Sunday, September 18, 2016

Is philanthropy dead?

Apologies for that rather provocative title. Sort of. But it's a real question that I posed in one of the panels I chaired at the 7th  International Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility at Humboldt University in Berlin last week. It was a fabulous conference with some truly fascinating speakers from whom I learned a great deal. See Prof. Carol Adams's post with some of the key messages from the conference here.

You can also listen to all the Day 2 plenary sessions via the live-stream recording that can be found here  (if you have 9 hours or so to spare).

The session I'll share in this post is the panel I chaired on Innovative Philanthropy and Impact Investing, which starts at 5:25:19 (hrs:mins:secs) of the live-stream with an introduction by Professor Dr. Joachim Schwalbach, the formidable conference organizer and spirit behind the event. The experts who joined me on the panel were: 

Lisa Hehenberger  - Assistant Professor, Department of Strategy and General Management, ESADE Business School   
Kärim Chatti  - Market Director at ResponsAbility Investments
Johanna Mair - Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and Editor of the Standford Social Innovation Review
Thimo V. Schmitt-Lord  - Head of Foundations & Donations, Bayer Foundations 
Johannes Weber - Managing Director, Ananda Ventures - Social Venture Fund 

Lisa kicked off with an enlightening keynote, explaining the spectrum of philanthropy through to impact investing and the convergence towards a form of "blended social and financial value" creation. There are many hybrid ways of funding to create social value, Lisa explained. It doesn't need to follow the traditional separation of philanthropy for social value and investment for financial return. "It's possible for a foundation to be providing a grant in a more strategic way to a social enterprise that is generating revenues and it's also possible for an investor to start seeing some social and environmental returns with their investments."

Venture philanthropy is, then, very close to impact investing. Venture philanthropy is a long-term investment in an organization, providing both funding and also management support - often with an eye to measuring the impact of the organization and its activities. Impact investing is more or less the same thing, with the expectation of a financial return as well. Lisa highlighted the need for improved policy frameworks and greater transparency in impact measurement as the next stages in the evolution of this approach.

This being said, with the growth of impact investing and new types of corporations such as B Corps and Social Enterprises, the first question that I posed to the panel is: Is philanthropy dead? If both philanthropy and impact investing are designed to generate a social return, why does philanthropy still exist? What's the justification for philanthropy in this new context? 

The consensus view of the panel was that philanthropy is very necessary. In times of emergency, support is needed and there's no time to stop and calculate the social or financial return. You just need to help people. Also, in early stages of social enterprise development, seed funding is critical to support growth through to the stage where new enterprises are mature enough to be attractive to impact investors. At the same time, in early stages, enterprises do not have access to capital via loans as they have not yet developed their business infrastructure, and charities in most legal structures cannot take on debt in any case. Without philanthropy, these charities and social enterprises may not have the capacity to move out from first base. Thimo Schmitt-Lloyd actually prefers the term "non-profit investment", rather than philanthropy, as he feels that reflects the expectation of a form of return - not necessarily financial - which has meaning to the investor.

LISA: "You could almost see philanthropy as the research and development budget for social innovation. So if you don't have that, you don't get social innovation started. The impact investors would then have no deal flow and nothing to invest in." 

JOHANNA: "Philanthropy is absolutely not dead. Quite the opposite. There are two questions: Can the idea that you can invest and gain a social AND financial return be extended to all problems we have on the planet? No, of course it cannot. The second question is: What is new in philanthropy and how does that to social innovation? There is a lot of innovation in philanthropy - look at examples around the world in Germany or in Silicone Valley - entrepreneurs that turn into philanthropists - there is a competitiveness in terms of what kind of philanthropic endeavor you establish. Mark Zuckerberg, for example, doesn't use the 501(c)(3) (typical charity) vehicle. He uses an L3C  corporation structure as a vehicle for his philanthropic ventures. The drive to be innovative in this space is fueling new ways of philanthropic activity."  

THIMO: "If the risk profile of an investment is low, then the innovation potential is also low. The higher the risk, the higher the potential for failure. That's why you need very early investment in social innovation, because it provides the space to experiment, and sometimes fail, without the pressure of needing to generate a return."

So there you have it. Philanthropy is alive, kicking and innovating.. and setting the scene for responsible investment in its different forms. I then asked the next question on everybody's lips. Is impacting investing a compromise? Are investors compromising on the level of financial return they can achieve (versus mainstream investing) in order to achieve some form of social return?

KÄRIM: "In all discussions with investors and portfolio managers, return is key. We live in an environment where there are no interest rates ... so you have to look at your portfolio. Pension funds, family offices and corporate funds want returns. They want to see a nice return track record and return outlook. We deliver nice returns and nice risk profiles. On top of that we have an impact measurement system and we show all the social good that an investment supports, but that is on top. As soon as returns are tanking, large corporate investors pull out their money. In the Press Release, the CEO and the CSR Manager will emphasize the impact and the CSR benefits ... but in reality, decisions are made based on the risk-return profile. We invest in established businesses, possibly businesses planning an IPO or geographic expansion - this is different from the early stage investing that may need to be supported by philanthropy. Our investors know that."

JOHANNES: "In our social venture fund, it's different. Our funds work very well on a financial level but that's not why investors invest in us. They are not looking at the risk-return profile. Their focus is what sort of a difference their money will make."  

THIMO: Today, you also have to deliver a mission. Of course you have to deliver financially, but there must be a fit with the mission. Today, people ask, what's the impact? 

Our discussion also touched on different aspects of policy development, aligning employees and digitization in these areas of philanthropy and impact investment.

LISA: "One of the outcomes of the G8 Task Force was policy innovation. One example was in France - the Solidarity Savings Funds. If you are an employee in a French company, you can invest in a pension scheme where 90% is regular investment with a strict risk and return profile and 10% is invested in social enterprise. This has significantly increased investment levels in social enterprises in France, as it was designed to do."

KÄRIM: "We see huge differences across geographies in how pension funds are invested. I suggest you go back to your pension fund and ask how it invests your money. Some funds apply certain filters and positive or negative screening, but we also see more automatic alignment with responsible investment practice in certain countries such as Norway, Holland and Canada.. In some cases, employees are consulted about where the money should be invested."  

JOHANNES: "If you are a venture investor, you will probably be very interested in digital business models which may be highly innovative and are usually easier to scale. Of the businesses we invest in, around 40% have a digital aspect. Increasingly, IT-driven people want to work in this space. Digital natives are more interested in using their skills for social advancement even if they are not as well paid as they might be working on mainstream commercial initiatives." 

Some questions from the audience were rather incisive. For example, our panelists were asked: To what degree do impact investing and philanthropy divert attention and resources from driving real structural and social change? Is philanthropy about soothing our conscience and impact investing mainly about developing a new source of revenue? 

THIMO: "It depends how you define "return" for you as an investor. When return is progressing the ecosystems in which you operate so that you can operate better as a business, that's also a big return and not a diversion."

LISA: "Traditionally investors perhaps have this notion of two pockets. In one pocket is the money used generate to a financial return and in the other pocket is the money that's given away to make us feel good. That's changing. Now, both pockets are starting play a role in generating some form of return. There's a convergence at the individual level and also at the institutional level."

JOHANNA: "The old charitable model we all know has been replaced. It's not one single model of charity. It has become more strategic." 

And, to close, a couple of stories from Thimo that demonstrate the validity of different channels of investment through non-profit or venture philanthropy  showing that blended value that can be achieved through a strategic, holistic approach.

First, a story of two engineers who have developed a portable sterilizer for Africa that runs with solar energy and dirty water - and can therefore be used anywhere. It's cost is EUR 10,000 - modest enough, but still not affordable in most parts of Africa. As a rule, medical clinics in Africa do not have sterilization equipment and its a fact that, in Africa, 30% of deaths are due to unsafe medical practices. The Bayer Foundation is funding pilot devices to be provided free to social entrepreneurs who will take the sterilizers from clinic to clinic and sell not a machine, but the use of a sterilizer by the hour. In this way, a business model is formed that creates employment, upskilling for local distributors and a practical and affordable solution for clinics. Philanthropy funds the early stage and investment will kick in when the model us up and running.

Another example refers to early detection breast cancer tactile examinations. An entrepreneur found that using trained blind women as examiners (instead of physicians) can advance the detection of tumors by an average of nine months! This became relevant to the Bayer Foundation as law requires corporations in India to provide funding for CSR initiatives. Bayer discovered there are 60 million blind women in India while at the same time, breast cancer rates are among the highest in the world. Using "CSR" money to establish a training center for blind women to become examiners, Bayer starts with a philanthropic venture that can develop into an investment-worthy business as it scales, as women will pay a small fee for testing and the initiative will ultimately generate its own revenue.

The overriding conclusion, I think, it that philanthropy is not dead and we shouldn't attempt to kill it off. It serves a very important purpose in fueling early stage social development initiatives and also, in supporting communities when they need support with no strings attached. On the other hand, the emergence of different models, such as impact investing in its nascent forms and responsible investment in its larger scale frameworks provide additional blended value opportunities to get rich(er) and save the world all at the same time. Often, as in the Thimo's examples, this forms a sort of continuum starting with giving, moving into seed funding and developing into larger scale investing. 

So, when you are next reading the "community giving" sections of Sustainability Reports ... often seen as the "nice-to-have" rather than material elements of corporate impact ... you might have a slightly different perspective. 

Thanks to Joachim Schwalbach and all the expert speakers on this panel for a fascinating discussion.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . 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: 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Connecting for #Citizenship at Caesars

The publication of Caesars Entertainment's seventh annual 2015-2016 Citizenship Report is a testimony to the value of connecting all year round, and not just during reporting season. Caesars Entertainment is one of the best companies I know that connects on several social media platforms across a range of topics with regularity, creativity and consistency. That's why, in this Citizenship Report, the theme of connecting is highlighted and illustrated with Tweets and hand-held Message Boards. 

Caesars Entertainment Corporation is the world’s most diversified casino-entertainment provider and the most geographically diverse U.S. casino-entertainment company. A regular feature of the report is the Footprint, updated each year, showing the size and scale of the company.

Connecting is something Caesars does well. Perhaps this is what you might expect of a hospitality company. However, it's not to be taken for granted. Connecting at many levels with stakeholders is a cornerstone of sustainability and citizenship practice, and becomes a regular feed of interactions, sharing, learning and supporting that builds familiarity and trust. And add a little fun into the mix. The new Citizenship Report reflects this, from the senior management team right through the organization. 

Jan Jones Blackhurst - Executive Vice President of Government Relations and Corporate Responsibility

Alex Dixon, Assistant General Manager, Horseshoe Baltimore

Brooks Robinson, Regional Senior Vice President & General Manager, Harrah’s Cherokee

Jessica Rosman, VP, Procurement
Tweets in the report are dispersed throughout, supporting the narrative. This of course was only possible because Caesars maintains strong Twitter streams throughout the year from a variety of Twitter handles. The main one is the Citizenship stream (@CitizenCaesars). Then there is  Caesars diversity and supplier-diversity stream (@CZRDiversity) and Caesars charitable Foundation (@CaesarsFdn) and the corporate stream that includes many citizenship-related updates (@CaesarsEnt) and the Caesars "We Mean Business" Responsible Meetings stream (@CaesarsMeetings). And that's just to start with. Most of the 50+ properties at Caesars have their own Twitter streams where they amplify many of the citizenship messages to followers. There are few companies around that maintain such a pace on social media. It's a testimony to Caesars' respect for its stakeholders and openness to engage. 

For example, on a page where Caesars talks about advancing diverse suppliers, two Tweets are integrated into the story.

On a page where Caesars talks about creating memorable experiences for guests, with the new Jennifer Lopez sell-out residency, Tweets illustrate guests' excitement with the show of shows.

For every story in the report, and there are lots of stories, there's a Tweet, or several Tweets. As a channel of communication and engagement, Caesars gets the message real-time to where its followers are and listens to what they say back. It's modern, it's fun, it's transparent, it's citizenship. Of course, the publication of the report had to be followed up with a Twitter Chat. You can read the summary of the chat, hosted by Triple Pundit, here

But Caesars' report is more than Tweets and Message Boards. It's 110 pages of GRI G4 compliant reporting of advances in citizenship performance during the past year. It's also a first alignment with 8 of the 17 the Sustainable Development Goals, integrated with Caesars citizenship and sustainability strategy.

Overall, Caesars makes a strong contribution to economic development, with $9 billion in economic value created for stakeholders in 2015, bringing the total close to $40 billion in the past five years. Relatively speaking, Caesars contributes to communities more than three times the equivalent average value contributed by U.S. corporations.

This is not just about money. It's about the many different ways of being part of local communities, engaging and collaborating to support economic development and improvement in the quality of life. For example, 55% of Caesars employees are involved and invested in voluntary community activities in some way. Caesars' leadership in the development of responsible meetings defines specific sustainability standards for the thousands of meetings, conventions and conferences that Caesars hosts at its properties each year. The standards that Caesars requires of its suppliers through its Responsible Suppler Statement and the advancement of supplier diversity, engaging with diverse supplier communities and offering mentoring programs, are part of the social and economic value that Caesars creates. Also, Caesars takes a public stand against social inequalities and in favor of human rights, for example, as a founding partner of the Businesses Ending Slavery and Trafficking (BEST) Employers Alliance formed in September 2015. BEST is the first public-private partnership in the U.S. to work across industries to prevent sex trafficking and sex buying. 

Caesars reports strong progress (again) in environmental efficiencies through Caesars' CodeGreen strategy, both in 2015 and since the start of the initiative in 2007.

And guess what, as they get older, Caesars employees are getting healthier. With an award-winning Employee Wellness Program that demonstrates incredible levels of participation and outcomes, employees can enjoy a healthier and happier... and hopefully longer life.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Responsible Gaming when talking about Caesars. But there's no news here. Caesars was the industry leader in Responsible Gaming programs as the first commercial company to address the issue of problem gambling in 1989, and Caesars remains the industry leader today.  Caesars continues to invest in training, communications and providing practical tools, such as self-exclusion, to ensure that people who come to gamble do so because they want to have fun. With 796 trained Responsible Gaming Ambassadors throughout properties in the U.S, and tens of thousands of employees trained each year, this for Caesars is par for the course. No news, but good news.

Caesars 2015-2016 Citizenship Report covers all of this, and more, in a clearly structured GRI G4 (core) report that is supported by a year of Tweets from multiple Twitter streams. This makes the report fun to read (maybe one of YOUR Tweets got into the report?) and also validates the content by demonstrating that citizenship, at Caesars, is day-by-day and not report-by-report.

As always, take a look. Give feedback!

Disclosure: You probably guessed that I worked on this report (as well as on Caesars prior three reports).  It's always a pleasure and honor to work with Caesars. Maybe one day, I might even get to meet Jennifer Lopez. If I do, I'll Tweet about it.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . 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: 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

10 ways to have CSR fun in Berlin in September

Planning go to Berlin on 14-16 September 2016? Could possibly get there on 14-16 September 2016? There anyway? Let me help you decide how to have some fun on those days.

1. Go to one of the best Ice Cream Shops in Berlin and try out at least 5 flavors.

2. Attend the opening session of the 7th International Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility at Humboldt University. The conference theme is "CSR in an age of digitization".

At 08:45 precisely on Wednesday 14th September, Joachim Schwalbach will take the stage to open  up three days of spectacular debate, as he has done for the International CSR Conference Series since its inception in 2004. Joachim is Professor emeritus of International Management at Berlin's Humboldt University, and a prominent expert in CSR and related topics with a distinguished academic career to date. 

I asked Joachim about his hopes for the upcoming conference.
Joachim Shwalbach: "Based on the take-out of the conference in 2014, my hope is that we find ways for technological innovations to empower individuals and organizations to contribute to society's well-being. The last conference concentrated on the connection between innovation and sustainability. There were many insights resulting from that conference, but I will mention only three: First, given the challenge to global sustainability, incremental improvements are not enough. Instead, sustainability driven innovations increase the likelihood to improve value creation by companies and in society. Second, the conference brought two camps, innovation and sustainability, together. These disciplines do not normally pay attention to each other in companies as well as in academia. Third, digitization may help to speed up the process so that innovation and sustainability will be present in all elements of the value chain in companies. The 2016 conference will be a natural extension of our thinking in 2014."  

Well, there you are, and we are only at number two thing to do. If you are not convinced, read on for 8 more fun things to do. 

3. Attend the first plenary at 0900 on Wednesday 14th September at the 7th International Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility at Humboldt University. Join Timotheus Höttges, CEO of Deutsche Telekom, Georg Kell, Vice Chairman of Arabesque Partners, an asset management firm for sustainable investing and the founding Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact until recently and David Kiron, executive editor of MIT Sloan Management Review's Big Ideas initiatives. They'll present their thoughts on CSR and Digitization. Surely that's fun enough to convince you to participate in this session. But if not, read on..

4. Come and have a drink with me at the Hotel de Rome. At the heart of everything that happens in Berlin, the Hotel de Rome is a great startpoint for your Berlin sightseeing. Unfortunately, I won't be doing much of that.. see points 5., 7., and 8.

5. Join me for a plenary panel that I will chair  with a formidable group of experts at 14:00 on Wednesday 14th September on the subject of Digital Accountability. How is the digital world affecting communications with stakeholders? What is digitization doing to reporting and do we like it? Come and ask the tough questions!

6. Enjoy fresh the Berlin air in the Campus Mitte around Humboldt University's main building, at the boulevard "Unter den Linden", between Brandenburg Gate and the Dome of Berlin. While you are there, pop in to one of the rich, informative and educational sessions at the 7th International Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility.

7. Join me for another plenary panel that I will chair with another formidable group of experts at 09:00 on Thursday 15th September on the subject of Innovations in Sustainable Development with a focus on Human Rights. What are the practical steps being taken by companies to protect human rights? What outcomes can be identified? What innovations are we seeing? What are the minimum disclosure standards we should expect from corporations relating to human rights? How are we seeing the evolution of such disclosures today? What are the gaps? More on this .. but only if you show up. It's ok - you can bring ice cream.

8. Join me for yet another plenary panel that I will chair with yet another formidable group of experts at 14:00 on Thursday 15th September on the subject of Innovative Philanthropy and Impact Investing. What are the similarities and differences, and how can you tell? What contributes most to sustainable development? What's driving what? Don't worry, there won't be a call for financial contributions.

9. Join me for a massage at the Spa in the Hotel de Rome. After chairing all these plenary panels, even ice cream may not be enough to keep me cool and collected. The spa is located in what was once a vault for gold and jewellery. (The Hotel was built to house the headquarters of the Dresdner Bank in 1887). Maybe they didn't clean it out properly and we might find a few diamond tiaras and a ruby or two.

10. Go to one of the best Ice Cream Shops in Berlin and try out all the flavors you didn't already try. Joachim Schwalbach's favorite flavor is Cookies and Cream, so don't gorge yourself on that, so there is some left for him.

I could have continued with at least another 45 fun things to do in Berlin on 14-16 September (most of them associated with the CSR Conference). However, these are the Top Ten. If you allocate your time well, and screen your calls, you can probably manage to do all of them. Wow, that's a whole lot of fun in Berlin in three days. See you there?

I'll leave you with another thought from Joachim Schwalbach: "CSR or sustainability departments in companies have reached a cross-roads: Either they improve their competence as a valuable partner for the companies' top management to show that CSR aspects are key success factors, or they do business as usual and remain in their niche, not recognized as one of the most important drivers of business success." Yes, that's something else we'll be talking about in Berlin. Now you HAVE to come.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting AND Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . 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:

Monday, August 29, 2016

First Reports -Ten Trust Factors

It's almost Q4 and you know what that means. It's almost the start of the reporting season.


In the final quarter of the year, many companies are starting to plan their next report, or even their first report. There is a certain seasonality to reporting, by and large: Q4 planning, Q1 preparing, Q2 publishing, Q3 recovering. Of course, not every company is on that cycle.. but about now is usually the calm before the storm.

As we anticipate the next reporting season, we can expect a flurry of fabulous new first-time Sustainability Reports that will be published in 2017. It's not that I am especially optimistic about the impact of the EU Directive that will require 6,000 companies who do not currently report to start thinking about what they will write in their Sustainability Reports for 2017. Each year brings a flurry of new reports, with or without the Directive. And that means that each year, more companies have thought just a little more about the impact they have on our lives and are taking the first steps to be held to account.

Let's face it. Reporting is a little bit of a risky business. Take for instance, Dollar Tree Inc., a Fortune 500 American chain of discount variety stores that sells items for $1 or less in 13,600 stores around the country. Dollar Tree just published its 2016 Sustainability Report . Full marks for effort but this 14-pager 7-minute read is a list of environmental and social practices with barely any meaningful performance data. Not surprising then, perhaps, that there has been some backlash.

In a press release published in PR Newswire,  angry activists representing the Campaign for Healthier Solutions  berate the company for not addressing their concerns relating to chemical toxicity in the company's products after laboratory testing has found "potentially dangerous levels of lead, phthalates, and other toxic chemicals" in Dollar Tree's products. Comparing the current report to prior reports, these stakeholders find that there is almost no difference. So, although the folks at Dollar Tree have taken some steps along the transparency journey, they still have to find the path of accountability. Reporting is risky. Arguably, the fact that Dollar Tree has made efforts to publish a Sustainability Report has added fuel to the frustration of stakeholders. But, in fact, the Campaign for Healthier Solutions is doing Dollar Tree a favor. It's creating pressure that will ultimately lead to a safer planet, a safer society and a stronger business. If Dollar Tree embraces its critics, and takes responsible action, next year's headline may well be: "Dollar Tree's Sustainability Report reflects significant progress."  Reporting, whatever your motivation, even if it's just to tick a box, sooner or later becomes part of a greater whole relating to a company's role in society. Sooner or later, Dollar Tree will change. And it will benefit from that change.

So, even with some risk, reporting adds value and first-time reports hold a special significance for reporters, report users and me. I love first-timers. There is something about the special efforts necessary to deliver a first-time report and starting to flex those transparency muscles. I believe this starts to transform the internal conversation in any company, and eventually transforms the external dialogue too (as it has done at Dollar Tree Inc.). So many first-time decisions challenge any company that's reporting for the first time that it's a bit like navigating a minefield. And almost as risky.

As you all know by now, I generally tend to be a little critical when looking at reports so here's my upfront disclaimer. Every first report is a commendable venture into accountability and transparency and the start of what is hopefully a meaningful reporting journey for any company and its stakeholders. As a reporting consultant for hundreds of years now working with many companies, I can testify to the fact that no report is easy and every first report double-proves it. Before we go any further, I say: CONGRATS to ALL first-time reporters ever - you all deserve a triple scoop. Good luck to all those first-timers planning to break through the transparency barrier in 2017. (Remember, help is at hand - you don't need to go it alone :-)).

In looking at any report, including first-timers, it's important to consider that the overarching purpose of any Sustainability Report is to build trust. If it doesn't do that, heck, you're wasting your time. I've been taking a look at first-timers - it's always fun - to see how this is working. There are probably a thousand ways in which reports build trust, but, in order to help me apply a consistent approach when looking at first-timers from around the world, I  selected ten basic aspects of a first-time Sustainability Report that, for me, help build trust. These aspects do not carry equal weighting and they are far from scientific. These elements contribute to building any report's TF (Trust Factor) in my personal and subjective view. In sharing my thoughts, as always, my goal is to encourage reporting, in the hope that first timers will become second and third timers. My intention is not to be overly critical, but in some cases, forgive me if I can't help myself!

Here are the ten TF (Trust Factor) elements I  consider in my series of first-timer report reviews:
  • The CEO Statement: Must be meaningful, relevant and authentic, not just some generic any-company rhetoric about "how proud we are of what we have achieved but there is more to be done". 
  • Material focus: Must state the most important sustainability impacts and provide relevant disclosures. Oh, and that doesn't mean a list of material topics somewhere at the beginning of  the report, and no further reference to materiality. It means using materiality to frame the content of the report.
  • Adherence to GRI: Yes, a GRI compliant report gains a point in my book. While there are many fantastic and genuinely impressive non-GRI reports, using GRI implies for me a predisposition to align with the most widely-used global reporting framework that relies on general stakeholder expectations of rigor in reporting content and quality. 
  • Transparency maturity: This means  providing a critical mass of relevant sustainability performance data, not just declarations of approach and positions. No numbers, no good.
  • Challenges: No company has no challenges. Authentic reports discuss challenges. 
  • Examples of practice: Yes, I believe case studies build trust. They also help make the report more interesting and reduce yawn-time. 
  • Stakeholder voices: I think reports that contain direct opinions from stakeholders tend to show that the reporting company has good relationships, a collaborative culture and appreciates stakeholder involvement. Including stakeholder voices - and faces - bring a report to life. 
  • Contact person: I like reports that provide a person to contact, not an anonymous email dump-box. If you are proud of your report, put your name on it.
  • Clarity of presentation: We have to be able to understand data and charts quickly and read the narrative with ease. Too much technobabble drives me crazy. If I have to pore over a chart for more than 35 seconds to understand what it's telling me, it's a bad chart, no matter how creative the designers have been. 
  • Design and format friendliness: While design is not necessarily a trust-builder, good, clean, compatible design makes reading easier and shows the reporting company considers not only how to get the message across but how to get it through. Easy navigability is a plus. (I don't read eBook reports, so first-timer non-downloadable eBooks don't get my time.)  I don't like online-only which ties me to the speed and reliability of my internet connection wherever I am in order to navigate. I love PDFs. When I download a PDF, I can read it quickly wherever and whenever I want, search, highlight and make notes. Online formats undoubtedly offer interactivity advantages, but for me, they slow me down.
In upcoming posts over the next few weeks, in the run-up to Q4, I will review first reports that were published over the past couple of years against my TF (Trust Factor) framework. Watch out for posts with a First -Time Trust Factor title.

Let me know if you have recently published a first report.
Or even better - let me know if you'd like some help in preparing your first report. I would totally love that.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . 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:  

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Are you ready for the future?

Getting future-fit is both a business strategy and a sustainability strategy.  This year, ECI's Sustainability Report, the fifth annual report, and the third GRI G4-based report, places the focus squarely on how the company has been transforming itself to become future-fit and help its stakeholders become future-fit. So many Sustainability Reports are full of gloom and doom, and the impending collapse of humanity as we know it. While no-one questions the need to transform the way our economies work and the way corporations behave, getting future-fit can be inspiring and positive. ECI's 2015 Sustainability Report reflects ECI's optimistic approach to getting ready for the future. Are you ready? 

ECI is a global provider of ELASTIC network solutions to Communications Service Providers (CSPs), critical infrastructures and data center operators. ECI provides packet-optical transport, SDN/NFV applications, end-to-end network management, a comprehensive cyber security solution, and a range of professional services.

At its core, ECI's future-fit strategy is based on an ELASTIC approach to business. ELASTIC means flexible, open, adaptable, customizable, controllable and resource-efficient. Much of this may sound like mumbo-jumbo technobabble to you.

Think about it this way. You live in Mumbai and wants to call a friend who lives in a remote area in Southern India. As you may know, fixed-telephone-line coverage in India is not comprehensive, so mobile is the most practical way to reach remote communities. According to Wikipedia, India had 24.81 million fixed line telephone subscribers in 2016, and more than one billion wireless subscribers. ECI has a strong presence in the Indian telecoms market and supports 4 leading mobile service providers, helping develop and upgrade their mobile and internet coverage and speed. The chances are that when you call your friend, the call will be transported over ECI's equipment.  

Or perhaps you live in Africa. As a result of the work of ECI in 11 countries in Africa, supporting local providers with efficient, state-of-the-art communications and internet infrastructures, people living in these countries are now able to gain access to advanced mobile and internet services.

Millions of people in the many countries that ECI serves have a similar experience. These individuals can achieve an enhanced quality of life because local providers develop and expand the quality, reach and choice of their mobile and internet services to their customers through the use of ECI's ELASTIC solutions that provide advanced, efficient, reliable, secure, future-fit technology, building on legacy installations for speed-to-market and affordable incremental costs. 

This is ECIs positive impact on society and the environment. In the 2015 Sustainability Report, ECI describes its work in developed and emerging markets, and the way new ELASTIC solutions are transforming lives for so many. 

All of this is aligned with ECI's material focus and specifically with five of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals:

The 2015 Sustainability Report, in addition to all of this, describes the progress ECI has made across a range of social and environmental topics. This includes a first in 2015 for ECI -  a stakeholder round table attended by participants from civil society, ECI's supplier network, academic and business subject experts who engaged in a frank discussion about the expectations of ECI as a company and offered suggestions about the way ECI could improve its impacts. Environmental performance has continued to improve at ECI with, in 2015, further reductions in energy, emissions, water and waste.

ECI continues to promote women in technology, achieving a level of 24% of managers who are women in 2015, from 19% in 2014 (and 16% in 2011).

As a privately-owned company, ECI's commitment to transparency is part of a leading-edge approach to everything the company does. Future-fitting business is sustainability at its best. With optimism and inspiring ELASTICITY, ECI's report is worth a look.
It's not by chance that I write (again) about ECI's reporting. It has been my honor and pleasure to support this report, and every prior ECI report. I'd also like to call-out Eynat Rotfeld, ECI's CSR Manager who has driven reporting with a passion over the years and has slowly but surely engaged the entire ECI organization from the Chairman of the Board, through the CEO and all senior management and divisional management teams. Eynat is a CSR change-maker and an example of how trusting, collaborative relationships, consistent communication and gentle encouragement are ingredients that work in embedding a culture of CSR in an organization.

As always, take a look at the report. Give feedback!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting AND Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . 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:

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Beyond Reports - 11 insights

The GRI Conference has come and gone, and I have been so busy working on so many client reports that I have barely come up for air, let alone come up to post on the blog. More about some of the reports I have been working on in recent and upcoming posts.

Lots of water under the bridge since the GRI Conference in May 2016... including the not-so-surprising-to-many-of-us departure of Michael Meehan, the GRI CEO since 2014. A new era of collaboration and innovation will now be replaced with a new era of searching for a new CEO. The hunt is on... though, as is often the case, organizations look further than they need to.

Someone  I believe is eminently qualified to lead GRI into a new era of better and more impactful reporting is GRI's current Deputy Executive, Teresa Fogelberg. Teresa has been a reporting advocate for longer than most of us have been reporting, and has advanced the positioning of reporting around the world through her work with governments and advocacy organizations more than anyone else on the landscape. As a veteran GRIer, she's well positioned to put GRI back on course. Continuity at GRI is critical in this period to avoid onging over-commercialization of the GRI services and focus on advancing the true value of reporting as a process, an output and an impact on the way business gets done and the way economies are run. Just as we might hope for the USA in the forthcoming elections,  a woman (the right woman) at the helm of GRI will be a new era of not only collaboration and innovation, but also, getting things done.

But I digress.

This post is about podcasts. You may or may not have noticed, but GRI has been putting out a series of short podcast called Beyond Reports for some time now. In fact, there are 6 in the series to date. The podcasts include a brief update of reporting news over the past month, and an interview with a reporting personality from the GRI network.

It was fun for me to be one of the six podcasters so far. At the GRI Conference, GRI's charming Media Relations Manager Davion Ford asked me lots of questions about my favorite subject: reporting. and this was the result:


Five insights:
"A challenge that is significant for companies is about reporting impacts and outcomes rather than a whole shopping list of everything they have ever done. A report is not an activity agenda - it should be a focused material account of how companies are making a difference in our lives. Companies find it difficult to report how they are making a difference rather than simply what they did."

"The biggest thing that companies have a challenge with is: bad news. No-on wants to put bad news in a Sustainability Report. I always advise my clients to include good-bad news, which means that you should disclose a challenge or particular difficulty, but you can position that in a good way by describing what to have done to address that challenge or prevent recurrence of a problem."

"Legislation is always a great motivator but often it motivates to the minimum common denominator.....two drivers that will change the motivation of companies to report are large companies and CEOs. Large companies - the biggest multinationals - are more or less getting it. If they are able to drive reporting through their supply chain, that's a real motivator for their suppliers. The second thing is, if you want to motivate a business, convince the CEO. If the CEO is convinced that reporting adds value to the business, she will make it happen!"

"Your first sustainability report is not the absolute best report you could ever produce. It will take several years of perfecting your process in order to get a better quality report."

"A limitation of reporting today is that there tends to be bits of information presented in a fragmented way, which doesn't necessarily reflect a consistency of approach year on year. If I am reviewing the report of a company, for example, I always look at one or more prior reports. You can't take a single report in isolation. Our expectation is that we can read a report, and that's it. The big challenge is for companies is to develop consistency over time in reporting."

The first podcast in the series was with Nikki McKean Wood who heads up Corporate and Stakeholder Relations at GRI. Nikki talked about the new GRI GOLD community.

Three insights:
"The GOLD community members are really our core supporters so we strive to put them at the heart of GRIs network, shaping the future of sustainability reporting."

"We hope to achieve an active, engaged and diverse [GOLD] community."

"This is a new era of sustainability... we see business taking action towards a more sustainable world, but there's a lot to do and a transformational effort is required by all to unlock the real value of sustainability data."     

The most recent podcast in the series is an interview with Christina Burmeister of Deutsche Bank:

Three insights:
"The reporting process is relevant as much for management decisions as it is for investors."

"The Financial Services Sector has experienced a major shift in the last decade.. sustainability is becoming more and more of a strategic imperative."

"One can always improve the quality of reporting and the fact that a defined set of information will be mandatory [from the EU CSR Directive]  in the near future onwards will help that case.. there are sill some challenges ahead of us and we will take this opportunity to strengthen our internal process and get the adequate information."

I encourage you to have a listen to the Beyond Reports Podcast series of GRI  and pick up loads more insights from people who live and breath Sustainability Reporting every day. Of course, listening to podcasts with ice cream helps our brain understand all those wonderful insights.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting AND Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . 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:

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Nine things of note in Strauss Group's ninth report

The Sustainability Reporting journey is always so fascinating. The companies that I love to work with treat Sustainability Reporting as an opportunity for deep reflection, discussion, debate, consideration, revision, re-framing and renewal. While these processes often happen throughout the year, the choice to publish a Sustainability Report by a certain date ensures that these process streams are priority-funneled into one orderly alignment of content that becomes the company's account of its impacts and its unique sustainability story.

Strauss Group has been doing this now for the past nine years, and while you might think that it's easy to simply pick up with each new report where the last one left off, this is never the case. Our world is so dynamic, our days are so crammed with everything and great companies do so much in one year, that each new Sustainability Report is a new challenge and a new opportunity. Hence the reflection, debate and renewal. And this this case, Strauss Group's ninth Sustainability Report is a unique story, a creative presentation and a compelling read.  

1. Listening, Acting, Improving
This year, the focus for Strauss was Listening, Acting, Improving. It was driven by deep introspection throughout the year, and consultation with stakeholders, especially consumers, who provided important and insightful feedback to Strauss Group about things that go right to the core of the business and the way the business is conducted. Osnat Golan, VP for Communications, Digital and Sustainability at Strauss Group made the point: "During the past two years, we have learned that the highest priorities for our consumers are fair pricing and helping to curb the rising cost of living, as well as advancing healthy nutrition through our products." This year, Strauss Group's report reflects the actions the Group has taken in direct response to stakeholder concerns and expectations.

2. Fair product pricing
There are few, if any, food companies that address pricing policy in their Sustainability Reports. What is the responsibility of a food company to price food products so that a broader spectrum of the population can afford to buy them? How many companies acknowledge this as a responsibility? I suspect that Strauss Group is pioneering in its approach to respond to the rising costs of living and the affordability of basic foodstuffs by reducing consumer list prices across a range of products in the order of between 2.5% and 22.8% in its home market in Israel in 2015. In a year when consumers were continuing to assertively state that food pricing has put certain products beyond their reach, Strauss became the first company (and the only one to date) in the local market to listen, act and improve. These price reductions are significant. After all, corporate responsibility and sustainability is not just about saving the planet. It's also about contributing to the quality of life on the planet. Fair pricing is a highly sensitive, subjective and complex issue - it takes a bold company to accept "fair pricing" as an objective and take measures to implement a fair price policy for consumers.

3. Supporting employees
The second initiative that ran alongside support for consumers in 2015 was support for employees. Employees are consumers too, and if the cost of living rises, they feel the pinch just as other consumers do. Many companies today accept the concept of "living wage" and implement policies to compensate employees in line with a target wage level. At Strauss in Israel, following the direct input of hundreds of employees in feedback meetings over the past two years, Strauss understood the need to protect lower income employees and took this seriously as an element of the company's approach to corporate responsibility and its social license to operate. In the past two years, Strauss boosted benefits for employees at the lower end of the income scale and in 2015, set the way for several very significant additions, including a fixed proprietary minimum wage around 7% higher that the legally mandated level, child care support worth thousands of dollars per year for eligible employees and the opportunity to contribute to an employer-matched tax-free savings fund that helps employees protect their future with an accessible savings program. In addition, employees receive a host of other benefits to help them cope with the economic challenges of simply making it through the month in the black.

4. The Kitchen
The progress made at The Kitchen is worthy of note in Strauss Group's ninth report. The Kitchen is a pioneering initiative by Strauss with the support of the Chief Scientist of Israel, designed to advance food-tech in Israel to deliver new technologies that improve the sustainability of food production or deliver new benefits for consumers. This is a contribution to the advancement of the food industry - the technologies that are developed will not necessarily used by Strauss Group in their operations. With an investment of $25 million over 8 years (40% funded by Strauss, the remainder by the Israeli government), in its first year of activity, the Kitchen has already propelled three amazingly innovative food-tech startups into a new sphere of development and commercial activity. Entrepreneurs would have a hard time accelerating their development without such support. Enabling them to get on the map is a significantly positive sustainability impact.

5. The performance
In one year, since the last report, Strauss Group has made significant progress on several fronts, and the performance highlights are delivered up front for readers who want an overview and not an extensive read. One summary infographic for each main section of the report does a good job in pointing readers in the direction of what's most significant.

6. The design elements
Of course, Sustainability Reports are about content, not design. But design that brings reports to life makes it fun for us to read the content. It demonstrates an intent to produce a document that will encourage readership, rather than a stuffy old PDF crammed with text that turns you off before you get to page 2. In 2015, the folks at Strauss Group's long-standing report designer, Studio Merhav, have excelled themselves in creative design that supports the narrative and makes this report a delight to read. Infographics blended with photos and freehand design cause you to stop and look at the imagery as you read the report, giving you time to consider the meaning and the messages that they reflect. A world away from the Stock era and hand-cupped globes of the early days of reporting. Here are a few examples. Aren't they fabulous? 


7. Environmental data presentation

Another design feature in this ninth report is the presentation of environmental data. Instead of the usual graphs and charts, environmental data is presented in a way which makes it fun to actually look at the numbers. This presentation supplements the detailed performance tables over several years that are included in the report for those who want the specific numbers. But for most of us who want to see the big picture quickly, this presentation does the job. 

8. The credits
Not many companies include credits to those who work on the report. Strauss Group has always done that. Credits to providers who have worked on the report is an expression of the respect Strauss has for other businesses, small businesses, as it happens, and demonstrates another aspect of both transparency and social responsibility. (At this point, it's appropriate to disclose that I worked on this report, together with my team at Beyond Business - the fourth report we have supported for Strauss Group alongside additional consulting work on different aspects of strategy development. It is always a pleasure and an honor to work with Strauss.)

9. Daniela
The achievements of Sustainability Reporting Managers often go unsung in our reporting world. A few present at conferences, a few write blogs, but most of the hard work in reporting is driven by passionate, skilled and impressively dedicated individuals who mobilize entire organizations in order to get a result their companies can be proud of - most of whom we never get to know. The achievements of Reporting Managers are no small thing, and real credit is due to them. So it is with Daniela Prusky-Sion, Strauss Group's Sustainability and Internal Comms Director, who has led this work for several years. Daniela is a dynamo, never tiring in her efforts to do things better, do things right and do more things to advance Strauss Group's strategic approach to sustainability and improved contribution. Reports under her watch get better and better.

As usual, take a look! Give feedback!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . 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: 
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