Monday, May 23, 2016

Comrades. It's all about jobs.

One of the most memorable moments in the 5th Global GRI Conference last week was when the Minister of State for International Development (United Kingdom), The Rt Hon Desmond Swayne TD MP took to the stage and opened with the greeting: Comrades! It's all about jobs. 




That woke us all up. Minister Swain continued to elaborate, loudly, deliberately and perhaps even a little flamboyantly, in the following way, more or less. (Apologies, I may have missed a sentence or two in my transcript below)

"Let me give you my take on the Sustainable Development Goals.. or as we must now learn to call them, the Global Goals. Fundamentally these will, of course, deliver the disappearance of absolute poverty by 2030, and in doing so, will have created a more prosperous more stable and safer world. But ultimately, these goals come down to one thing: It's all about jobs. It's all about jobs in the end. A livelihood, a job - being able to put a roof over your head, putting food on the table, educating children, providing healthcare, generating the tax revenue which governments require to provide social services - it's all about jobs and if you look at the world, you will see that people are going to enormous lengths to secure a livelihood, a job or a better job. 40,000 people a day are going to the extraordinary lengths of leaving everything they are familiar with, everything they know, leaving their homes in pursuit of a job. Even if we take those who are being driven primarily by conflict, just look at that behaviour.


"Let's take Zaatari, on the verge of becoming the world's largest refugee camp, look at the conditions - they're much better than in many cities around the world with security, safety, reasonable accommodation, sanitation, clean water, food which the World Food Program provides, UNICEF will educate the children. But these people will nevertheless leave because the one thing that it cannot offer is a job opportunity. For a job, these people will risk absolutely every penny they have. It's all about jobs in the end. The world needs 600 million new jobs over the next decade if we are going to avoid a growing army of frustrated, despairing and angry young people who are unemployed or underemployed - exactly the sort of raw material, the circumstances, that generate conflict and instability which is the enemy of any kind of employment. So it's all about jobs.

"Now, I confess as a young economic student to having been enthralled with a right-wing economics professor in my University and his catchphrase was: Well, after all, there's only one thing worse than being exploited by capitalists and that's not being exploited by capitalists. HaHa. He reinforced his ignorance with another of his catchphrases: After all, surely any job has to be better than the alternative, which is daytime television! showing his clear ignorance of circumstances in the real world. If only it were so. So it is not any job, comrades. What if your job literally enslaves as many jobs do in all sorts of different forms? What if your job is breaking your health, poisoning the air or water or the land in which your community lives? What if your job literally costs you your life?It's not any job. We require inclusive growth - those kinds of jobs are actually job destroyers because what they do is generate the very sense of grievance or injustice which is the raw material for conflict which is utterly destructive of any prospect of employment.


"So we need inclusive growth. From where is it going to come? Well, my ideological prejudice will tell you that it certainly won't come from governments. Governments create the circumstances in which there can be inclusive economic growth - by providing a relatively benign investment environment, the rule of law, contract law, light-touch regulation - all those things that are essential to Global Goal number 16 and the targets that underpin it. Equally, the greatest enemy of employment can be a government where there is no rule of law, where there is arbitrary and unpredictable taxation, where there is no creation of successful enterprise, where people get jobs because they are somebody's cousin rather than because they are efficient. Any number of things, I assure you, governments can screw up and drive jobs away.

"I only know of one engine that can release initiative, enterprise and hard work of ordinary people to generate jobs and that is private-sector-led investment - the only sustainable engine of inclusive economic growth. But how do we ensure that those enterprises spend as much time addressing the impact of their enterprise as they do maximizing profit? That is where organizations such as GRI come into being. I think it's a huge compliment, a huge achievement, that just recently the Japanese Stock Exchange has made the GRI standard a mandatory requirement of membership. A huge leap forward in this vitally important set of guidelines for promoting transparency and collaboration. That's why the Department of International Development is so passionate in our support for this kind of initiative.

"May I make three suggestions for ways that we can drive this agenda forward. Firstly, with respect to new technology - let us harness new technology to make those reporting standards ever more up-to-date, ever more relevant and drive that agenda forward. Secondly, let's find ways of ensuring that this agenda - the environment, human rights and these proper concerns of enterprise are brought into the main effort, the mainstream, the core of the enterprise and not tucked away in a compliance department or in a department that ticks the boxes to show that the enterprise is meeting all its requirements. Finally, and most importantly, how do we address and engage those who are not already in this room? The reality is I'm preaching to the converted, otherwise you wouldn't have come to this conference in the first place. How do we engage those enterprises and draw them into this initiative so they too can be transparent and accountable? I know our best brains are working on it."



The message is clear. It's all about jobs. Creating and maintaining jobs, I believe Minister Swain was saying, is the core of a corporation's social impact and therefore accountability. In G4, soon to be reborn as a standard, job creation is not identified as a core material Aspect. There are references to inclusive hiring - but that's about diversity (G4-LA1). There is a reference to jobs supported in the supply chain as part of an organization's indirect economic impacts (G4-EC8). But there is nothing about creating jobs, sustainable jobs, as a core objective for corporations. Should there be? Job creation is often the outcome of successful business, rather than the driver. Companies will tell you they do not do business to employ people but that they employ people to do business. There is nothing about layoffs in the GRI framework and most companies do not tend to report layoffs. Should this be a new performance indicator? In the U.S. in 2015, Forbes reports almost half a million job cuts. I recently heard a talk on a webinar by a Manager at social enterprise Greyston Bakery, whose mission is: "Greyston is a force for personal transformation and community economic renewal. We operate a profitable business, baking high quality products with a commitment to customer satisfaction. Grounded in a philosophy that we call PathMaking, we create jobs and provide integrated programs for individuals and their families to move forward on their path to self-sufficiency." Job creation is as central to Greyston's mission as baking cookies is central to their operation. 


In any event, I thought Minister Swain got his point across very effectively, while demonstrating a sound knowledge of the issues at stake and the global environment in which we live and work. Is it all about jobs? Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't. But I could add that it's not only all about jobs. It's also about an ecosystem that enables people to get to the jobs, develop and thrive, and, ultimately, enjoy an ice cream here and there. I'd like to thank Minister Swain for one of the most powerful speeches at the GRI Conference. IMHO.


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 www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz  

Friday, May 13, 2016

The GRI STANDARDS Exposure Draft explained

It's official. G4 is now becoming a STANDARD. GRI is looking for input to the new Exposure Drafts for GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards) in the Public Comment Period which is taking place NOW and will continue until 17th July. Of course, for all of you attending the 5th GRI Global Conference next week (come and say hi!) you will be hearing a LOT MORE about that, so you might want to hold off on your comments until after the event. In the meantime, I decided to translate the technobabble into a digestible version of the changes for those of you who want to know more about what it means, in addition to what it means, if you know what I mean.  

I also took the opportunity to have a chat with the two folks who are key to making this change happen - Chelsea Reinhardt, GRI's Deputy Director of the GRI Standards Division, and Bastian Buck, GRI's Director of the Standards Division - both of whom shared some fascinating insights. Chelsea has a strong background in standards, having led a full supply chain standards review for the Marine Stewardship Council in a previous role. She also has great taste in ice cream - cappuccino chocolate chip is her thing. Sounds good to me. Their insights are included through this post, which is LONG. So grab your Chunky Monkey and let's get started. 

A GRI Standard - how scary is that?
I suspect that for most of us, hearing the word STANDARD brings a sense of almost regulatory-like scary officialdom to sustainability reporting - after all, what we have had so far from GRI is a periodically-updated set of guidelines in the form of a framework - and that doesn't sound particularly threatening. It's a credit to GRI that the voluntary uptake of this framework has been so widespread by so many companies around the world - although the cynics (or realists) among us might suggest that because the application of the framework has been so pick'n'mix-ish, it's been easy for many reporters to claim adherence to the framework without actually investing the rigor that adherence requires and without actually adhering. Adherence without adherence has been a major blow to the credibility of Sustainability Reporting over the years. As the CSR Reporting Blog has often pointed out. 

Now, with G4 becoming a STANDARD, is all that going to change? Are we going to enter the era of ISO G4 that requires an administrative army, a battalion of auditors, a paper trail to Antarctica and a list of corrective actions as long as the Great Wall of China in order to report GRI? Is reporting going to become a headache, rather than the FUN we all have today? (What? Not fun? Then you are not doing it right!) Well, you know what, I am not going to say it's not a little scary as I think there is a little more to the transition to Standards than we might believe at first glance. It's positioned as G4 same but better... but when you read the small print.. it's actually G4 with many new twists. We'll still be in the same ball park but the ball will be a little different. Stay tuned.

Insight from Chelsea
"One of the main challenges in transitioning the standards has been the size of the task. Going through more than 300 pages of very dense content in the G4 guidelines, the Implementation Manual and the FAQ document. We have been sifting through line by line, under the oversight of the GSSB, tying to make decisions on which content rightfully belongs as a requirement in the new Standards and what should be rightfully positioned as guidance or recommendations. We are really trying to bring it all together in one place and this often involves considering the historical context in which the content was developed and going back to the output of the G4 working groups as well."

Insight from Bastian
"The discussion about adherence to the Standards and quality of reporting has come up frequently. One of the main struggles for GRI is that the Standards are voluntary and adherence in the current context is first and foremost a claim that a reporting organization makes. There are probably a range of mechanisms needed to introduce rigor. Certainly GRI should be more proactive about bringing the users of reported information into this discussion. But the priority right now is the Standards with a very clear signal from the Standards Board that credibility is something to look at and that is high on the agenda."

Materiality still center stage
The new Standards retain the principle of materiality as a core element to shape the entire disclosure, in the same way as in G4. We have seen in many G4 reports, however, that materiality can be whatever you want it to be - and the detail of how companies convert stakeholder input into a dot on the matrix is often non-existent. I had wondered if the transition to GRI Standards might not have taken the opportunity to add some requirements for more disclosure about how materiality is determined.

Insight from Chelsea
"The process for prioritization of material issues in the Standards has not changed fundamentally. The principle has not changed but we have strengthened the guidance to give more specificity about what we expect to see reported against the materiality principle. We are currently preparing a guidance document that will be released with the Standards about identifying and prioritizing material topics and applying the reporting principles. In some cases, we have seen that the materiality matrix has been misinterpreted and we are trying to improve the consistency of reporting materiality in the new Standards."


The skinny
Here is the short version of what's going to change. Instead of G4 being two documents - the Principles Manual and the Implementation Manual - there will now be to be a set of multiple modular Standards:


The first three - SRS 101, 201 and 301 - are what we today know as the Reporting Principles / In Accordance criteria, General Standard Disclosures and Disclosures on Management Approach (DMA). The remaining standards each cover an individual topic, based on the G4 Aspects, and include all the Performance Indicators we love so well. Sector Disclosures still exist, but in the new Standards they are referenced as guidance, not as a requirement.

The In Accordance options remain the same in this new setup - you need to report against SRS 101, 201 and 301 and one disclosure for each material topic for CORE and every disclosure for each material topic for COMPREHENSIVE, just as now in the G4 framework. 

Selection of standards from the 400, 500 and 600 series are determined by the selection of your material impacts - just as now. If you don't want to go the full monty, you can use one of the Standards - say SRS 505 for reporting emissions - and reference that in isolation - just as in the current setup, you can include "disclosures from G4" without claiming In Accordance with the entire sustainability reporting framework. Note that all the Standards now have their own numbering, so Disclosure 403-2 in the SRS 400 series is the new version of G4-EC8 in the Indirect Economic Impacts of the Economic category. There are several changes in the order of the different disclosures so in making the transition, some application will be required to work out what's moved and where it's moved to.

Insight from Chelsea
"There were many compelling arguments to take away the (Economic, Environmental, and Social) categories altogether, as so many issues are cross-cutting and have both social and environmental implications. But on the other hand, there’s a benefit in having categories to help users navigate and understand the new structure. Ultimately we took away the sub-categories – but this is subject to change with feedback we may receive."

Insight from Bastian
"With regard to the Sector Disclosures, what we have learned over time is that one of the big struggles is grouping – companies’ activities often cut across different industries and are not directly comparable. The other thing is we don’t want to establish several levels of the Standards going forward, the vision is to be global, comprehensive across the board of potential sustainability impacts of corporations. What we have on the horizon is guidance around issues that you might want to consider if you have a certain business activity… and that would work in the new structure going forward. Having been around in these discussions for so many years, I am still hopeful that we can build that out. It is a big stretch and requires more resources but our priority today is to get the Standards in place. Reporters can also of course make use of the sector guidance from other sources in conjunction with the GRI Standards - they have been written to allow this."

Insight from Chelsea
"The options of core and comprehensive are definitely a point of discussion and continued debate. The decision was made at this point in time to maintain both options as consistent as possible throughout the transition to Standards. There is already going to be some transition work for companies but it is one of the priorities for future review. We will be consulting on this, probably later this summer. There is no consensus here that these are perfect options but once we see how companies are using the Standards, we will be able to consider that what changes might be best for a review and redesign. These will be really exciting conversations for us to consider."

Insight from Bastian
"Looking at the GRI Standards, going forward, they will be more appropriate for use by policymakers. Take the EU Directive for instance. GRI Standards are aimed to attract a new audience not just retain the ones we have. There may be specific requirements in different jurisdictions for companies to report on ESG issues that can be fulfilled by individual GRI Standards or sections of GRI Standards not necessarily against the entire set of standard relating to specific core or comprehensive options."

What's in the box? 
The Exposure Drafts of these documents are here and the party pack includes: 
  • The first part of each of the three universal standard proposals SRS 101, 201, 301
  • One example topic-specific Standard in the Economic, Environmental, and Social categories
  • A revised Glossary of Terms
There is also a 77-page background document which you can find here which provides a blow-by-blow account of all the changes. 

All in all, you have 207 pages of documentation and 77 pages of explanation. Time to order more Chunky Monkey.

Insight from Chelsea
"There were some definite debates among members of our Standards Board about the nature of the content and the outcome we are trying to get to with these specific disclosures. There is actually a public record of all these conversations and outcomes on our GSSB website. There were also some structural debates – members had different opinions about the structure of the content, for example, do we create a structure of one standalone standard or should that be five separate standards. In the end, we settled with one standard but that was not necessarily a unanimous vote. This might be revised further depending on stakeholder viewpoints."

Learn the new language
GRI is known for creating its own language and the lingo associated with G4's introduction was somewhat unwieldy to say the least. All of a sudden we had to get used to Specific Standard Disclosures, Aspects, Aspect Boundaries, In Accordance and a whole lot more. In the transition to the GRI Standards, we will have to adjust once again. First, each is standard is now an SRS. We can handle that. But just as we had got used to calling everything Aspects, the new proposal kicks that out and replaces that with the term, "topic", no longer making the distinction between a GRI prefab material impact (Aspect) and any old material impact (topic). In addition, the GRI Standards adopt the aceptable lingo for standard-setting practice - we now need to understand the nuance between what we shall report, what we should report and what we can report. If the disclosure says you shall disclose, then it's required in order to be In Accordance. If the disclosure says you should disclose, or you can disclose - then this is not required - it's a recommendation or guidance. The new Standards are full of shalls, shoulds and cans.. You too should, shall, can adapt to the new language of the GRI Standards when you prepare your reports in the future.  

When is an Aspect not an Aspect?
When it becomes a STANDARD of course. In the new era of SRSs, Aspects have no home. They have become topics. Just like any other topics. You all have this table of Aspects committed to memory.


 Now it looks like this: 



GRI has whittled down the total number of Aspects ..errr topics.... from 46 to 35 and, as you can see, things have moved around a little lot - anti-corruption and anti-competitive behavior are now in the category of economic topics rather than social topics, for example, and many Aspects which had been duplicated in G4 - such as three different supplier assessments for labor, human rights and society have been boxed into one Supplier Social Assessment topic. All the grievance mechanism Aspects that were introduced in G4 have not been continued as individual GRI Standards - they are now to be part of the DMA and only disclosed if material. Another big change here is that there are no sub-categories for social topics.  

In many ways, this change to the Aspect-topic table makes a lot of sense - it's almost as though GRI is correcting the mistakes of G4 by tidying up the set of predetermined topics we can choose from. Some of them were indeed rather awkward. On the other hand, this list of 35 is not extensive enough and we might have expected GRI to dig a little deeper at this stage and develop a more comprehensive list of topics that help align the language and performance reporting around similar issues. If this list were broader (and I understand it can never be exhaustive), companies would be more easily able to match issues that are material to their business to the list of available topics. This would encourage more consistent reporting around more issues. As it stands, social issues such as access to products and services, animal welfare, digital inclusion and many many more are left to the vagaries of SRS 403-2 (G4-EC8 in a former life) - significant indirect economic impacts -  a sort of catch-all disclosure where nothing quite fits exactly but it's used because it's the nearest thing when you want to align your materiality within the G4 framework and you have topics that do not fit anywhere else. SRS 403-2 has more guidance clauses than Liberace had sequins. Guidance, that means, can, not should or shall. 

In essence, this goes right to one of the core weaknesses of G4. The framework should be about reporting impacts, but in fact, many of the topics and performance indicators are about reporting actions. Almost every company that uses the framework has indirect impacts far far greater than all of its direct impacts added together. Yet, in G4, so little space is given to these type of impacts that it drags reporters back to "what we did" rather than "where we made a difference to people's lives". Significantly enhancing the table of topics and providing guidance for disclosing on these would make the GRI Standards more robust and relevant to more reporters and report-users than the current proposal. I understand that one of the great benefits of the new Standards structure is that new topics can be more easily added in the future, and that this will be a priority for GRI once the Standards are in place.


When is a Boundary not a Boundary?
When it becomes a STANDARD of course. In G4, one of the most difficult things we had to get our mind around was the requirement to state Aspect Boundaries. The Boundaries, we were told, were where impacts occur.

From G4 Framework Glossary

The G4 framework requires reporters to describe where an impact occurs, including the geographical location, whether this is either within your organization or outside your organization, and then define who it affects. For example, child labor may be a problem in certain geographies and the impact maybe outside your organization because the child labor occurs at your supplier locations and not in your own factories. So, the material issue is child labor, but the Aspect Boundary might be external in country X. You might be tempted to think that it's material for you, but that, because it's external, you are not accountable. 

In the new Standard it has been clarified that the Boundary relates to the entities which cause the impact, wherever the impact occurs. Child labor may be the issue, and even if the impact occurs at your supplier's factory, you are still the cause of that impact insofar as you hired the supplier to do the work. No question here about accountability. Your supplier, your problem. In the proposed GRI Standards you are required to disclose which of the entities inside or outside of your organization are causing the material impact - no geography required (SRS 301-1). However, the new Standards do give you a little room for maneuver with some guidance: "If the Boundary for the material topic is defined as outside the reporting organization, it can be difficult to report the topic-specific disclosures. This can happen if, for example, the Boundary for a topic includes part of the supply chain, and the organization does not have access to supplier information to report the topic disclosures. In these cases the organization is still required to report its management approach for the topic, in order to claim that the report is in accordance with the GRI Standards."

This is all rather tiresome, somewhat confusing and probably not even all that relevant. The entire concept of Boundaries is a little off-putting. In my view, the simpler version would be to require (shall) companies to disclose material impacts using their entire value chain from sourcing to market as a start-point and leave out Boundaries altogether.

Insight from Chelsea
"The Boundary change is one of the things we want to be communicating about during this consultation period. The clarification around the definition of Boundary is very consistent with the intent of the definition in G4 and with the outcomes of the original working group that developed that content. One of the main references are the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and this together with the OECD Guidelines established this concept that companies should take responsibility for the impacts they link into not just their own direct impacts. We didn’t provide enough explanation in the G4 text to help companies interpret that consistently. We have had many reporters who asked for clarification. Fundamentally the STANDARD offers a clarification which is not in contradiction with G4, but we probably didn’t do a complete enough job in explaining it in the first place. The other misconception was the geographic interpretation of this, that’s not really a real issue for this particular disclosure."

And now to the fine print
The remaining changes in the transition to Standards are largely about terminology, improved consistency and clarity, and by and large, this works. More to follow on this as I scrutinize the fine print, but in general, the changes seem positive, for example a slightly clearer version of the "describe your supply chain" disclosure and more.

Insight from Chelsea
"There are a number of more subtle but important changes and our job is to call them out in a way which is clear and digestible. For example, the content index will be more outcome based and we no longer prescribe the use of a specific table format. The intent is that it will make it easier for reporting companies. I would say for companies that were previously working off the guidelines and not consulting the Implementation Manual, there is a lot of additional guidance and this is a good thing for them to dig into and understand. This may look new to some organizations who have not used the Implementation Manual thoroughly, but we think it will be very helpful."

More insight from Chelsea
"Comparability is of course harder across companies with the concept of materiality. I think you will see some improvement in the Standards that leads to greater comparability with improved clarity. In some parts of the Standards we have more specific information about what should be reported where in the past it was less clear. We believe that companies want to do the right thing and report fully and correctly. The Standards make a clear distinction between what is mandated to report and the guidance and coaching that can help you to get there."

GRI STANDARDS: Good, bad or indifferent?
The main challenge with the GRI Standards, targeted for implementation for reports published in 2018, is that it comes so close on the heels of the G4 introduction. Most reporters are just getting their minds wrapped around G4, and whoosh, in comes STANDARDS with SRSs, topics, shalls, shoulds and cans and a different look and feel. I doubt it will be a very easy transition. GRI says the Standards are more user-friendly - they weren't all that user-friendly in the first place - but there are some welcome changes and clarifications. The big advantage will be that GRI can play around with the individual standards without having to revamp the entire standards suite which will enable updates, revisions and the addition of new topics more quickly, efficiently and effectively. Of course, I still suspect that the main motivator for GRI was not to improve G4 but to convert it into the currency of the leaders. Self-respecting organizations in this space have to have a standard. But if that makes reporting clearer, easier and better, it's progress. Time will tell if GRI Standards will have such an effect - in the meantime, we can be cautiously optimistic. 


Insight from Chelsea
"Everybody in our Standards Division and our Board would agree that it is complicated. It is harder to transition content into a new structure than we perhaps originally anticipated. The positive is that it will be a better product – we have done a lot of clean-up work and editing along the way. For reporters, almost all of the fundamental concepts of G4 carry through – there are no major shifts in the reporting process or additional work needed to report in the standards. What will be required is some time invested to understand the nuances of the changes and which changes impact different companies. We will be developing some detailed mapping documents showing exactly what has changed as well as a new training module. A guidance document is in development and we are going to create an ecosystem of resources to help companies manage this change. But we believe the overall impact on the reporting process will be fairly minor."


And on that positive note.... see you in Amsterdam for lots of interesting standard-type debates!



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 www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

7 challenging questions on CSR

I am looking forward to my first trip to Bratislava on May17th to take part in the annual CEE CSR Summit as the guest of the Pontis Foundation - the leading organization in Slovakia promoting CSR, philanthropy and capacity development. The annual CEE CSR Summit is the oldest and largest event on corporate responsibility in Central and Eastern Europe, and is attended by almost two hundred experts on CSR, sustainability, the environment, and human resources.


One of the great things about speaking in different countries is that you are able to spread the word in so many different languages. In preparation for the conference, I was happy to be interrogated by the conference team and by local press. This interview was published recently.....


To spare you the pains of Google Translate, here is the interview in full .. in English. Thank you to journalist Veronika Sokolová for challenging me with these questions:

You are leader of a consulting agency, which focuses on issue of corporate social responsibility. Can you describe your working day? 
If I had a job where I could describe my working day, I would probably look for another job! My days are never the same. One the one hand, I am very hands-on in strategy and reporting projects for clients, on the other hand I try to stay ahead of the curve on the developments in the sustainability world. I do a lot of talking with people to hear about their activities in the sustainability area, and I do a lot (a lot!) of writing. My work includes a host of different activities with clients around sustainability reporting – ranging from interviewing anyone from a CEO to a maintenance manager in a company, taking part in conference calls or client meetings, analyzing spreadsheets, developing concepts, creating narratives, proofing, helping align design to content and supporting PR and comms. A not insignificant amount of time is taken up with preparing offers for client projects or bids for reporting contracts – some of which are successful! 

At a more general level, I spend a lot of time scanning new sustainability reports that come across my radar and reviewing several in detail for publication of expert reviews, for articles for my blog or as part of a benchmarking exercise. Several times a year I find myself preparing for speaking engagements at conferences or running workshops while several times a day I scan CSR news from a range of sources. I always try to make time to check what's happening in my social media channels and try to stay involved as much as time permits. I guide the work of my small team and spend time reviewing the status of their work and planning next steps. Many times a month I speak to people who want to find work in the CSR field or with companies that haven't quite decided how they want to move forward in sustainability and seek general advice. So every day is varied, all days are very full and almost(!) all days are really fun.

Which standard should company follow, to work in accordance to CSR? What are the main criteria or measurements, on the basis of which you report? 
The leading global standard for sustainability reporting is the Global Reporting Initiative G4 Standard. While this presents some challenges, it is a good framework and structures the reporting process well. It is possible to report without using any standard in particular, but the use of a widely known standard such as G4 makes it far easier for users of the report to navigate the content and understand the scope of what's reported. One of the big improvements that the G4 standard introduced over its predecessor versions is the focus on what is called in sustainability jargon – materiality – meaning the most important sustainability impacts of the business. A report should not be what I call a "shopping list" of activities. It should focus on the most important impacts of the company and their relevance to stakeholders. I think we are seeing shorter and more focused reporting today, replacing the very very long (and boring) reports of the past.

The European Parliament imposed a directive which obliges thousands of companies to disclose information about their social responsibility. Is it right to make reporting on CSR a duty for company? Don't you think that this will cause companies, not interested in CSR, to start faking the data for reports? 
Yes, I believe it is absolutely right to legislate for companies to be transparent. I believe the impacts of business on our lives are so broad and so profound that we have a right to know how companies do business. I do not believe that the way to report needs to be prescribed in detail, although some minimum expectations should be set. In this way, companies who want to do more because they genuinely believe this can realize benefits for them can do so, while companies who wish to disclose the minimum can also do that. The experience of the Danish framework of "report or explain" for the 1,100 largest companies that was established several years ago has shown that most companies, once they get on the train, find that they enjoy the ride. There will always be companies who break the law.. for example, the big story of Volkswagen cheating on greenhouse gas emission measurements from their vehicles that was exposed last year. Generally, I do not believe that it is the nature of most companies to deliberately falsify data in order to report positive performance. But I might be naïve. The idea is for us all, as stakeholders of companies, to be vigilant and examine what we are hearing from companies. I always think that sooner or later, the bad guys get caught.

When an entrepreneur sells services and goods and customers voluntarily buy them, logically both of them are better off- it is a win-win situation. Many companies also offer various discounts for disadvantaged groups because it is an advertisement for them. Customers know about it. At the same time, companies use an arbitrator like your agency to prove or certify that the firm brings benefit for society. Why do they do that? Is it kind of PR for them? 
There is a branch of CSR that is called cause-related marketing and it is exactly this. Everyone wins. The business sells, the consumer feels good about having bought a product with added social value and the community or social cause benefits. At the same time, companies have something to put in their CR Report. There is nothing wrong with this – provided everyone actually does win. The social contribution should be something that's meaningful and the way of engaging consumers should be appropriate in relation to the social cause that's being promoted. When Kentucky Fried Chicken made a promotion to support Breast Cancer Awareness, for example, it didn’t go down too well and they were attacked for contributing to the problem by producing food which has carcinogenic byproducts rather than supporting a worthy cause. 

CR is a way of doing business, it shouldn’t be a separate charitable project, so using marketing and gaining some good PR from CR is fine.. as long as it's appropriate, balanced and transparent. 

You have a lot of experience, how does the process work? First, customers start to look for, let's say, ecologic goods and then companies adapt their corporate values or rather companies bring new trends and educate their customers? 
I am not sure I buy that argument that mass consumers are driving the change in demanding sustainable products from companies and I certainly don't think we have anywhere near a critical mass of consumers that are prepared to buy "sustainably" sourced products at a price premium. I think the dynamic comes more from company innovations which impact the entire competitive landscape, and governments, NGO's, academics, investors, sustainability experts and entrepreneurs who keep the conversation going about what's good for consumers and create new pressures to support collective efforts to meet sustainability standards. Did Toyota produce the first hybrid car because consumers asked for it, or because they could, and take a reputationally-positive leadership position at the same time, increasing awareness and expansion of consumer demand rather than being driven by it? Did General Electric form Ecomagination, now a multi-billion dollar business, because consumers asked for it or because it was the right business opportunity "with benefits"? 

I think it is the professional movement that creates innovation targeted to address a social or environmental challenge or opportunity that moves the needle, and this in turn creates the demand. Having said that, there are examples of where consumer influence has changed the behaviour of corporations or led to innovation such as the new sharing economy of AirBNB and Uber that show how consumers can change markets in different ways. 

How many agencies like yours are currently operating in this sector? Is demand for such reports more in Western society, where companies may afford to invest more to CSR? 
I couldn’t guess how many Sustainability Reporting consulting firms there are … there are different types of firms that specialize in different aspects of sustainability consulting, with or without reporting, and there are other branding, communications and PR firms that compete for a slice of the reporting business. Our business is not PR or comms-driven, we are expert in the way companies can progress the sustainability agenda and report their impacts and performance professionally and transparently. Sometimes reports that have too much of a PR spin without enough sustainability substance do not succeed in building trust, which is the objective of every report. The idea is not to gloss the language and embellish the stories but to present a balanced picture in an engaging way. 

Reporting has steadily increased over the past 20 years and is continuing to do so. The cost of producing a report can be modest or highly invested. I don't think it's always about what companies can afford, it's about what they want to achieve. 

U.S. universities tend to refuse money from tobacco companies which want to contribute to various research. Are there any ways for tobacco and alcohol companies to make a better reputation, according to CSR standards? 
This is a tricky one. CSR today has evolved to refer to the positive impact a company has on society through its core business and not just through initiatives to save energy or volunteer in the community. If you subscribe to this view, the core impact of a tobacco company on people's health and even on the cost of healthcare as result of tobacco-related diseases is not so positive, whichever way you look at it. Therefore, many would say that a company in this sector has no business talking about corporate responsibility as its core product causes undisputable damage. 

However, a different view of CSR relates to how you do business – irrespective of the product you sell (provided it's legal), the focus is on doing your business in an ethical and responsible way – responsible marketing, energy management, treating employees with respect and more. In this case, tobacco, alcohol and all companies in controversial industries can do business in a positive manner and often go to great lengths to prove that they are doing so. 

The problem with the first argument is where you draw the line – tobacco damages people's health but so do the products of many other industries – foods that can lead to obesity, addictive drugs, toxic chemicals used to make toys or clothes… not to mention energy intensive industries that contribute to climate change and are the indirect cause of many health problems. San Francisco became the first state in the U.S. to ban the sale of plastic bottles – but I don't recall seeing that it banned the sale of cigarettes….There are laws banning many harmful products – but I am not aware of a country that bans cigarette sales. (Update: It seems that Turkmenistan has actually banned sales of all tobacco products) I believe tobacco companies have long since realized that they can never have a positive reputation – in my view, their efforts will always be about having a less-bad reputation. By behaving as responsible citizens in every other way and achieving high scores in many sustainability rankings and indices that measure sustainable companies, and by reporting as transparently as they can on everything but the harm that smoking causes, they manage to mitigate some reputational damage.



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 www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Take time to code

Today, when you talk about coding, the younger among us immediately click to coding: "the process of designing, writing, testing, debugging, troubleshooting and maintaining the source code of computer programs". But in the context of CSR and sustainability, we have a type of coding that is just a little different.

If you work for a large company, the chances are you have a Code of Conduct, a Code of Ethics, a Code of Commitment, a Code of Behavior or some sort of Code that frames the way the company behaves and expects its employees to align with. In addition, your company probably subscribes to one or more external codes or standards or frameworks that provide structure and even external validation of your company's activities in the field of corporate responsibility and sustainability. 

Did you ever stop to think just how many codes, standards and frameworks are actually out there? (Don't get me started, that's another conversation.) But yes, there are LOADS. And even more that. This was the case more than ten years ago and it's still the case at present. That's why, when Deborah Leipziger came along in 2003 and provided a comprehensive guide to the most relevant and useful codes, standards and frameworks in The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, it was an iconic piece of work that would be invaluable as companies started the process of navigating where to hang their hat as they develop a responsible business strategy, or understand what it is that makes one code or another more or less helpful or relevant. Recently the Corporate Responsibility Code Book celebrated the publication of its third edition.

Why does a competitor align with SA8000, for example, where another competitor prefers to use the ETI Base Code? What might we learn from the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, even if we are operating in a different sector? What are framework agreements and what role do they play in changing the way business gets done? Do the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights actually have any relevance for our company and why? Today, the third edition of The Corporate Responsibility Code Book is updated to include new initiatives such as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the Gender Equality Principles and updates to the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines, the OECD Guidelines for MNEs, Social Accountability 8000 and many others. Similarly, some initiatives which that have been overtaken by new frameworks and are therefore no longer relevant have been removed.

While it's probably only geeks like me who actually like to read a book like The Corporate Responsibility Code Book, it's usefulness for anyone working in this space cannot be underestimated. And because, as a geek, I find this so fascinating, I couldn't resist talking to Deborah Leipziger, the code guru, to hear a little more from behind the code scenes.

Deborah Leipziger advises companies, governments and UN agencies on corporate responsibility and sustainability. She has advised leading multinational companies on strategic and supply chain issues, as well as a wide range of CR initiatives, including the UN's Global Compact, the Global Reporting Initiative, the UN Environment Programme, the Human Rights Impact Assessment, and Social Accountability International. Ms Leipziger is a Senior Fellow in Social Innovation at the Lewis Institute at Babson, and has taught at the Bard MBA in Sustainability, at the Simmons School of Management, and at Hult International Business School. She is a co-author several books and has served as a member of several boards including the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investment for Aviva (UK), the Center for Ethics at Manhattanville College (USA) and the International Board of Ethos (Brazil). check out her website: here    

The Code Book is somewhat of an icon in sustainability and the general body of knowledge available. Who actually uses the Code Book and what's its value to them?
Deborah: The Code Book is used in many classrooms to teach about sustainability and CSR. I use it to teach my MBA students at Bard. I have heard from many professors that it makes for a very good syllabus and complete course materials. Many college libraries also purchase The Code Book. In addition, companies and law firms also purchase The Code Book for their libraries.

What makes for a good Code of Conduct? 
Deborah: The best standards and codes build upon the knowledge and value of normative and foundation standards, such as those developed by multilateral organizations like the International Labor Organization. A good code of conduct should be dynamic and flexible, while at the same time having staying power. Over the past 25 years, I have worked with many codes and standards. The best codes and guidelines are clear and concise and written with implementation in mind. Strong support from stakeholders is also essential.

In your introduction, you refer to a new emerging vocabulary as an essential part of fostering corporate responsibility. What are the key changes in vocabulary and why is it essential for us to adapt?
Deborah: A wonderful question! One of the most lasting contributions of codes and standards is their ability to create clear definitions in a complex field. Guidelines and codes have shaped a lexicon of terms around CSR and sustainability. For example, SA8000 lays out definitions of child labor and trafficking which are helpful for stakeholders and companies. These definitions provide companies with concrete parameters. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights uses the terms “irremediable” to define human rights abuses for which there is no remedy, such as a lost childhood spent in hard labor. There are abuses for which there is a remedy, such as providing back pay for wages which were withheld. A few years ago, I was asked to advise Aviva plc on a project they were working on with Forum for the Future to create scenarios for what a sustainable economy might look like in 2050. My reaction was that we do not yet have the vocabulary to imagine and create a sustainable economy in the coming decades. I tackle this in a book I co-wrote with a team at Babson: Creating Social Value: A Guide for Leaders and Change Makers, which came out in 2013. One of the paradigm shifts that I see is companies working to promote social value creation, which includes solving social problems while also creating financial value. Companies need to think beyond being compliant with laws and standards, and towards creating social value through social innovation.

Your last chapter talks about pathways to convergence with ISEAL as an example which brings NGOs together under a broad framework of shared principles. However, what's the evidence that any sort of convergence in the private sector is actually happening? It seems that the world of codes, frameworks, and standards is only becoming more complex.
Deborah: The ISEAL Alliance has brought coherence to a wide range of social and environmental certification systems, creating common frameworks. This has helped to bring credibility and efficiency to certification and labeling standards from organics to fair trade. At the same time, there are many new systems emerging many of which are complex. I think complexity and convergence can coexist.

Did you consider the standard of standards, the emerging GISR? Do you expect GISR to influence the way Codes are used? 
Deborah: I have been following the progress of the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR) for many years. Allen White and I worked together when we were both in the Netherlands and he has been a speaker in my classes for many years, which has allowed me to follow the progress of the GISR first hand. I think the GISR will indeed have an impact on how codes and standards evolve. Perhaps it will be included in a future version of The Code Book.

What's your position on the frameworks used for inclusion in major stock exchange sustainability rankings for example DJSI?
Deborah: Many companies use DJSI as a framework to drive strategy and disclosure. I think the Dow Jones Sustainability Index is an excellent tool for companies. It helps drive performance and serves as a driver for companies to excel. I consider stock exchanges to be pivotal in driving change in the corporate sector. I hope to see more rankings like the DJSI emerge.

What was your personal biggest insight as you were preparing the third edition?
Deborah: I was struck by how much membership has grown for the guidelines and codes covered in Code Book III. When I first began tracking codes and standards, many of the initiatives had a dozen or so members. Now initiatives encompass broad networks of companies. I am also struck by how the field has evolved from aspirational initiatives to complex and brilliant initiatives like the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The Guiding Principles constitute a significant contribution to the field of corporate responsibility, defining the role of the state and of companies in addressing human rights and the need to provide access to remedy when human rights have been abused. The Guiding Principles provide a useful tool for companies working to complete due diligence and to assess where their operations, products, or services might have a potential adverse impact.

Will there be a Code Book IV? 
Deborah: It’s not in the works right now, but it is a possibility. There is a great deal of interest from emerging economies and Code Book III was launched in New Delhi.  

*******

Thanks to Deborah for these insights. Happy coding!


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 www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Common principles of materiality: April Fool!!!!

So, apologies for a few weeks of radio silence on the CSR Reporting Blog... sometimes that little thing called life just takes over .... but this April Fool's Day joke was too good to miss. It's the publication of the Statement of Common Principles of Materiality of the Corporate Reporting Dialogue in March 2016 which I just noticed yesterday via a Facebook post from eRevalue

The Corporate Reporting Dialogue is the consortium of the biggies or wannabe biggies in corporate disclosure:
  • CDP
  • Climate Disclosure Standards Board
  • Global Reporting Initiative
  • International Accounting Standards Board
  • International Integrated Reporting Council
  • International Organization for Standardization
  • Sustainability Accounting Standards Board 
It was established in June 2014 as "an initiative designed to respond to market calls for greater coherence, consistency and comparability between corporate reporting frameworks, standards and related requirements".

So, after almost two years of dialogue, where, we might be inclined to ask, is the greater coherence, consistency and comparability? Aside from more and more connections and linkages and principles and frameworks and standards and indicators and pseudo-dialogue... there is little evidence of coherence, consistency and comparability.. on the contrary, there is more evidence of three different c's: confusion, complexity and conflict. And just to make life fun, yet another document on materiality that looks like more of an April Fool's Day joke than an intelligent response to the needs of reporters and their stakeholder communities appears proudly on our screens. 

The document is billed as responding to "market demand" in "clarifying reporting concepts". It starts with a full page introduction to Materiality... which, when boiled down into a couple of sentences, essentially tells us what we already know: what's material is different depending on who you are talking to, and, what is only a bit material now maybe a lot material in the future. Therefore, no-one has a "one-size fits-all" (sic.) definition of materiality but there is a "foundational principle" which is: "material information is any information which is reasonably capable of making a difference to the conclusions reasonable stakeholders may draw when reviewing the related information."

Note here that the reference is to "reasonable" stakeholders. Later this is explained as excluding from the reporting focus a "single or atypical stakeholder or one who is behaving unreasonably or irrationally". I wonder what this means? I know all stakeholders weren't created equal, but surely there is some element of stakeholder inclusion that suggests that by definition, a stakeholder (group or individual)  is affected by and affects the business of a corporation and therefore has the right to hear and be heard? Who judges what behavior is unreasonable or irrational enough to merit exclusion from the playing ground? GRI's definition of stakeholders does not exclude unreasonable or irrational stakeholders:

So, apart from the fact that companies are encouraged to play nice with nice stakeholders, there's nothing new in this introduction and it kinda reinforces what most of us have already known for a long time - that materiality without due process is subjective, self-serving and manipulable and no-one really wants the inconvenience of proving otherwise.  This document makes no reference to the process by which materiality is determined... only what materiality is or should be. As fundamental as materiality is to all things sustainable and reporting, we might have expected that the most invested minds in reporting thought-leadership today might have been able to come up with something more substantive.

Moving quickly onto the document's presentation of the principles. Oops. No principles... just (another) Introduction, Concepts and Application.

Six concepts are presented. I can distill five of them down to the following from the mumbo-jumbo technobabble of this coherent, consistent and comparable (not) document:
  • Report materiality to your most important stakeholders (only) and assume they understand
  • Leave out stuff which is not material
  • Every company will have to decide how much detail to add in or leave out
  • It's OK to include stuff which is not material, as long as it doesn't hide what's material
  • Materiality is relative - depends on the context
  • Even if a new standard defines something as material, if the reporting company's stakeholders don't think its material, it's OK to ignore it 
I challenge you to read the six concepts in full original technobabble and see if you can distill them down to even fewer words, or even, identify anything ANYTHING that is remotely different, new, enlightening or helpful in all of this.

Then there's the application. There are five points of guidance which I have distilled down into English:
  • Materiality requires qualitative judgment, but if it's law, the law prevails
  • Managers decide what's material but should take primary stakeholder (investor) input into account  
  • Relevance of materiality changes over time, so if you've said it once, you can probably ease off in the future
  • If you are making estimates when reporting material impacts, take into account the views of your reasonable stakeholders
  • When disclosing material information, if you can't measure it, it doesn't count 
Then there are 4 pages of comparison of materiality definitions and approaches by Corporate Reporting Dialogue participants - a sort of copy-paste-plus of what's already out there.

So, I am wondering, apart from wanting us to have a laugh on April Fool's Day, what earthly purpose does this document fulfil and what are corporate reporters supposed to do with it? More importantly, if it takes two years of meetings, lunches and open dialogue to deliver this, frankly I think everyone should go back to their own corner and campaign for fragmentation, differentiation and splendid isolation. Unless the lunches are unbeatable.


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 www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz  

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Humanizing sustainability

We often position sustainability so far above the radar of our day-to-day reach that it fails to inspire, energize and motivate. By using corporate-speak, legaleeze and PR-approved jargon  for getting the sustainability communications message across, we have to realize that we are missing an opportunity to create an engaging conversation about sustainability. That's what Emma Ward calls humanizing sustainability. Making sustainability about real life, about people and how we relate to each other, and about the things that matter to us can only happen if it's a great conversation, and not a stuffy old report. You have to agree that this is a compelling sort of idea.

Emma Ward is the Group Sustainability Manager for McNicholas, a family business in the UK, established in the 1940s and currently employing around 1,400 people in the construction and engineering sector. McNicholas provides engineering services to the multi--utility sector, telecommunications, gas, power, water and renewable energy sectors and more.  



Emma will be joining me and a fabulous line-up of speakers and a distinguished group of delegates at the edie Sustainability Reporting conference on February 23rd in London, where she will engage in a discussion all about innovative ways of engaging stakeholders.

As I do before every conference, I like to get to know some of our speakers and get a general sense of what's going on. I had a chat with Emma and here are some of the insights she shared with me.

How long have you been with McNicholas and what's your favorite part of the job?
Emma: I have been with McNicholas for 14 years. I joined as an environmental advisor and have grown our approach at McNicholas from an environmental focus to the point where sustainability is now a major part of our business strategy. It’s sort of my baby! I think it’s the variety that makes it so exciting - the role covers some many different facets. Another thing I enjoy is the sense of changing the face of the construction industry… generally people think of construction as a sort of “mucky” industry. With sustainability, we present a clean and professional face of the industry as one that cares about people and the environment.

What’s driven the increased focus on sustainability at McNicholas?
Emma: Although we have been pushed to align with regulation and increasing expectations from our Clients and from the communities we work in, we as a corporate are seeing genuine business benefits from applying sustainability as a risk management tool. I think it is this that keeps up the momentum rather than it just being a passing fad. In this day and age, a business plan can’t just focus on the financial and commercial risks, the environmental and social ones need to be just as high on the list. By using this new strategic approach, we are more involved at the planning stages enabling us to build better relationships with communities, respect what is important to them and help to improve things. But a sustainable and ethical approach to business has always been our culture. We are a family-owned company… sustainability has gone hand in hand with growing the business. At the same time, we stay true to our values as a people company. We have always tried to make sustainability about people as much as about any other aspect. It’s a way of humanizing everything.

How do you define what’s most important from a sustainability standpoint?
Emma:  We have recently reviewed our approach and tried to go back to basics on what makes us good, what is our way and why our clients want to work with us. In doing so, we have completed a materiality assessment, using input from our internal stakeholders and some of our key clients – large companies who are themselves leaders in sustainability practice – to understand their expectations of McNicholas. Our new strategy, entitled ‘Our World’, has nine activity streams covering the environment, people and culture.

What’s going to change with the new strategy?
Emma: I believe ’Our World’ will help us engage even better with the people that make McNicholas great and ensure we are meeting the expectations of our clients and communities. One of the things we decided to do differently is give each of our Board members responsibility for leading one of our strategy streams BUT in an area different to their main area of expertise. For example, the CEO will lead our community stream, our Human Resources Director will lead the natural environment stream and so forth. We wanted them to be involved from the perspective of a sustainability leader rather than from the perspective of a subject matter expert. That way, they will ask new questions and perhaps even learn something new.

What makes a good sustainability report?
Emma: It needs to be light enough to dip in and out of. A report shouldn’t be too intense – it should be short, concise, snappy and has to engage me straight away. The look and tone must be fresh and navigation should be easy so that the reader is in control of how to read the report. So many reports make that decision for the reader. They define a route through the report whereas I think we should be in control, not the report. Our own report process at McNicholas is changing to reflect this. We have always written fairly light reading reports in the past, but now we plan to use the website more to communicate our sustainability strategy and achievements. This will help to keep the report less about just a year-end wrap-up, and more about a conversation about what’s going on more regularly. Less structure, more control for the reader. We want to keep sustainability conversational and personal. It should be fresh and engaging. Hopefully, our new website will be ready in a few weeks.

*************

Fresh and engaging. Those are not words we usually associate with sustainability. Interesting how sustainability came to be so stuffy. Well, it doesn't have to be and Emma is a living example of that. She talks with a lively passion about what she's doing and she's very clear about how to make sustainability work in her organization. It's called humanizing sustainability. If you haven't tried it yet, I am sure Emma will be handing out free tips in February. Hope to see you there!




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 www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz  
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