. In fact, there is so much to say about compliance that you will have to be careful not to make your report too long. Of course, a compliance-only report is not everybody's dream report, but you have to do what you can where you are with what you have. And you get to keep your CEO happy. He will probably be so happy that he will reward you (with ice cream) for being compliant. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We finished our sustainability report ages ago, but it has taken so long for our legal counsel and senior managers to approve the report that I fear it is a little out of date. Is it worth publishing a report covering 2012 in 2017? 
Dear Optimist:  Ah yes, that is a big gap. Who can even remember where they were in 2012? However, as long as you have ticked all the boxes, nobody will mind. In fact, nobody will probably even notice.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We have a new Human Resources Director who doesn't want to listen to anything to do with sustainability. She says the role of HR Is to keep management happy and employees productive and within budget. She is not interested in diversity and inclusion, employee wellness, community involvement, green teams, living wage, work-life balance, sustainability-based bonuses, flexible working and open communications. She just wants to hire, fire and arrange company parties.
Dear Frustrated: Yes, this can be a problem with Human Resources Managers. They often can't see beyond the end of their nose. This is especially problematic if they have a very short nose. The only thing you can do in this case is try to undermine HR. Do a workaround. Convince your business managers to apply enlightened people policies and to actually talk to employees about sustainability. Eventually you will see a momentum building and employees will want to engage on matters that matter, and HR will have no choice than to respond. In the meantime, in your Sustainability Report, include statements like "our employees are our greatest asset", "our employees are our most important resource", "we are very employee-centric", and say that HR is driving a culture of caring and sharing.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I want to get our company listed on DJSI, as I see that many companies who are listed gain additional financial value and access to capital and generally deliver a better return for shareholders. How can I improve our position on DJSI? 
Dear Optimist: The best way to get listed on DJSI is to actually improve your corporate sustainability performance over a period of several years and systematically build your disclosure to meet the needs of the DJSI analysts. Of course, this may seem like rather a long and challenging process and it may not be worth your effort. If so, the alternative is to use the resources you would have invested in gaining DJSI listing for other purposes that will improve access to capital, such as bribing the bank manager, bribing the analysts or providing severance pay for your Chief Sustainability Officer.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We have had a lot of feedback from employees who have read our Sustainability Report but they say that it does not represent our company. In fact, they say it's nothing like our company. They don't recognize anything that's in there. How can we resolve this issue?
Dear Stranger: Tell them not to be so narrow-minded and to use their imagination. By definition, a Sustainability Report is full of dreams and wishes and an optimistic and rosy future. You employees should link to their higher selves, explore the realms of possibility, contemplate on a heavenly work-life and consider that the report is designed to create trust in the company. How can you create trust if you actually tell it like it is?

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We love all our stakeholders, but frankly, all this engagement stuff takes time. I would much rather gain stakeholder input without having to talk to them. What are the ways I can do this on a tight budget? 
Dear Introvert: Yes, I understand that stakeholders can be a big problem. Engaging with them is every reporter's nightmare. The best way to do this without getting involved in long and cumbersome processes is simply to attend as many conferences as you can and talk to as many people as you can. Networking is the new normal in stakeholder engagement. Record all your networking conversations and publish the highlights in your report. Not only will you have a wealth of insight, you will enjoy lots of free lunches.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We want to engage with stakeholders by holding a stakeholder round table but we don't have a round table. What should we do?
Dear Carpenter: You have two options. Get a round table (easy) or or don't engage with stakeholders (easier).

Dear Dr. Sustainability: How do you see the future of reporting?
Dear Futurist: If I could see the future, I would not be working in sustainability. I would be selling underground bunkers and oxygen masks.

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen) or via my business website (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

Monday, October 16, 2017

In the hot seat at GRI with Tim Mohin

After nine months at the helm of GRI, Tim Mohin is still, yes, still, enjoying his job and making waves in sustainability circles. An eternal optimist endowed with just about enough realism and an unshakeable vision of a future of sustainable development powered by corporate accountability and transparency, Tim has a lot to say. GRI is also 20 years old young, and though Tim Mohin has been leading it for a much shorter time, his experience as a practitioner and sustainability leader gives him the long perspective. 

What prompted me to pound Tim with a barrage of tough questions was an interview with Bob Eccles published in Forbes a couple of months back.  Tim is quoted as saying: "There is a narrative that has been running for a while now that portrays sustainability reporting organizations as in conflict with each other. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. I believe there is an increasing amount of harmonization in this space, whether it be GRI, or the UN Global Compact, SASB or the IIRC. Not only do we have longstanding partnerships with those organizations and others, but we are in fact all just after the same thing, which is sustainable development." 

I beg to differ. I do not see harmonization between any of these organizations and there are new frameworks and reporting approaches popping up all the time, whether in relation to specific sectors, regulation, stock exchange listings or other independent initiatives. Investment analysts use their own proprietary methodologies that are not based wholly on one framework or another. Longstanding partnerships with organizations in this space may look nice on paper, but in practice, they have yielded very little in terms of simplifying the way companies report. I am sure it sounds nice to talk of harmonization and partnership, but the reality is that it is not yet yielding tangible benefits. The proliferation of Linkage Documents that enable some sort of correlation between GRI Standards and other frameworks further clutters the landscape. 

One case in point is GRI's close collaboration with the UN Global Compact. Both organizations have been in dialogue forever and have signed more MOUs than Nobel has given out prizes. And yet, signatories to the UN Global Compact are still required to prepare a Communication on Progress in line with UNGC requirements at Advanced, Active or Learner level. In fact, the UNGC is very proud of its flagship reporting framework - as noted on its website. 

There is a 31 page document making the connection between GRI G4 Guidelines and the UNCG COP(s). This states clearly that reporters using GRI must still include content relating to UNGC core elements, even if those have not been deemed material for the organization and therefore not required by GRI Standards. Frankly, just reading this linkage document made me crave for paracetamol-flavored ice cream. If there were a true spirit of harmonization, I would expect the UNGC to declare the demise of the COP and require all large company signatories to deliver GRI-based in accordance reports and all SMEs to deliver reports covering a subset of GRI indicators. The perpetuation of different frameworks compounded by the need to understand the link between them is about as useful as an iPhone at a mindfulness retreat. There are many examples where unnecessary duplication of requirements adds nothing to sustainable development. It adds only bureaucracy, budget and salaries for people charged with promoting different frameworks. 

I asked Tim to explain his thinking about the positive extent of harmonization. 

"I am coming from twenty years of practitioner experience. I can say that a fractured landscape has created confusion and burden for corporations and we have to pay attention to that. We have to look at how to dig a layer deeper and appreciate that there are different tools for different uses. It is not a reason for companies to become confused. There is real harmonization work going on. When I say harmonization, I am talking about when standard-setters are asking the same question in annoyingly different ways. Right now, we have an aspiration to work with SASB to align such questions. There are over two thousand different disclosure standards out there. Currently we are in Phase One, mapping the overlap and looking at where we can align and simplify. This is work we are trying to get funded. I am certainly seeing a change in collaborative spirit at SASB. When I first got this job, I went on a listening tour. When I got to SASB, it felt like we were competitors. I took the opportunity to appeal to a shared aspiration which is our end-goal to improve how information is used to advance sustainable development. That's the reason I took this job."

And the new thinking on the Sustainable Development Goals? 

"My view is that work in industry sectors and work on the Sustainable Development Goals can merge together. When you look at a sector and what's material for that sector, and then overlay the SDGs, you can see there is a good degree of correlation. I am very keen to merge those streams of work."   

What about the work GRI is undertaking to advance reporting by SMEs? 

"I took a trip through Asia this summer and one of the things I noted was the explosion in stock market listing requirements. Many of the listed companies in that region are SMEs, and they are starting to come to us for help. This is a major driver of the expansion of SME reporting. We have been working with one of our major funders in a program to drive sustainability reporting through the supply chain. When large companies use their buying power, you can bring a lot of SMEs into the fold, so it's a program to bring buyer and supplier together. First, they define the material issues they really want from the SME. A digital tool has been developed to help them use the GRI Standards so that it is more simple, straightforward and requires fewer resources. We are conducting training in developing countries (Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa and Vietnam) where we have funding and there are more to come. The pilot program has a two-year time-frame before we can roll it out globally. We are excited about this and it clearly shows the difference that GRI brings - we are trying to affect the entire global economy by harnessing the forces of capitalism in the service of sustainable development." 

How would you summarize your thinking after nine months at GRI?

"I have never been happier. This is certainly one of the highlights of my career. It's a fantastic cause and a fantastic organization. My only frustration is that there are so many ideas and possibilities, more than we can act upon at any given time. I have had to prioritize and manage expectations and focus but it's working out quite well. Running a not-for-profit is like running a business - we now have nearly 100 people around the world." 

And the focus is? 

"We have four key areas that we are prioritizing at present and we have reorganized our structure to meet the needs. (1) improving the quality of sustainability reporting (2) providing preliminary reporting guidance on sustainability topics that are new to the corporate reporting field (3) increasing reporting among small and medium-sized enterprises (4) promoting harmonization in the corporate reporting landscape. We are actively working in all these areas."

Do think there is still an issue connecting reporting practice to actual sustainable development?

"There is more work to do in this area. We have gotten some funding recently to work with the investor community to define what is investor grade reporting and how GRI can make that happen. It's a big hill we have to climb."

And the next GRI Global Conference?

"Ah yes, we'll be making an announcement on that soon. Watch this space!"

So, lots of things bubbling at GRI, including the tarmac on the Road to Harmonization. Tim Mohin is very consistent and clear in his purpose and intentions - to advance sustainable development and improve the value of reporting as a tool to help us all do that. In the meantime, defragging and optimizing the reporting framework hard drives continues to be somewhat of an elusive goal.

And if all that is not enough for you, you can check out the recent GRI Podcast with Tim Mohin and hear him talk about GRI's 20th anniversary and other things reporting - including more on the subject of harmonization. 

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen) or via my business website (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

Monday, October 9, 2017

#ReportingMania and Girl Power

In his introductory comments, Rajesh Chhabara pointed out that 50% of the speakers at the 2017 Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit were women. Which OF COURSE explains why the summit was such a resounding success. Not counting myself as Chair of the Summit, and the formidable women whom I have referred to in prior posts

there were many other fabulous women who played an important role as speakers and delegates at this very special Summit. Here are just a few more, as we celebrate Girl Power and women's influence in sustainable development. 

"We have a century working in Vietnam so we need to continue to think of the long term and how to move forward. Integrated reporting needs integrated thinking - we wanted to give a panoramic picture of our company from the past, the present and the future. We also have a standalone sustainability report . In 2016, we were honored with Best Report in the 2016 Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards and just last month we were ranked 18 in the world for our sustainability report by the League of American Communications Professionals (LACP). We encourage other companies to have a standalone report. We use GRI standards which is wonderful because it is easy and the structure is very clear. All the images in the report are made by the children of the employees  - we had a painting competition among the children of employees and these are pictures of sustainability in our report. We don't want to go our sustainability journey alone so we integrate more and more people along the way - this time it is the young generation."

CLP is no stranger to reporting and their 2016 Sustainability Report is the Group's 15th and the Group has consistently received awards for its high quality reports. In 2016, the Sustainability Report is framed around the six capitals that is used by the integrated reporting model. It includes a materiality assessment, developed using a proprietary Boundary Scoping and Materiality Identification (BSMI) methodology. In fact, this is one of the few companies that discloses a structured and credible methodology for defining materiality. Jeanne moderated a fascinating session on the role of sustainability ratings, rankings and indices on Day One of the Summit.

"In the building sector, we all know that we have a very high environmental impact - 30% of GHG emissions - and we started the green building journey very early in Singapore. We have been reporting on sustainability since 2004 and I think we are at the forefront of other sectors in the area of reporting. You have to integrate the frameworks - the Paris Agreement, SDGs and others into your business strategy and operations. Reporting is more about articulating the deliverables, the performance, but the most important thing is truly integrating this into your business and adding value to your business and to the community and the environment. You must truly believe in it."  

CDL's latest report is an integrated report and includes targets to 2030 supporting nine SDGs.

"Investors are more interested in current and future performance and not the past. They want to know how you are going to achieve sustained growth. You have to stay focused in the areas that are relevant to your business. We use our dedicated website with an update every quarter on our strategic goals aligned with SDGs. Investors are increasingly looking at SDGs. Ten years ago, my CFO returned the sustainability report back to me, no-one wanted to look at it. Today, there is more interest. In fact, they don't even need to ask questions, investors look at your listing on DJSI or FTSE4Good and they can assess your company without even telling you. Therefore, we might as well proactively communicate how we future-proof our business .. with data to support our claims." 

"As an NGO we provide deep insight into sustainability issues. Sustainability reporting is not just for investors, it's for all your stakeholders including civil society. Assessing materiality without the right input can mean companies overlook possible risks. NGOs can help guide a company in defining what roadblocks are ahead. Investors are also becoming the target of civil society regarding whether they are aligning their portfolio with sustainable objectives. They are also under scrutiny. Your sustainability report becomes meaningful to show how you are staying on top of these issues and the resilience you display in a resource-constrained world. Good reporting requires good data and targets based on science. For example, we look at different sectors and ask how we can decarbonize the sector. This requires a scientific approach. Companies see that targets verified through scientific methodologies can make a difference to the way they understand their business and the way stakeholders assess them."  

"I think if we want to talk about what data investors are really looking for we have to look at how investors have evolved across Asia. When I started talking about sustainability about two years ago, it was very much about educating investor groups. The concept of ESG was mainly about screening and limiting the investment universe to make it a little bit more ethical, focusing on certain investments and excluding those that don't align with your values. This is still a large part of how investment is done here - especially with religious investors. But what we are also seeing is that, over time, investors are more aware about ESG issues facing companies, not because this is something they haven't paid attention to in the past but because there is more data available. More companies are transparent and this can be packaged into usable information for investors. Investors don't want to waste time thinking about issues that don't make a difference to their investor performance so reported information must be material and relevant to your investment sector."

Gwen introduced the new People Planet Play citizenship framework for Caesars Entertainment and described how the company has embedded this approach throughout the organization. The evolution of several programs over many years of activity necessitated a new way of pulling it all together to align the language, messages and culture internally for team members as well as externally for guests. And Caesars has many citizenship initiatives that are industry-leading and award-winning and leading sustainability practice - including science-based targets on emissions. You can read more in Caesars latest Citizenship Report here. (And also in a post I wrote about this report, which I worked on.)

"In our communities, being an operator of choice is literally a social license to operate so that partners, licensors and governments will choose to work with us if we are good corporate citizens and we meet or exceed the goals we committed to in terms of economic development which usually means education and other social services. Are we protecting vulnerable populations? Are we giving opportunities to local vendors? Are we, overall, contributing to the economy as we said we would? People Planet Play is the result of our simplifying and refreshing our strategy for the coming years."

And responding to my question: What's in a name? Why is People Planet Play important?

"If you talk about corporate social responsibility, people don't know what you mean.  If I can explain it to my kids and their classmates at school, I think it passes the test. People Planet Play enables this. It's about what we do for People, our employees and our communities. It is what we do for the Planet that we call home. And we want guests to have fun but be responsible as they do so. Simplifying the meaning in a non-industry language - how we speak to our friends and family - makes it easy to relate to so that everyone can understand."

Hang Lung Properties has been a multi-award winner of the Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards for two years running in different categories. This is largely due to the vision and efforts of Bella Chhoa, who start leading the reporting journey in 2012. Hang Lung's most recent report for 2016 can be found here.

As a judge in the Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards, I loved Hang Lung Properties' superbly creative report for 2014. (Included it in my Top Ten Reports of 2015.) Making sustainability fun is, in my view, a compelling way to engage and inspire. A fun report for me is evidence of a confident company that knows the true value of sustainability and has the freedom to try innovative approaches. If a company can report creatively, it can probably run its business creatively too. Hang Lung's 2014 Report is fairly iconic and the following year was equally attractive. It was interesting to hear the rationale from Bella Chhoa regarding the 2014 report and the new 2016 report which is less colorful although no less professional.

"We are getting better and better. I knew nothing about sustainability five years back so I started from a blank sheet.  Because I needed to understand, the first thing I thought was to make a report that everybody can understand. I was quite lucky in that I was responsible for the Legal function and the Human Resources function so I was in a position to make improvements. I dove into materiality assessment and learned every element. I also needed the cooperation of my colleagues. A good report needs substance. We also wanted to make it more engaging so we tried to think outside the box and make a fun report with cartoon characters. It was a bold approach. The second year we created a character for the report - based on a front line staff character to raise the pride for our front line employees. We want them to be inspired to give a better service. Now, I think we will go from a most interesting report to a more "boring" one in order to engage our investors. We try to create a very comprehensive report. It's an online version for our investors, but we can never forget the contribution of our employees, so we will have a supplement which will include 10 case studies of highlights that focus on people. If you want to do sustainability in the best way possible to meet your business model, you have to bring on board partners who don't understand sustainability at all. This is very clear from our discussions on materiality. In this years' materiality assessment, integrity takes first place."

Fabulous insights and contributions from the gals in Singapore. There were many more formidable women speaking and attending the Summit and I am just not able to mention them all, but I truly enjoyed meeting every one of them and was inspired by each. Thank you to all the women who created Girl Power at the 2017 Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit.

This is the last in my short series of #ReportingMania posts from the Summit in Singapore. I hope it has given you a sense of the productive and engaging platform it was for interchange of ideas, practices and debate. It certainly was fun! And right now, I am assuming that you are already ready to register for next year's Summit. You can join me in doing so.

NB: All photos from the conference courtesy of CSRWorks

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen) or via my business website (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Elaine will be chairing the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018 

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