Monday, November 17, 2014

GRI joins the Standards Club

You may have noticed the announcement earlier this month by the GRI that governance changes are afoot. Well, they are more than afoot. They are now signed, sealed and in the bag. Maybe, like me, you didn't really understand what the fuss was all about. GRI wants to be a standard setter. OK. But GRI is a standard setter. But some might say: not really, really - other standard setters have more strictly defined governance structures with separation of responsibilities relating to standard setting. But GRI has a multi-stakeholder process, isn't that a valid governance structure? Not valid enough, apparently. 

It seems that, if you want to be in the standard-setting Club, you have to have four things: 
  • Separation of authority: GRI's CEO will no longer have a role in standards development and a separate Board will oversee this activity.
  • Due process: a stronger Due Process Protocol and a new Due Process Oversight Committee  are now being set up.
  • A new acronym or two: GSSB, DPOC, IAC are now part of the GRI lexicon.
  • More money: separate fundraising for standards development and the people who will do it. 
The benefits to being in the Club are significant. You can wear the badge. You can get included in things designed for standard setters only. You become part of the process as governments and stock exchanges consider new regulation on sustainability disclosure. Think of the rapid development of Sustainable Stock Exchanges around the world and the new EU Directive on non-financial reporting. When you are an official standard setter, these organizations include you and refer to your standards.

Why is this so important? Because it brings an additional level of credibility and influence which are beneficial to the development and recognition of GRI standards. It enables dedicated resource to focus on standards development, independent of other organizational priorities. It enables the pace of standards development to move more quickly, as issues are defined, rather than wait for items to reach the top of the GRI very-long to-do list. These are all benefits which should be noticeable in time to the GRI framework-using public and in the advancement of corporate sustainability disclosure.

To be clear, the changes at GRI involve the following six steps effective from January 31, 2015: 
  • An organizational firewall between standard-setting activities and all other organizational activities will be created 
  • A separate governance structure for standard-setting will be implemented, including the creation of a new Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB ), a Due Process Oversight Committee (DPOC) and an Independent Appointments Committee (IAC)
  • The global multi-stakeholder principle will be safe guarded 
  • The Due Process Protocol for the Sustainability Reporting Standards development will be strengthened 
  • An independent public funding base for standards activities will be established, separate to that of other organizational activities 
  • Transparency of all standards development processes (meeting agendas, papers and minutes related to the standards development processes will be made available on GRI’s website).
Just to reassure you, this new standard setting stuff does not mean that the GRI framework will become a certifiable standard such as an ISO GRI G40000000 or something like that. At present, the new GSSB has no mandate to go off and move the goalposts. The current plan is that G4 will continue to be a framework that is assurable in the same way that it always has been. No need to go rushing off thinking you've been backed into a standards corner.

I had a chat with Bastian Buck, the Director of the Reporting Standard Department. He was the guy that led the development process of the G4 guidelines and in my experience, the go-to guru with great knowledge of reporting standards and their development.

ME: Bastian, isn't all this just a big political game with little substance. GRI wants more recognition, more attention and more clout. Is that what it's all about?

BASTIAN: It's not just a name-change to be a standard setter. It's not just a cosmetic change. GRI is perceived as a de facto standard setter already by many. However, this change does enable GRI to have more audiences. International developments with governments, legislation and stock exchanges are increasingly relevant for GRI, and this kind of governance structure speaks to these groups more directly. It gives the GRI framework a different type of recognition, based on a transparent process where all those involved are following due process with relevant checks and balances. This has always been the way GRI worked, but the new structure formalizes this and ensures that all our audiences know that we are working in a way that is widely recognized as imperative for standard setters. Not only this, the separation of the standard setting and advocacy work of GRI will be helpful as it will enable us to spend money on improving the standard and applying updates on a timescale which is much closer to the identification of the need. So far, changes in the standard have always been vetted against another organizational priority, and there was not always enough funding to do everything. The new structure will allow for much greater focus and resources for standard setting and is therefore a good thing.   

ME: What does this mean for reporters? Will reporting companies have to change the way they report? 

BASTIAN: No, reporters won't notice any direct changes and the G4 guidelines will remain as they are. Going forward, what reporters might notice is that the guidelines may be updated more frequently, taking into account new realities and new considerations. There may be some formatting changes to align the way G4 is produced and updated to the standard setting approach (such as modular elements of the guidelines that can be changed without replacing the entire framework, to allow for easier application of updates) but this is unlikely to make a big difference to what companies are asked to report in G4. 

ME: Will GRI need to hire more people under this new structure?  

BASTIAN: Yes, indeed. The commitment to greater transparency, the more frequent updates of the standards, the maintenance and strengthening of the multi-stakeholder framework and consultations will all require more people. We currently have 8 people in the reporting standards team. I envisage this will expend quite a lot in coming years. The upside is that our G4 framework will be more robust, more up-to-date and our processes more transparent. 

ME: If the GSSB and other new bodies are now independent and reporting to the GRI Board of Directors, does this make the CEO role redundant? What will the CEO do? He will have LOADS of spare time, no?   

BASTIAN: I doubt the CEO will have too much spare time. GRI has an extensive and ambitious advocacy program and there is still much work to do to spread the word and represent stakeholders in a range of committees and regulatory bodies. GRI is reaching out to other organizations in the sustainability disclosure space to drive greater alignment between standards and greater clarity. The dual focus of GRI going forward which will be on standard-setting and enhancing the value of reporting. The latter will require innovation in the way we think about reporting and collaboration with groups  we haven’t previously connected with.  We have many initiatives in place and planned that will enhance the quality of service and support we provide for reporters around the world. The new structure will enable this part of the work to proceed with focus, just as it will help the standard setting part of the work proceed independently and in line with disclosure needs. 

ME: Who is going to pay for all of this?  

BASTIAN: Fundraising for the new GSSB is starting to happen now that the new structure has been announced. There are a number of ongoing conversations. This is a good opportunity for those who have an interest in supporting this specific work to channel their funding towards standards development. We expect that this will be attractive to organizations or individuals that may not have offered funding to GRI in the past.


As GRI moves forward, it will be interesting to watch how this new structure falls into place and what it actually helps create. Will we see G5, G6 and G7 in quick succession? Or a number of standards positioned under the umbrella of Sustainability Reporting Standards? Or will we see a War of the Standards unfold with every sustainability disclosure organization trying to be not only a standard setter but THE standard setter? We have heard a lot about collaboration but we are yet to see any terribly obvious fruits of such collaboration. Several months back, the IIRC announced the launch of the Corporate Reporting Dialogue to "promote greater coherence, consistency and comparability between corporate reporting frameworks", with all the known standard setters taking part. We haven't heard much since then. Maybe having everyone now in the same Club might help move things along.

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).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The CSR Reporting Blog Rap

By now you will all have seen the Samsung report rap, as well as all the criticisms (facepalm). I guess we should give Samsung top marks for creativity and originality (any other report raps out there?) but pretty close to zero when it comes to intelligence and genius marketing. It defies understanding how the Samsung lyrics (Samsung, we 280,000 humans 40 percent 112,000 women You don’t have to worry after giving birth Sit back, relax, no need to work) got approved at any level of the organization. 

However, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, as they say. Maybe rapping reports is a good thing. With a little help from Wiki How to write a rap song, I thought it might be a good idea to offer some ideas to other companies that might want to move to the next stage in advanced and innovative reporting communications techniques. 

So here you have it: The CSR Blog Report Rap: CSR is cool

When I think of a business it makes me depressed
I don't know why they do things it's all just messed
Up when they go for the money instead of respect and
They ruin the planet everything's just wrecked we can't
Live like this we need some air it's the corporate machine rollin over us there
We gotta fight back make more CSR so the people can live and reach for a star
End poverty end war end corporate fraud make it fair make it share don't ever get bored

CSR is cool if you don't lose your cool
When you go with the flow the flow makes you go
If you wanna groove CSR is the move
Save the world save the planet we all approve

CSR makes things right it's for positive stuff
When it's CSR you can never do enough
It's long-term thinking that will win the day but we know
That investors will have their say and ask for money sooner not later
But we can't live our lives in the shadow of a dictator
We need to stand tall and show them all how
CSR can work in the here and the now and make our lives better in any weather

CSR is cool if you don't lose your cool
When you go with the flow the flow makes you go
If you wanna groove CSR is the move
Save the world save the planet we all approve

Employees and staff should ensure that their leaders are
Right for the job and not chicken-breeders and know how to
Plan a CSR path with eco and green and employee motivation
To make a contribution and lift us out of desperation
CSR is the way to a better world ahead with 9 billion citizens needing to be fed
Globalization urbanization the digital divide it's all too much don't go along for the ride
Equality, humanity, end of poverty and hunger when we all pull together we can even get younger

CSR is cool if you don't lose your cool
When you go with the flow the flow makes you go
If you wanna groove CSR is the move
Save the world save the planet we all approve

Feel free to use this rap in your report communications. No copyright :-)

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).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

The VITA Model for future Sustainability Leaders

And now for my third and final post about my adventures in Atlanta at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Council Meetings last week. I has to share this piece, as it's where everything comes together, and also, one of the most fun-important parts of the WBCSD activities. It's about the Future Leaders of our businesses and our sustainability efforts.

WBCSD has a fabulous program to educate future business leaders of the WBCSD member companies. It's a year-long program that provides tomorrow’s business leaders with "the skills and competencies to cope with an increasingly complex world as well as the social and environmental challenges across a changing competitive landscape."  Each year is themed, and the 2015 program is all about "scaling up business actions on climate change & improving the business case" with modules in the U.S., Hong Kong and Paris. Wow. Wish I were 10, 20, ok 30 years younger.

The 2014 Future Leaders Program (FLP) was populated with young up-and-coming mainly finance professionals from member companies and its theme was "Bridging the Capitals: Accounting for Natural & Social Capital in Business Decision Making".  25 young business people worked on this for a year, and delivered impressive outputs at the close of the program. In five teams, they worked on different aspects of the Bridging the Capitals theme and created reports that contain genuinely original and useful insights about reporting, measurement, materiality and more.

I highly recommend you take a look at some or all of these publications. I have read them all end-to-end and it was worth it.

Integrated Reporting in South Africa - From Concept to Practice: insights from interviews with South African reporting companies and investors.

Unraveling the Business Value Landscape: defining what value really means and recommendations on how to describe business value.

Integrated Performance Management: a quality approach to following through on sustainability commitments.

Sustainability - A new competence for financial leaders: a guide to help finance folks  understand, navigate and even influence the sustainability agenda.

Journey to materiality- A guide to achieve corporate goals by applying materiality to environmental, social and governance issues: views and recommendations around the challenges of defining materiality.

One of the highlights of my week in Atlanta was being asked to present my perspectives and insights  as an "expert" to this group. It's always nice to talk to young leaders and help shape their journey. Thinking about this, I wasn't quite sure what I could usefully add, given they were at the end of a year-long learning process. What could I tell them that they hadn't already heard? What could I add that could shape their journey further as they prepare for re-entry into the workplace with new sustainable-business shaded lenses? So, I used my trusty fall-back. When all else fails, build a model. In this case, I created a simple model designed to help these impressive young leaders remember to apply their learning as they grow and develop in their own professions. I called it the VITA model. Vita, according to the dictionary, is a biography or a resume. Quite fitting, I thought, because what I wanted to leave with the FLP participants was a thought about what they would want to see on their resume in 20 or 30 years time. What is the legacy of business activity they want to be proud of? How will their sustainability orientation show up in that 2030 resume? The VITA model has four main tenets:


VALUE:  It may still be of value even if it you can't put a money number on it.
IMPACTS: We must talk impacts not actions and get better at defining them.
TRANSPARENCY: Transparency is not the goal, relevant transparency is the goal.
ACCOUNTABILITY: The finance function must be accountable to all its stakeholders.

In talking to these points, I shared some true (and in some cases, quite incredible) stories from my own experience as a business person over thirty years, and from my work with clients (no names named!).  I won't fill up this post with stories ... but I will comment briefly on each part of the model.

VALUE:  It may still be of value even if it you can't put a money number on it. Essentially, here, despite a week about capitals, costing externalities, measurement and metrics, I couldn't help but make the point that not everything can be quantified scientifically. For example, the impact of corporate culture. Sure, we can measure employee engagement, retention, attrition, satisfaction, development and even conflict in an organization, and we can measure the cost of non-compliance or non-ethical conduct to some degree, but can we truly measure a the money value of a culture that is ethical, open and empowering? In corporate cultures where there are aspects of complicity, lack of freedom to express new ideas or lack of respect for human worth, the ripple effects are far-reaching but we don't know exactly how to count them. As young leaders, especially ones with a head for finance, it is crucially important to remember that, at the end of the day, business is just people trying to survive and thrive. Valuing them and valuing values is just as important as valuing value. Even if you can't count it.  

IMPACTS: We must talk impacts not actions and get better at defining them. I have said this many times, and often refer to "shopping-list" reports where I get what companies did but I didn't get what difference it made. Companies, and finance experts in companies, are soooooo good at calculating the last cent of the return on a capital investment. Yet companies are proud to say they donated (or even invested) tens of millions of $ in the community when they have no idea what a difference it made. We need to get better at why we are doing stuff and what impact we are trying to have. The ways of calculating impacts are partly about money but also about a range of intangibles that affect people lives which are harder to calculate. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore these impacts or even attempt to define them in at the planning stage. 

I work with a company called Netafim. Netafim is a world leader in drip irrigation – a climate-smart agricultural process that enables better yields, using less water and less fertilizer and less energy. The economic cost benefits of drip irrigation can be calculated and in each market, Netafim has amassed a range of data that supports and quantifies the environmental and economic impacts of using drip irrigation. However, there are also many intangibles. How do you factor them into the equation? How do you design them into the planning?  Rachel Shaul, the Marketing Director of Netafim went to Gujarat in India to talk to women farmers as part of a research project. Women's empowerment is a big thing in smallholder agriculture. The impact of using drip irrigation for them was the possibility of sending their kids to school, being able to buy a house for the first time or the ability to help other women become independent and self-sufficient. 

from Netafim Sustainability Report 204

How do you calculate the impact of that? Can you monetize that? Where would that get prioritized in the allocation of resources? Are these kind of impacts defined up front or are they a by-product that happens by doing business differently? Intuitively, supporting women smallholders makes sense. Objectively, data shows their economic situation improves. But how are all the other impacts on  the quality of their lives calculated? When you are looking at the difference your company makes, these are the sort of things that should also be understood more deeply and taken into account. We must get better at defining impacts in economic, social or environmental terms. We must get better at getting clearer about how a company is changing the world. And we must plan more holistically to deliver the impacts we desire to deliver. Some of that is about money, some of it is not.

TRANSPARENCY: Transparency is not the goal, relevant transparency is the goal. Everyone talks transparency, everyone believes that transparency is the goal. Everyone thinks that if they cram as much information as possible into a sustainability report or a website, that they will improve their reputation. Well, that may be. But in this world of overload, and with the increasing complexity of business, we don't need or want to know EVERYTHING. We want to know the most important things. How are those things defined and by whom? It's not easy. A materiality process can be designed to deliver the results you want to achieve. Getting granular and relevant on materiality requires good engagement. Engagement does not mean sending out a survey or having a meeting about your next contract with a supplier. Engagement means truly understanding the measure of impact you are having in a specific context and looking for the business risk and opportunities associated with that. 

ACCOUNTABILITY: The finance function must be accountable to all its stakeholders. As finance managers or business leaders, who are your stakeholders? Who is affected by the impact of your decisions?  Employees, of course. Management and their ability to advance positive reputation for your company and support business success, of course. But beyond that? Who do you have an impact on? What are the policies that you create that have an impact on society, the environment, the well-being of communities? How you establish investment policies, payment terms, restructuring frameworks and more? These all have an impact on the lives of people. This is often highly relevant when businesses undergo restructuring. The key partners in any company that manage processes such as these are the Human Resources and the Finance teams. We decide, with our policies, whether people have a future or what kind of future they can start to plan. It's that simple. 

U.S. Census data shows that more than 7 percent of American workers fell below the poverty line in 2012. Similar figures show up in Europe. Workers. Not people sitting on a beach somewhere. Workers. Going out every morning to a job and coming home and not being able to maintain a decent standard of living. Who's responsible for that ? HR? Finance? No-one? The competitive landscape? In the post-2015 agenda, the UN has begun to talk about eradicating poverty. Business has a role to play here, and so do finance managers and other business leaders. Who are your stakeholders? Are they the working poor? Or are they your management who wants to make more profit and show a better balance sheet? Of course a business must make money, profit is crucial to any business. But ultimately finance and business managers must be accountable for the impacts of their decisions, policies and actions on the way people live. And these elements must be factored into day-to-day decisions as well as in the bigger strategic directions. This means considering all stakeholder impacts up-front in the decision-making process, and not just about balancing a budget. As well as considering the long-term impact of doing business in a world where poverty is omnipresent. Behind every number is someone's life. This isn't about the financial crisis, or big events that need big responses. This is about the day-to-day of our jobs and how they have an impact on stakeholders.

That was pretty much my message to these young leaders. VITA: Value, Impacts, Transparency and Accountability. That's the legacy. That's the 2030 resume. You'll notice that most of what I said was about people not about money and not about numbers. As young business leaders, this group has the power to make change and impact people's lives for the better. They can drive a different way of doing business that is led from a new vision, a new way of thinking about the role of business in society, a new way of creating value and a new way of being accountable. In some cases, that means accounting for externalities. In other ways, it means being a decent person and making decent decisions. It always means knowing what impact you are having on all your stakeholders.


Finally, with this third and final piece in a trilogy of posts, I want to extend my personal thanks and gratitude to the folks on the WBCSD team that totally impressed my with their dedication, drive and skill and made me feel so welcome. Triple fudge with sprinkles to Rodney Irwin, Anne-Leonore Boffi and Susanne Feinman.

PS: One thing can't resist adding. I was very pleased to see in Peter White's (WBCSD COO) plenary presentation about WBCSD priorities, that he mentioned my company, Beyond Business Ltd. Hahahahah. Well, he didn't really. But it looks like he did. Or maybe it's just a case of "great minds think alike"!

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).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

7 short CSR reports - the better and the less better

I was asked by @jenniferwoofter on Twitter if  I can recommend any short reports - under or around 20 pages - that are effective in communicating sustainability. I always have a problem remembering where I found good reporting practice. I ought to develop a system. (Note to self: that to-do list just keeps getting longer). So, in order to respond to Jennifer, and refresh my thinking, I did a little research using the GRI Global Reporting Sustainability Database. It's very hard to find reports that are under or around 20 pages (excluding executive summaries of longer reports) (and, of course, I only look at reports in English (or sort-of English)). It's almost impossible to find short reports in Asia or Latin America and most of Europe. Shorter reports tend to be from U.S. companies. Also, short reporting does not correlate absolutely to company size. It's not just SMEs and local companies that keep reports compact. My list below includes some large global companies with tens of thousands of employees.

Here's what I came up with - the better and less better. I will say that even the less better reports are evidence of some level of commitment and action and while my, as usual, fairly direct criticisms reflect my honest professional opinion in the hope of helping reporters get better value from reporting, I continue to commend and be grateful to companies who report. Reporting is always a challenge and always an achievement. Even short reports can be powerful. Some more than others.

The better

GRI Application Level C, GRI checked, 12 pages excluding GRI Index

Datwyler Cabling Solutions is a supplier of system solutions and services for electrical and ICT infrastructures in public and commercial buildings and in data centers and networks.This is a report for a medium-sized business (less than 1,000 people) that really does the job. It's short, no frills, no stories and no case studies, but it covers the ground and credibly represents a sustainable approach with just about enough data to make it meaningful. Don't look for more sophisticated reporting content, such as a materiality matrix or impact assessments, but for the size of the organization, the report is a simple, concise and clear communication of the organization, its values and its approach in practice. As short reports go, I like this one. 

Sanoma CSR Report 2013, Finland
GRI Application Level C report, 22 pages including GRI index.

Sanoma is a media and learning company based in Finland with operations in several countries and almost 11,000 employees. Sanoma is publicly listed in Finland. This report is delightfully colorful - as we might expect from a media company - and the social mission is clear. "We help people access and understand the world" and the passion "actively shaping the world around us" is well projected. The report is structured with people first (how many reports put people last?), then responsible business activities, then community, then environment. It's an interesting read, although a bit too general in places. The attractive design helps the flow. One thing that is missing, though, despite a tick of the box in the GRI Content Index, is a statement from the leadership. No CEO or General Manager. Maybe this is because Sanoma is just one big team, but without a leadership statement, this report lacks a bit of punch for me. However, it's a good report certainly one of the better shorter ones.

Downer 2013 Corporate Responsibility Report, Australia
GRI Application Level B+, 21 pages, excluding GRI Content index but including Assurance Statement.

Downer is a mining, infrastructure and rail company, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. Downer employs more than 20,000 people and operates primarily in Australia and New Zealand. This report packs a punch for its 21 pages. It's compactly designed and I love the photography of what appear to be real people that work at Downer and not stock photos of anonymous citizens of the world. The CEO statement is short and to the point and actually evidences some element of strategic thinking. Disappointingly, although Downer attests to following a materiality process, material issues are not listed explicitly, but are said to be the basis for the report content. Data is nicely presented and a few short case studies add to the credibility and interest in this report. Some stakeholder voices are included (internal). The report is well-written and easy to read. This is probably one of the best short reports I have come across.

The less better

A&E 2013-2014 Sustainability Report, USA
Non GRI report, 16 pages

A&E is a provider of threads and yarns for the global fashion industry. It employs more than 10,000 people, a fairly large organization, something you wouldn't guess from the format of this report. This is a home-made report in word format that is rather difficult to read due to the awkward formatting, errors and inconsistent language style. The CEO statement is rather platitudy and weak, although the company does provide evidence in a short 16 pages of sustainable practice. A&E presents Ten Threads of Sustainability and shows a long history of data on environmental impact reduction. However, while the delivery of a report is always a good thing, and far better than not reporting, this report lacks balance, structure and relevance. I am sure that a stronger investment in the reporting process and output would deliver greater value for A&E.

Williams-Sonoma Inc. Corporate Responsibility Report 2013, USA 
Non-GRI report, 22 pages

This is a approach and story-based report that projects a strong commitment and a community orientation for this specialty home-products retailer and e-commerce company, with brands including Pottery Barn and west elm and around 600 retail stores. Williams-Sonoma employs around 28,000 people of whom 7,800 are full time. However, it is almost completely devoid of data. Just to find how many people the company employs, I had to search for the most recent Form 10-K. There are a few numbers around sustainable sourcing of wood and expenditure with artisan workers, but not much else. Despite "forging new relationships to advance our energy goals", we are not treated to a peek at what these energy goals are, not any data about energy consumption, or any other aspect of this company's supply chain. In this case, this short report is too short. It's a nice sustainability-oriented brochure but doesn't pass the litmus-test for a CR Report. 

The Carlyle Group Corporate Citizenship Report 2014, USA
Not GRI Report, 18 pages

The Carlyle Group is an American-based global asset management firm, specializing in private equity, based in Washington D.C employing around 1,700 people. In 2013, Carlyle appointed a first Chief Sustainability Officer. This report is about how Carlyle practices responsible investment and through its investment policies, drives increased awareness and advancement of sustainability practices, as well as helping change practices at portfolio companies. Indeed, there are some very positive initiatives in place.  There is  a section on environmental initiatives in portfolio companies, and a couple of pages on community involvement and work culture. Nice stories and snapshots of responsible investment, but not enough quantified sustainability impacts. A sustainability report that presents almost no data is always rather a disappointment. Disclosing approaches, policies and individual initiatives is always better than no disclosure at all, but credibility increases when we read reports that actually describe performance rather than treat us to story snapshots.

Thermo Fisher Scientific 2013 Corporate Responsibility Report, USA
GRI-based report, undeclared level, 12 pages including GRI Content Index

Thermo Fisher Scientific is an American multinational, biotechnology product development company with 50,000 employees in 50 countries and revenues of $17 billion. The report is organized around the three sustainability priorities of the company - business sustainability (process improvement and efficiencies), employee engagement and philanthropic giving. As such, it's what I call a "shopping-list" report - what we did, where we went, how much we donated. All this is very fine, and although a GRI Content Index is included, there are very few performance indicators of substance. For a company this size and of such breadth, with such an important role to play in the world, we might expect a little more depth to the CR approach and disclosure. The report is pleasant, representing early CSR thinking but lacking the maturity of today's sustainability orientation.  

Writing short reports is not a substitute for acting short on sustainability. Where there is little action of substance, a short report will not fill the gap and show the company up as a sustainability leader just because there are some nice stories and policies. On the other hand, short reports can reflect extensive performance almost as well as long reports, if done well. Interestingly, I realize that the reports I found to be more credible and useful were GRI-based. I hadn't specifically tried to demonstrate that GRI reports are better, but perhaps there is something about working to a framework that helps structure the content and flow of a sustainability report. 

Thanks to Jennifer Woofter for asking me about short reports. I love reports of any length  and this was an interesting analysis. You can guess what I am going to do now.... mmm, maybe banana pecan flavor....

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).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Is EP&L a waste of time?

As promised (threatened?), another post about the work of the WBCSD and my involvement in the Council meetings in Atlanta last week.

I was greatly privileged to moderate a plenary panel session on the subject of "Redefining Value - costing externalities" with three incredible sustainability and business achievers.

Marie-Claire Daveu: Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs of Kering and member of Kering Executive Committee.   

After embarking on a career as a senior civil servant in the field of agriculture and the environment, Marie-Claire Daveu served as Technical Adviser to the Cabinet of Prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Principal Private Secretary to Serge Lepeltier, Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development, before joining Sanofi-Aventis Group in 2005 as Head of Sustainable Development. From 2007 to 2012, Marie-Claire Daveu served as Principal Private Secretary to Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, first within the Ministry of Ecology, then in charge of forecasting and the digital economy, and lastly, within the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport and Housing. Since 2012, Marie-Claire heads up sustainability at Kering. Kering is a Group of 22 Luxury and Sport & Lifestyle brands such as Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, PUMA and others.  

Roberto Salas: CEO of Masisa, Chile

Roberto Salas serves as President of Grupo Nueva and, since 2008, in addition, as CEO at Masisa, one of the Latin American leaders in production and marketing of wood fiber boards for furniture and interior decorations headquartered in Santiago, Chile. Roberto began his career in Grupo Nueva in 1989, Ecuador. Roberto is Co-Chair of the Development Area of World Business Council for Sustainable Development. He was a Professor at the Faculty of Economics, Universidad Católica de Guayaquil, for 17 years.

Roberto Pedote: Chief Financial and Investor Relations Officer, Natura, Brazil

Roberto Pedote is responsible for Natura's financial and legal matters, as well as investor relations and corporate affairs. Formerly, he spent 16 years with Unilever in Brazil, England and Latin America, and served as Finance Vice-President for the Food and Ice Cream Division in Brazil. Prior to this he served as  Finance and Control Director for Nokia of Brazil. Since 2010, Roberto has been a member of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), and in 2013 he was appointed member of the Advisory Board for BM&FBOVESPA Listing. Natura is a Brazilian manufacturer and marketer of beauty products, household, and personal care, skin care, solar filters, cosmetics, perfume and hair care products. 

This was a rare occasion to have a CEO, a CSO and a CFO of major corporations together on a stage and ready to share insights about a rather controversial aspect of sustainability accounting and disclosure. I opened up with a really easy question!

"When we talk about externalities, we refer to all those often invisible impacts on society of doing business – the indirect social and environmental effects of your activities on climate change, health and the quality of life. Does it make sense to suggest that companies should calculate and account for these costs? Or is this just a diversion designed to help companies avoid doing the hard work of changing how they business in a more sustainable way?"

All three panelists responded in different ways, referring to the value of the externality costing approach, particularly as a tool to help resource allocation, prioritization and decision-making withing the company. By bringing impacts to a common denominator language in money terms - monetizing impacts - organizations have a new tool to identify and quantify the ways their business activities show up throughout the entire value chain. By using a common language, impacts can be prioritized more easily. Not only this, the exercise forces debate. It presences aspects of business impacts that have previously never been considered. Just having a conversation about externalities in your organization is an interesting first step, and the process of evaluating them, even moreso. Through debates such as these, leading edge companies are now starting to change the game. In our favor. 

To remind you, Kering was, I believe, the first organization to publish in what was thought to be a very bold move, the Environmental Profit and Loss statement of one of its companies, PUMA, back in 2011. (See a great infographic about the value of the EP&L on the Kering website) Marie-Claire Daveu promised that the EP&L for the entire Kering Group would be published soon. The EP&L now can be used to compare and reprioritize impact and risk management across the entire Kering group of companies, using the same tool.

The EP&L created quite a  stir in its day with many hailing it as the new way forward for corporate disclosure. Although many were impressed, there were also many questions. Is it reliable? Does it make sense to put a price on the environment? Is it accurate? Does monetization devalue the true impacts of business? Like, can you put a price on caring? 

We have not seen too many companies follow suit and take the leap into externality costing and disclosing the results. Partly because it is rather a complex exercise. And if you think monetizing environmental externalities is tough, then social externalities and their far-reaching impacts are even tougher to assess. And disclosure is a risk. WBCSD maintains that we will only ever be able to know the true cost of business if we make progress in understanding, assessing and accounting for these external costs, and is encouraging its members to make bolder moves in this direction. That's the essence of "redefining value", one of the strategic priorities of WBCSD in the organization's Action2020 program. The sustainability leaders in our panel discussion believe the process of externality costing adds real value.

Masisa is a company with a strong passion for sustainability and a vision through to 2050.

Masisa publishes an Annual Integrated Report and in 2013, for the first time, published monetized impacts.

Roberto Salas described one approach to externality costing on the social side. He talked about the work Masisa does in communities, considering a range of community needs and managing social development over time. His view is that, by taking a small number of social indicators, and tracking development over a period of several years, social impact will be quantifiable and correlatable to corporate interventions and positive actions. Monetization is not a one-off thing. Externality costing must be viewed as a long-term activity.

Roberto Pedote of Natura shared an important insight. Natura has not yet published an EP&L but they are working internally to develop this. Roberto made the point that the EP&L, however, is not about precision. It's about the trend that the numbers show over time, and the ability to compare the size and scale of impacts as they occur throughout the value chain. This will never be a completely precise exercise, and although it's about numbers, it's not the numbers that are most important. It's the understanding of relative weightings of different material impacts, and deep internal discussions about the accountability of the company to mitigate or improve them. As such, externality costing can be an extermely useful internal engagement and decision-making tool.

I asked the panel if stakeholders are actually asking for EP&L's? Is anyone really all that interested? The response was that, while there are not many explicit demands for this specific calculation, stakeholders are showing more interest and demanding greater transparency from companies. The requests that stakeholders make for information are often those that can be met through the work that an EP&L reqires. Doing the work on some form of EP&L accounting enables companies to respond to broader stakeholder demands for transparency in a more considered and thorough way.

I have to confess to having been somewhat dismissive of EP&L accounting prior to the session and the research I did in preparation and pre-conversation with the panelists and their teams. I had always felt that we spend too much time in analysis-paralysis and not enough time taking bold action. But, now, after engaging with such clear-thinking, driven and enlightened leaders, I am more open to hearing the benefits. As Marie-Claire Daveu, the champion of EP&L pointed out: How can you act without a tool to help you evaluate priorities in a holistic way?

While EP&L may not be everybody's double-fudge ice cream, it's a tool that seems to be helping some of the world's leading companies move forward and it's bringing the discussion around sustainable development to another level. We should probably keep our eye on externality accounting. My guess is that we will be hearing a lot more about it in the coming years.

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).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.  

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Reporting is seriously undervalued

This past week, I was privileged to attend as a guest speaker the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) 2014 Annual Council Meeting in Atlanta. This will be the first of a few posts reporting from the field about the sessions where I was involved in Atlanta and highlighting the work of the WBCSD, which I found to be compelling, engaging and very leading-edge. For a quick look at what WBCSD is all about, check out the website or take a look at this post.

The first of the three sessions I took part in was the presentation of the 2014 (second annual) edition of Reporting Matters.  Reporting Matters is the bible of reporting effectiveness, using reports of WBCSD members as the basis for an analysis against 18 criteria (a "reliability" criterion was added in 2014). The new report showcases best practice examples selected from 162 sustainability and integrated reports analyzed across all criteria. This is a tremendous resource for any reporter. The Reporting Matters team from WBCSD and Radley Yeldar have done a great job in pulling this all together. What's more, overall, reports show an improvement over 2013 with 25% of reporting companies showing better materiality disclosure. 86% of reporters use GRI guidelines (up from 75% in 2013)  with 25% of reporters already having transitioned to G4. This year again, GRI reporters tended to score better than non-GRI users.

Reporting Matters 2014 was unveiled in Atlanta by the Redefining Value team. Redefining Value is one of the WBCSD's priority work areas to help deliver its Vision2050 which proposes that a "business should be measured by its ‘True Value’ and should use ‘True Costs’ and ‘True Profits’ in its internal and external reporting." This means including the costs and benefits of externalities and reporting in a way that links profit and loss, performance and value creation in the context of longer-term environmental and social impacts.

After presentation of the report and other insights from the Future Leaders development program (more about this in a future post), I was asked to share some insights about reporting. Below is the gist of what I said (including the bits I skipped over for lack of time)(I get carried away talking about reporting)(Did you notice?)


I have studied the new Reporting Matters report and find it very valuable for any company to learn and improve. Sustainability reports are meant to be used. To be used, they must be effective. Peter Bakker (WBCSD President and CEO) states in the introduction to Reporting Matters 2014 : "The end goal [of reporting] is concise corporate disclosure that brings together financial, environmental and social performance to reflect improved risk and performance management within companies, as well as to drive more accurate valuation of companies and improved allocation of capital market investments." Improving performance. Improving allocation of investments. That means change. Reporting both reflects and DRIVES change. 

Here is the key message I want to share with you today.

Reporting is seriously undervalued – the failure to capture the power of the reporting process to drive performance, engagement and empowerment is probably one of the biggest failures of business over the past 10 years. Let's face it. Whenever anyone talks about reporting, all you hear is groans and sighs. All people do is moan that their reports don't get read. Everyone talks about the cost and resources required for reporting but very few people actually refer to it as an investment. No-one smiles when they talk about reporting. Quite the opposite in fact. Mention sustainability report and people's jaws drop to the floor or they go into a deep coma. Hardly anyone actually says: "Wow, we derive real benefit from our sustainability reporting. It's a fantastic and fun activity. It's really worth our time and effort.

So, how did that happen? How did we turn sustainability reporting into everyone's biggest headache? How is it that companies who are expert at squeezing every cent out of a capital investment get barely a quarter of the value from their report? Let me tell you why. It's because reporting is, sadly, very misunderstood. And who misunderstands reporting the most? Yes, you guessed it. Pretty much everyone. CEOs. Investor Relations folks. Managers. And, don't fall off your seat… Chief Sustainability Officers. Yes. Quote me on that. Chief Sustainability Officers don't understand reporting. Haha. I'll probably never work in this industry again, but what the heck. I can prove it. Just go back home to your workplace and see how many managers and employees know about your sustainability report and have actually taken an interest in any part of it. Call up any of your key suppliers and ask them if they have noticed your report. Talk to a few customers. See what they say. Ask your Sustainability Officers how many conversations they have had about their latest report with just about anybody. I am prepared to guarantee that, for most of you, the responses won't be very encouraging. 

So let me present another perspective. Sustainability Reporting has business value, it engages internal and external stakeholders, it empowers people and it's fun. Notice that I talk about reporting, not just reports. Because the PROCESS is just as important as the OUTPUT. What you do with the output is also part of the process. A Sustainability Report is made up of three parts: the preparation process, the publication and the engagement process following publication. Most people undervalue the first part, minimize the second part and completely ignore the third part. 

Sustainability Reporting has business value, it engages internal and external stakeholders, it empowers people and it's fun. 

Business value: The minute you follow a reporting framework, you are forced to think about issues in a different way. If you take a framework such as the GRI G4 framework, you are asked to give deep consideration to material impacts and the focus of your sustainability activities. The minute you publicly declare what's material, your paradigm of what you are doing, measuring and reporting changes. And when it does, you start to create a different kind of business value and business commitment. But only if you do this as a serious activity. If you just go through the motions, all you get is motions.

Engagement: The reporting process is a fantastic platform to engage internal and external stakeholders on what's important to them and their expectations of you. You may think you know. Maybe you do. But asking the questions creates ownership, partnership, commitment, motivation. Talking in a different way to stakeholders will deliver you a different kind of stakeholder relationship. 

Empowerment: I say that everyone engaged in the reporting process is empowered by it. Sustainability reporting is a way to bring people out of their regular activities, allow them to tell their stories, shine a little. With so many online platforms for reporting, employees are now even becoming movie stars .. reporting videos featuring employees are becoming much more popular. Take a CEO. CEOs have almost no involvement, I might say, even no ownership, for the reporting process. Most of them probably hardly even read their own opening statements. Yet, look what happens to a CEO when she has a great sustainability report to share … suddenly the CEO can join a conversation about sustainability, can showcase her organization on world stages, is seen as progressive or at least, legitimate. It's highly empowering for a CEO to be able to demonstrate – through a Sustainability Report – that her company is behaving in a sustainable manner. 

Don't let the technobabbling frameworks misguide you. Part of the headache around sustainability reporting is that we all think it's so complicated. GRI, SASB, CDP, Integrated Reporting… finding your way through a labyrinth of conflicting and disconnected guidance documents written in language that you need to be a professor of law to understand doesn’t really help anyone. But it's not that tough. Don’t let all these technobabblers derail you. It really is quite simple. Work out what your unique contribution to the world is. Define how you are materially impacting stakeholders. Prioritize. Act. Measure. Report. Engage. Voila. Don't let the framework builders define what's important for you. You have to do that yourself. Don't let SASB tell you biodiversity is important. Let your stakeholders tell you. Don’t let the Integrated Reporting framework scrunch up your brain with so many different capitals if they don't have meaning for you. Since when was a person "HUMAN CAPITAL"? How weird is that? Sustainability reporting in its simplest essence about the way your company impacts the world, how it measures and accounts for doing so. Doing it well adds value to your business, it's engaging, empowering and fun. 

Put comparability back in its box. One of the big dilemmas of course is how to tell who is better than the rest. We are all obsessed with ranking and ratings, and yes, wait for it, the Holy Grail of Comparability. Companies are competitive and sustainability is a competitive differentiator. GRI was set up with a goal (among others) of establishing comparability. It never worked. Even CDP, where the focus is on a single set of KPIs, I suggest, does not achieve true comparability. So you know that Company X has lower GHG emissions than Company Y. That single data-point is connected to so many other data-points that it's just not enough as a basis for making an informed decision about investing, buying from or working for that company, or allowing it into your neighborhood. I say comparability is a diversion. What we should be looking for is good process that delivers intended results and consistency over time that enables us to see how a company does better than itself. 

Consistency is the differentiator. Some of the best companies in this space are most respected because they demonstrate consistency over time. A single report is a drop in the ocean. Sustainability credibility is a series of action and reporting cycles over several years, where progress can be demonstrated. M&S and Plan A, Kingfisher and Net Positive, Patagonia and the Footprint Chronicles, Pepsico and Performance with Purpose, Nestle and Creating Shared Value, Unilever and the Sustainable Living Plan, Skanska and Deep Green, H&M and Conscious Fashion. The value in this program branding is its consistency year after year of delivering sustainability results. All these companies set multi-year targets and follow through, coming clean about where they are not delivering. 

Don't force it (all). I am often asked about mandatory reporting. Should all companies of a certain size be FORCED to report and FORCED to report the same things? There is no doubt that voluntary reporting has not evolved as a universally accepted norm in a consistent way. There is also no doubt that legislation changes the way companies behave. The Denmark report or explain experience caused more companies to report and some to actually derive benefit from it. In an ideal world, companies would want to use reporting to derive the value it brings for their companies. However, there's something else. If we believe that reporting has value and is a catalyst for performance improvement, why would governments not be more interested in having companies do things that will help them create performance improvement? It's in the economic, social and environmental interest of governments to have more companies report, and use the output to drive allocation of resources and plan future infrastructure. I therefore believe that governments should mandate sustainability reporting of policy, process and a  set of core indicators that should be disclosed by all companies. Exactly what and how companies report this and more can be discretionary. Those companies who, as now, see it as valuable will invest more and derive more value from it. Those who want to tick the box will do the minimum and get the minimum in return. But as a minimum, governments are also accountable for corporate impacts and should legislate to know what they are dealing with. 

Reports are people. Legislation alone is not going to make the transformation here. Companies are. CEOs are. People are. Stakeholders are. Sustainability reporting is one of the tools that can help this transformation. Rounding off, my message is that Sustainability Reporting has business value, it engages internal and external stakeholders, it empowers people and it's fun. If you approach reporting with this mindset, you will be amazed at what reporting can do for your business and for your stakeholders. You might even find it raises a smile. Or two.


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).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   

Friday, October 31, 2014

GSK, Riga, reporting and ice cream

We were delighted to work once again this year with GSK Latvia on the development of the company's second Corporate Responsibility Report for 2013. The report is the local story of this GSK subsidiary which is making a big impact in a small country with a modest team of just 46 people. The commitment to local transparency and engagement is fantastic. The look and feel of the report aligns with the global GSK report design and structure. GSK Latvia applies global policies and approaches of its parent company including GSK's strong stand on ethics, sales team incentives based on behaviors rather than sales volumes, cessation of payments to physicians for speaking engagements or conference attendance, transparent research practices, investment in employee development and positive environmental practices. However, alongside confirming the way these practices are implemented in Latvia, the content of GSK Latvia's report is finely tailored to the activities and expectations of local patients, healthcare system and team.

Many companies don't make the effort  to report at local level. A global report, covering headlines of global activity, is generally regarded by most of the major multinational corporations as being enough. Big tick. Done that. Report published. At local level, however, the report comes alive. It speaks to local stakeholders about the things that affect their local lives. A recent post from Revital Bitan at Intel (where I contributed some insights) speaks about the importance to Intel in Israel of local reporting and the value it brings. the post is entitled: In CSR Reporting - everything is local!   

Back to Latvia and a report which is full of local people and local flavor. Hear from many GSK Latvian staff and from many local GSK Latvia partners and stakeholders in a report which showcases the incredible energy and commitment of this compact team. For example:

Patient Advocacy: GSK Latvia supports a range of local organizations such as the Asthma and Allergy Society, the Pulmonary Hypertension Society, HIV groups, the Rheumatics society, and the Association of Disabled Women and more. Several leaders of these organizations report how GSK's engagement helps them advance their activities and support patients who need far more than the state healthcare system is able to offer. 

Leading sustainability in Latvia: GSK Latvia is the first and only pharma company to have been honored in Latvia's Sustainability Index for 2013. The Index recognizes advanced sustainability strategy, management and practice and sets the standard for companies in Latvia. 

Funding local causes and volunteering in the community: Even a company of less than 50 people can make an impact. And that's what GSK Latvia sets out to do with its local flagship programs - Mission Possible (an initiative that helps drive quality leadership in education through support for teachers and school principals) and the Small Grants Programme (which awards up to Eur 700 per project for locally relevant initiatives - 9 initiatives have been supported in the last two years) as well as participating in the GSK global volunteering effort under the umbrella of Orange Day. It amazes me how such a small and very busy team manages to do so much. 

Family friendly: On the inside, GSK Latvia has achieved Family Friendly status as recognized by the Ministry of Welfare in the Latvian Government. GSK Latvia is the first local pharma company to achieve this status. In a team where 50% of managers are women, including the General Manager, this is not a trivial matter. Family friendly means that both men and women can enjoy an inclusive culture and equal opportunity at work. 

Supporting healthcare policy: GSK's Latvia's involvement in local healthcare infrastructure and development is important to help patients in Latvia gain access to the best options and the best healthcare treatment. GSK Latvia supports The Foreign Investors Council in Latvia (FICIL) - an organization that brings together the largest companies from various countries and sectors that have made significant investments in Latvia. With a place on the Board of FICIL, GSK Latvia drives home the message that an investment in healthcare is an investment in the economy. Lack of access to healthcare limits economic growth. GSK Latvia has been instrumental in ensuring healthcare issues have a place on the FICIL agenda and are included in FICIL's annual report, a recent new addition.

Ice cream in Latvia: Ok, you're right, this is not part of the GSK Latvia report. But how can I talk about a report without mentioning ice cream? So if you are in Riga, then Skrīveri Home-made Ice Cream seems to me to be the place to go. 100% natural ice cream with all-natural flavors. First stop next trip.

In the meantime, read 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).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.   
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