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.

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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  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Know what CSV really means? Think again.

I had a quick phone call with Janet Voûte last week. I caught her just as she was going into the launch of the 2016 Access to Nutrition Index session at Davos. I guess that's the closest I'll probably get to a WEF session at Davos like ever.


OK, so I wasn't in Davos, I stayed warm.
I was super-grateful that Janet spared me some time as she is one of the most passionate and inspiring speakers around on the making-the-world-better circuit today. She is also really REALLY busy.  Janet shared some insights with me that truly helped me understand the essence of better-world-through-business. Janet Voûte is Nestlé's VP of Global Public Affairs. Want to know what that means? Read on....

But first, a quick reminder of Nestlé's claim to fame: Creating Shared Value (CSV). No, I'm not going to give you the lecture. You probably know what Shared Value is all about by now. But if you don't, stop, grab a cup of Nescafé (see that? PC), and read all about it in Nestlé's last report.


Oops, the full report is 284 pages short. You night need more than one cup. The Summary Report is only ONLY 53 pages and that works well too. The report is entitled "Nestlé in Society: Creating Shared Value and meeting our commitments". That bit about commitments is no less important than the CSV bit. Nestlé has 38 commitments to 2020 that support the CSV direction. Check them out here on Nestlé's CSV website. Against each commitment is a statement of progress and a link to dive deeper. The scale, scope and breadth of these commitments is formidable, especially as they are not only about reducing GHG emissions, water use and salt, fat and sugar in products  ... they are mainly about changing the way consumers consume or the way farmers farm or the way young people get a foot on the career ladder. What's striking about Nestlé's commitments is that most of them really go to the heart of the role of business in society. Which, in a nutshell, is what CSV is all about. It's better-world-through-business .. where business addresses specific societal / social needs in a way that creates value both for the business and for society. Darn. I wasn't going to lecture.

Nestlé's CSV focus is very well defined......
 
 .... and Nestlé has been very consistent over the years in driving its prime agendas forward. But I promised to tell you what VP Global Public Affairs means. Perhaps it's better to let Janet explain:

What does Global Public Affairs mean on a day-to-day basis?
Janet: What I spend my days on is our CSV agenda and all the many aspects of that. I have the privilege to sit on the Nestlé In Society board – that’s an internal management board of our entire societal agenda, chaired by our CEO, which meets three or four times a year. I also spend time as Chair of the Nestlé CSV Council which is an external advisory group made up of 12 thought-leaders from around the world in strategy and sustainability matters such as nutrition, water, agriculture and rural development. I also organize our CSV Forum and stakeholder convenings. Obviously, around this time of year, I am also involved in the development of our report suite and effective communications of CSV. I have a particular background in the health field so I also work on our Nutrition Health and Wellness strategy.

Yes, you did read that right. Stakeholder convenings. Somehow that sounds much more considered than stakeholder meetings or stakeholder dialogue, though I suppose it's pretty much that. However, Nestlé does this quite spectacularly. But before we convene about convenings, you first need to know about the CSV Global Forum. This is an annual public debate held in different places around the globe, bringing together around 200 experts for a full day to discuss the role of business in society and key topical themes. It's live-streamed and prolifically tweeted. You can read the summary of the 2014 event here.  (Don't worry, no more than one cup). The CSV Global Forum provides inspiration and direction for the stakeholder convenings.

Please tell me about stakeholder convenings.
Janet: Twice a year, in addition to our public engagement processes, we hold private stakeholder convenings covering the same topics that we discussed in our public stakeholder dialogue events under the CSV Forum. These private convening events for around 60 - 70 people including academics, NGO's and members of the investor community enable an open discussion about what we are doing and what they like and what they don't like. The convenings are held under Chatham House Rules (we just completed one in Washington D.C.) and the conversations are enriching for our business leaders. The last time, our CEO spent nine hours listening and responding. This platform provides authentic insight into what’s expected of us as a company. It also helps our stakeholders gain new insight so I hope it's mutually beneficial. The think-tank SustainAbility helps us structure the process. The output of these discussions feed our materiality assessment. We also publish the recommendations in our CSV report.


The investment in truly understanding what stakeholders are saying in so many different meetings, convenings, gatherings and panels (Nestlé also has a Nestlé Nutrition Council - an independent advisory panel made up of international nutrition scientists) is a far cry from the online questionnaires or consultant-led interviews with anonymous stakeholders which seems to satisfy many companies. This is real face-time. It's meaningful, impactful and robust as a source of guidance for Nestlé's evolving role in society. One of the tangible outcomes is Nestlé's materiality matrix.


Does all this chatter really have an impact on the way Nestlé does things?
Janet:  Oh yes! It really does. For example, our use of the term zero in our water program may well have come from our interaction with John Elkington on the Nestlé CSV Council who made that term synonymous with the sustainable development agenda in his book The Zeronauts. We have zero water dairy factories. While we might have gotten to this ourselves, it’s not a given that we would have developed our ambition to reach this far. Similarly, for example, Sasha Zehnder, the Scientific Director of the Alberta Water Research Institute in Edmonton, guides us in the fact that water is both an emotional and a rational discussion, and all of our nutrition experts on the CSV Council encourage us to engage more with stakeholders and review our commitments. Our CEO listens, we listen, and this changes how we evolve. We are now planning our seventh CSV Forum to take place in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast in June this year. This Forum will continue to look at the changing role of business in society especially in the light of the new Sustainable Development Goals.


Cero means Zero in Mexico. Just sayin'....

What’s hot on the CSV agenda today?
Janet: The CSV agenda is always dynamic. Nutrition is always on the agenda with both the overweight and underweight double burden of malnutrition. That will always be part of Nestlé corporate strategy. Also, clearly the water and environmental sustainability agendas will continue to be central. And all the work with farmers and rural development. Our Chairman is here at Davos with a new 2030 Water Resources Group which he helped establish. This area will require focus for years to come. What’s new is perhaps the increasing interest of investors beyond SRI and ESG investors. I am seeing new frontiers as the conversation starts to penetrate into the mainstream. Mainstream investors are starting to understand that it’s about why the business does well – CSV as essential to business success through improved access to capital, access to labor, license to operate and brand building. The other topic area that's hot right now is the consumer/millennial side of the equation.

Over and under nutrition is Nestlé’s top material issue. Where do you believe you have made the most significant progress in these areas in the past few years?
Janet: In terms of the double burden of malnutrition, we are all massively concerned with increasing rates of obesity, and recognize that national health systems cannot manage this. That’s a joint, mutual concern while at the same time you still have populations that are undernourished, malnourished and micro-nutrient deficient. Nestlé has done many things in this area. We have done some of the classic things like reducing salt, fat and sugar and added whole grains and vegetables, but we have also innovated in a series of areas like portion guidance. We are starting to tell consumers in simpler terms how much is the right amount to eat to help them make better decisions. For example, in the U.S., we have a frozen pizza business and we have portion guidance that shows that a big guy can have two pieces and a kid can have one and you should eat it with salad! 


Janet: We are also doing a great deal of research for the future of nutrition to make step changes such as addressing sodium levels to retain taste but dramatically lower sodium content. To further our research, we have two relatively new business areas in the past 5 years: Nestle Health Science and Nestle Skin Health. Going beyond the food and beverage business and investing in the future of nutrition and health is how we are evolving our corporate strategy while staying true to our CSV core. Science looks for nutritional solutions to specific conditions – targeted nutrition and personalized nutrition are the next level - food, health, skin care - it's all linked by the science of nutrition. It’s a big agenda and I am proud of the company for the progress we have made - it’s not over! I am  also happy we improved our score to become number 2 in the  2016 Access to Nutrition Index which is a very rigorous benchmark of food and nutrition companies. 

Nestle 2016 ATN rank
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It will be a great honor for me personally to host Janet Voûte at our upcoming Sustainability Reporting Conference in February. Janet is a wealth of experience, knowledge and insight, and has a tangible passion that will energize our audience. Of course, if you haven't booked your place yet, better hurry! You wouldn't want us to run out of space, now, would you? Check with me for a discount (yay!).



 
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  

Monday, January 25, 2016

Trust - it's no accident



One of the things that Barbara Brooks Kimmel, CEO and CoFounder of Trust Across America-Trust Around the World™ (TAA-TAW), has succeeded in driving home in her intensive work over the past two decades, is that trust in business is no accident. Trustworthy business is underpinned by trustworthy people. Trustworthy people advance trust in business through their words and actions, and the compatibility of the former with the latter. Doing business without trust is like running a marathon with a blindfold. You might keep running but who knows where you will end up. You could also fall and break your leg.
 
Trust is at the root of any successful business. But while that may sound obvious, we all know the consequences of lack of trustworthiness. Martin Winterkorn might want to weigh in here, alongside a thousand others I could mention. I don't believe that trustworthy characteristics are the product of a carefully conceived strategy. I believe that trustworthy business leaders were trustworthy before they were business leaders. I believe it's part of who they are. So why should we celebrate people for doing business in a trustworthy way, just because that's the way they are? Shouldn't trustworthiness be a minimum acceptable baseline? Does it deserve recognition?
 
Yes it does. Because no matter how deeply entrenched your personal trust characteristics are, there are many temptations along the way. So many conflicting interests to appease, so many challenging targets to achieve, so much competitive and regulatory noise, so many demands, so many corners available to cut, so many new challenges that emerge from new market dynamics. Even the most trustworthy of us might be tempted to ease off around the edges in order to protect assets developed and reputation hard-earned. Corporate leaders that rise above the noise and stay true to a backbone of trustworthy character in all their undertakings are an inspiration for us all. A little celebration of trustworthiness can only serve to reinforce it.
 
Similarly, capturing and embedding trustworthiness throughout a large organization takes more than  one trustworthy leader at the top. The leadership-halo ripple-effect reaches only so far in large, complex organizations. A structured approach of walk, talk, training, recognition and discipline is required to ensure that every single employee in an organization knows that trustworthiness is more than a value, it's a non-negotiable. Every single employee needs to know the behavioral expectations that support trustworthy business in each daily action in each role. The influence and work of many individuals who support business leaders in embedding trustworthiness in their organizations should also be celebrated. They are an essential part of the trustworthiness chain of custody.  
 
Enter TAA-TAW. Now in its 6th year, TAA-TAW celebrates professionals who are transforming the way organizations do business and honors 2016  Top Thought Leaders as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards to seven individuals who have maintained Top Thought Leader status for five years. 
 
According to Barbara Kimmel: "The release of this year’s list coincides with the beginning of the 4th year of the formation of our Trust Alliance, a growing group of global professionals committed to learning about and advancing the cause of organizational trust. Many of this year's honorees are well-known CEOs, authors and leadership advisors, while others are quietly working behind the scenes as teachers and researchers. We acknowledge and reward all their efforts in elevating societal trust. We congratulate all of our honorees whose work is shining a spotlight on the importance of trust and providing a roadmap for others to follow. They inspire organizations to look more closely at their higher purpose...to create greater value for, and trust from all of their stakeholders, and understand trust is a "hard currency" with real returns."
 
Check out the 2016 Lifetime Honorees here.
Check out the full list of 2016 Honorees in the Winter 2016 issue of TRUST! Magazine

And here I will also mention that I am personally honored and delighted to be included once again in 2016 in this carefully selected group of illustrious and inspiring group of individuals. I am humbled to be on this list with so many truly world-changing individuals. 
 
I hope you will join me in thanking Trust Across America and Barbara Brooks Kimmel for the hard work that goes into the nomination, judging and award process for the annual selection of Top Thought Leaders, and also in congratulating the 2016 Honorees and Lifetime Honorees.
 


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  

Monday, January 18, 2016

How will you simplify your supply chain this year?

Here's a little one-question one-answer quiz.

Question: 
What's the second best thing you can do to mitigate supply chain risk in 2016? 

Answer: (please select one)
a) Attend the Sedex 2016 conference
b) Attend the Sedex 2016 conference
c) Attend the Sedex 2016 conference
d) Attend the Sedex 2016 conference

Whether you selected answer a) b) c) or d), read on. Learn more about why the Sedex Conference in March in London in 2016 should be part of your schedule.  



I grew up in the supply chain. In my formative years as a young manager with Procter and Gamble, I was responsible for logistics in Scotland and Northern Ireland in my very first management role, and then, over eight years until I decided to move on to pastures new, I took on successively diverse and challenging roles across different aspects of the supply chain in Europe including purchasing, customer service, distribution center management and more. And today, working with clients on strategy and reporting, I always feel at home discussing the opportunities (and risks) relating to ethical and sustainable supply. In that context, Sedex often crops up as one of the most influential players in the field of sustainable sourcing and responsible supply chain practice. I am looking forward to attending the 2016 conference, not only because I'll have the chance to speak (you all know how I love to talk), but mainly because I have the feeling that I am going to learn 
a lot.

Sedex is a not for profit membership organisation dedicated to driving improvements in ethical and responsible business practices in global supply chains. As the largest collaborative platform for sharing ethical supply chain data, Sedex is an innovative and effective supply chain management solution, helping companies to reduce risk, protect their reputation and improve supply chain practices. 

I could write reams about the vital importance of ethical supply chain management and the increasing risk as businesses become more global in scope and more complex in scale. It's also a gobbler-upper of resources. Monitoring, audits, training, communications, evaluations, assessments in a context of increasingly strict regulatory requirements means that both customers and suppliers must invest significant resources to stay not only cost-effective but also low-risk. At the same time, the supply chain, if you treat it right, can be a fabulous source of innovation and creativity, enabling business expansion and growth. And of course, no Sustainability Report is complete without critical supply chain disclosures. It seems that Sedex is in the right place at the right time. And by attending the Sedex 2016 Conference (#Sedex16), you will be too! Check out the agenda here.  

I posed a few questions to the Sedex CEO, Jonathan Ivelaw-Chapman, about supply chain sustainability and the conference. Check out his insights: 

What's the most important aspect of your role at Sedex? What's most challenging and what's most satisfying? 

Jonathan: Since joining Sedex, what has struck me is our people and the passion they bring to the organisation. For me, it’s our values and our people that are the most important aspect at Sedex. The most satisfying part of what I am doing is seeing our employees engage in future-thinking in fresh and innovative ways. They are all here because they care and are passionate, and the talent and energy we have seems endless. This is wonderful to observe and participate in. 

Coming from the technology industry, where for nearly 30 years, hype, language and behaviors were all about self-justification and increased investment, I now sense an exit to the “hype” that we have all experienced. I want to help avoid any similarities to the IT industry, by bringing clarity and affordability into the sustainability industry. The challenge for Sedex is to help our industry and membership navigate in an increasingly complex sustainability world. We will do this by simplifying our language, facilitating opportunities to work collaboratively, and giving our members an industry roadmap, with a vision of the way responsible sourcing can work. 

The Sedex Conference 2016 theme runs under the banner of simplification. Everyone seems to talk about the sustainability landscape becoming increasingly complex! How realistic is simplification?

Jonathan: The business and sustainability landscape is rapidly changing. From natural resource scarcity to human rights, child labour to an evolving regulatory landscape, our industry is facing a range of challenges. With all these new topics coming up, sustainability is becoming a complicated space with new initiatives, frameworks, certifications, and schemes, creating silos in industries, countries, topic areas themselves.

Sedex is already looking at simplifying supply chains and recognising the interconnectivities between different issues such as bribery and health and safety and whether there could be more effective ways for companies and their suppliers to manage these issues as one as opposed to treating them in silos. 

There is no need to re-invent the wheel but rather try to scale up – pick what’s relevant to you and collaborate with other stakeholders. We might not have all the right answers just yet, but we are getting there. The conference will provide a great forum to discuss and address the challenges and hear from the industry leaders on how they are going about simplifying the challenging issues and approach to tackling them. 

What's going to be different about the SEDEX Conference 2016? What highlights should we look out for? 

Jonathan: This will be our largest conference so far, bringing together around 1,000 leaders in responsible sourcing for two days of discussions. The conference will be live-streamed and for the first time, we will also have live interviews with conference speakers straight from the conference hall. The conference agenda will cover the most relevant topics for supply chain sustainability – from modern slavery legislation, how organisations can quantify, value, and improve their impact on society, to best practice in agricultural sustainability measurement and reporting tools and resources and much more. 

We have an exciting line up of speakers – from multinational companies such as Kellogg and Mars, to organisations such as International Trade Centre and Thomson Reuters across plenary sessions, master-classes, workshops and spotlight talks. 

For the first time ever we will also host the VIP Networking Dinner event at the Barbican’s tropical plant conservatory in the heart of the City of London. Our conference delegates often ask for more opportunities to network and this dinner, designed for just 150 guests, will provide an exclusive opportunity to connect with industry experts and discuss hot sustainability topics. We are delighted to have John Morrison, Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Business, speaking during the dinner. As a well-known and influential voice on business and human rights, and a highly engaging and knowledgeable speaker, John's speech will be a real highlight of the evening.

***********

And now another little one-question one-answer quiz:

Question: 
What's the first best thing you can do to mitigate supply chain risk in 2016? 

Answer: (please select one)
a) Attend the Sedex 2016 conference
b) Attend the Sedex 2016 conference
c) Attend the Sedex 2016 conference
d) Attend the Sedex 2016 conference 

Look forward to seeing you there!
Drop me a note if you'd like a 50% discount on the standard ticket price on registration. Who wouldn't?



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  

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Top Ten Sustainability Reports of 2015

Here we are again, time to pronounce my Top Ten Sustainability Reports for 2015. Every year I say that selecting my Top Ten is the hardest thing I do on the CSR Reporting Blog and every year I am right. I am always soooooo tempted to increase the number to more than 10. I have been picking Top Tens now for several years... 201020112012 , 2013 and 2014These Top Ten posts are always the most popular posts of the year and get thousands and thousands of views. So why change a winning formula? Well, I did make one change this year. I decided NOT to include any reports that had already been included in one of my Top Ten lists at any time in the past. I have a small group of favorite reporters and its very tempting to include them year after year (and I have included some of them more than once in the past) ... great, consistently high quality reporters such as Impahla, Telekom Austria, Larsen and Toubro, Westpac Australia, BT, Tiffany & Co and several others. I know when they publish that their report is going to be informative, professional, useful and good quality. But if I included these reporters every year, I wouldn't have room for any others. The entire purpose of the Top Ten is to spread a little awareness and recognition beyond the reporters that already have a good share of attention. 

My Top Ten selection is always based on reports that cross my radar throughout the year, not a scientific or strict methodical evaluation of report quality. I try to select a cross-section of companies, sectors and countries, rather than selecting the big names in reporting that generally pick up reporting awards around the world.  I focus on reports by corporations / businesses, not public agencies or non-profits or trade associations (although there are some really great innovative reports coming out of these sectors - maybe I should do a Top Ten just for non-business reports). Of course, I exclude reports of clients of my firm Beyond Business.

As I have done for the past few years, I loosely use the AIM MODEL as I consider the reports that I find worthy of mention. Each report adds value in its own way, and each report is evidence of progress. Therefore, in mentioning a mere ten reports of the thousands that were published in 2015, I continue to do reporting somewhat of an injustice. On the other hand, highlighting these ten reports and their unique elements may provide insights and inspiration for new, or potentially better, reporters. In any event, this is always a post I find both challenging and fun all at the same time. 

Here is a quick reminder of my AIM MODEL:

Authenticity: I look for whether the company has reported in an honest way, using stakeholder voices to supplement performance data. Authenticity for me includes balance, accuracy and completeness. I look for targets and progress against stated targets.  
Materiality: I look for whether the company has clearly defined the most important issues for the company and its stakeholders and described the way in which those issues have been identified and prioritized. Reporting materiality should also include a certain amount of contextual information which can assist us in understanding the issues and why they are material.  
Impacts: I look for whether the company identified impacts rather than just presenting a shopping list of activities. This means discussing the outcomes of what was achieved. The outcomes are the achievements (impacts), not the activities. This is by far the most difficult thing for companies to address and very few do it well.

By the way, even the Top Ten reports have opportunity for improvement. So don't expect me to be exclusively gushing. That's not in my nature. 

And, in alpha order by company name, here is my Top Ten pick for 2015:  

  • BESTSELLER Sustainability Report 2014/2015
  • Disney Citizenship 2014 Performance Summary
  • Grupo Exito Sustainability Report 2014
  • Hang Lung Properties Sustainability Report 2014
  • IKEA Group FY15 Sustainability Report
  • Safaricom Sustainability Report 2014
  • Soneva Sustainability Report 2014/2015
  • Sunny Delight Sustainability Report 2014
  • Toyoda Gosei Report 2015
  • Tullow Oil Corporate Responsibility Report 2014

Denmark, Not GRI, 4th report, 39 pages

BESTSELLER is a family-owned clothing and accessories company founded in Denmark in 1975, providing fast affordable fashion for women, men, teenagers and children. BESTSELLER's products are available online, in branded chain stores and department stores in 70 markets and globally via e-commerce. 15,000 employees.


I like BESTSELLER's report because of its simplicity and beautiful design which makes reading it a pleasure. Tastefully presented, this report is not GRI, is rather light on data and is anything but comprehensive in its disclosure. But it's a report that shares a positive story and presents a business that is on a journey of sustainability that I expect will intensify as time progresses. A set of 20 broadly stated directional goals together with what appears to be an honest assessment of where BESTSELLER has made progress and where it has not is included in the report, against the framework of a "20by20" strategy.


There's something rather inspiring about a privately-owned company - the CEO is the owner - that publicly declares its position and interest on sustainability.


BESTSELLER reports an interesting, innovative community initiative in 2014. The first Give-a-Day - one full retail day spanning 27 hours across all the company's operating locations in which the proceeds of all sales went to charity. That's a really effective way to get all employees and customers talking about the contribution of business to society, and engaging them at the same time. With EUR 15 million donated to 40 different organizations worldwide, the impact is impressive in financial terms, but more impressive to me in terms of the number of conversations and additional ripple-effect actions this day generated.


But BESTSELLER doesn't focus on charitable giving alone. There are disclosures related to supplier management and auditing, product traceability, employment of women and homeworkers, paying living wages, support for the HER Project (workplace training program with the purpose of increasing women’s health awareness and access to health services), sustainability in the supply chain including sourcing and environmental sustainability. In each area, BESSELLER provides a short, select set of case studies to illustrate progress made. 

As far as the AIM model goes, it's the A that takes this one. There's a simple authenticity about this report that's not glossed up for investors and not overstated. In future reporting, I would encourage BESTSELLER to expand its reporting to provide a fuller picture of this company's impacts. With 15,000 employees and operations all over the world, including a presence in 18,000 stores, BESTELLER is too big to be shy about fuller disclosure. 

Oh, and I love the design elements in this report and a few stunning photos. 



USA, GRI G3.1 Application Level B, reporting since 2008, 127 pages

The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. With operations in 40 countries, including studios, parks and resorts, consumer products and interactive media, Disney is almost 100 years old and has a workforce of more than 160,000 employees and generates almost $50 billion in annual revenues.   



It's hard to imagine the impact that Disney has had on all of our lives but the company's tag-line, Be Inspired, probably says it best. The sheer scale of the Disney brand cannot have escaped any one's attention but the strong program of sustainability that has become more prominent in Disney's profile may not be quite as well understood. Having revisited a Disney report after some years of not checking in, I was pleasantly surprised. There's structure. There's commitment. There's a legacy of continuously improving positive impact. I like this report and yes, I was inspired.

The CFO introduces Disney's report. While I like the thought of the CFO being engaged enough (most aren't) to lead the charge, I wonder what happened to the CEO. In prior Disney reports, there has been both a CEO and CFO introductory message. Maybe the CEO was too busy this year.  

Disney sets out the Citizenship Framework in a way which doubles up as a content index and almost a materiality map. I like the double pronged approach... Inspiring Others as the core-business value proposition for making the world a better place (doing the right things) and Act Responsibly for running the business (doing things right). It's the opportunity and risk of sustainability. 


Disney's report is a G3 report ... which roughly translated means: don't expect to find a materiality matrix. Disney explains they are en route to G4 and expect to undertake a materiality process and define new associated multi-year targets with the next report. In this report, however, stakeholder engagement gets good coverage, with a consultation group convened by Ceres. Stakeholder feedback is presented, followed by Disney's response to each issue and an action plan. The feedback is tangible and includes real challenges for Disney. 


A performance summary against targets and a data table completes the first section of the report that sets the scene for the two-pronged strategy sections, with each describing progress made and specific performance against targets. Infographics and some spectacular photos bring the narrative to life. 





I think Disney's report is a good example of the AIM model... it covers what we might consider to be critical sustainability practices throughout the business and goes some way to describing impacts - although there is room for greater robustness in this area. It strikes me as an authentic report, built on a strong strategic foundation. 


Colombia, GRI G3.1 Application Level A, 7th report, 94 pages

Grupo Exito is a major retailer operating in Colombia with 537 stores (and Uruguay with 54 stores) and employing 41,000 people. 


There are some fantastic reports coming out of Colombia but surprisingly very very few are available in English. Grupo Exito is one of them and also one that demonstrates AIM reporting rather well. Although there is no specific list of material impacts, Grupo Exito has a well-embedded approach to sustainability centering around five main pillars that are dealt with in turn in the body of the report. 

The report starts with a CEO 2-pager that runs us through the main sustainability strategy elements/achievements of the Group followed by the formalities of governance and introductions to the Board of Directors and Management Team, key brands and operations and top line financials. 


I like a report that includes the Board of Directors. So many Boards sideline themselves when it comes to sustainability reporting. Here at Grupo Exito, there's nowhere to hide. 

After the up-front formalities, Grupo Exito takes us through each of the strategic elements highlighting performance and impacts. In each section, there is an infographic with key numbers and highlights. 




In fact, one of the nice things about Grupo Exito's report is the use of data throughout the report to support many of the initiatives and performance elements described. It's a highlights-style report - no long narratives, mainly short shots of examples of practice, with supporting numbers. Friendly and colorful graphics make this an appealing and accessible report.

The thing that is lacking in Grupo Exito's report that would help make it a more robust statement of ongoing commitment is goals and targets. The key areas for action are defined, the direction seems clear but the goals are not stated. Something to think about in future reports. 

Hong Kong, G4 core option, 3rd report, 68 pages

Hang Lung Properties is a real estate developer in Hong Kong and mainland China, building, owning and managing building complexes in major cities. Hang Lung has a workforce of 4,500 employees.




Who says sustainability has to be boring? (Hint: Definitely not me). Some of the best reports around are the ones that use creative design make the narrative great fun to read. Yes, sustainability reports can be fun. Producing a fun sustainability report says a lot about the place that sustainability has in the corporate image and culture. Fun reports don't just happen. They have to be conceptualized, developed and supported by the leadership of the company. It's my bet that corporate leadership is more engaged, corporate culture is more open and empowered, and innovation is more effectively rewarded in a company whose sustainability report is FUN. Telekom Austria's iconic comic book report, The Sustainables, is an example I often quote, and Telekom Austria consistently delivers fabulous fun reports. This year, Hang Lung gets my vote as the most fun and well developed report of the year. Maybe I ought to change the AIM model to the FAIM model - adding FUN as the first element. 

Before I go any further, I'd like to thank Rajesh Chhabara of CSR Works and his inaugural ASRA (Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards) 2015 initiative in which I was honored to be a judge. I scrutinized tens of reports from all over Asia - and Hang Lung was one of them. While the award winners have not yet been announced (check back in February), and I don't know which reports will be among the finalists, I couldn't complete my Top Ten without including Hang Lung because I had so much fun clicking through the pages. 

This third report from Hang Lung is fun in a serious way. It's a G4 core option report that covers all the bases well - materiality, data presentation, balance, stakeholder feedback - it's s a genuinely good AIM report. 

What makes it fun is the comics-style presentation throughout the report - every page has something fun. It draws you in to read the narrative. 





But I couldn't have selected this report if it were only about comics. The Letter from the Managing Director is a good overview of Hang Long's impact and gives a flavor of the challenges of rapid expansion of the company's business in China. Hang Lung's sustainability vision is well articulated. Feedback from stakeholders is challenging - and Hang Lung includes a response in terms of a considered list of 2015-2017 targets that are driven by these concerns and expectations raised by stakeholders and reflected in the materiality matrix.  


  

The report includes several case studies that demonstrate Hang Lung's practice and performance is summarized in clear three-year data tables. And the report is externally assured. 


While it's true that Hang lung's report is a little on the "rosy" side - not much in the way of what hasn't been so perfect - it's nevertheless an accessible, readable, engaging and seemingly authentic, fun report. Next time I am in Hong Kong, I promise to buy the reporting team a ton of ice cream. 

Sweden, not GRI, 5th report,94 pages

IKEA is a home furnishings retailer with 328 stores in 28 countries, 771 million store visits per year, 155,000 employees and EUR 31.5Bn in turnover.


I recently prepared a review for publication in Ethical Corporation's January Magazine about this IKEA report and realized it was a great Top Ten AIM candidate this year. (I have "borrowed" a few insights from my review for this post). IKEA has been getting better and better at driving and communicating sustainability. This, plus the fact that Beyond Business refurnished our offices entirely with IKEA furniture this year, and the quality, cost, ease of assembly and ease of transportation really brought home to me the powerful benefits that IKEA brings to many individuals to improve their quality of life. I recall furnishing my first apartment back in 1985 with IKEA - good looking stuff that as a young single person I would have never been able to afford elsewhere. Anyway, enough nostalgia. Back to the IKEA report.

The report follows a familiar structure for IKEA - I call it the sandwich structure. Opening and closing sections for the intro and background blurb, governance and data, and in between, the core sustainability impacts which for IKEA are threefold: more sustainable life at home, resource and energy independence and better life for communities. A sub-index shows the highlights of IKEA's sustainability year.


A great feature of IKEA’s report is the inclusion of external stakeholder perspectives who put a range of “challenges” to the IKEA team (decoupling growth from environmental impact, fueling a throwaway culture, combating child labor deep in the supply chain etc.). Senior IKEA voices respond to these challenges, offering the reader a focused perspective on sustainability dilemmas and demonstrating that IKEA is connected to the burning issues of sustainable business.

In fact, internal and external stakeholder "voices" abound in this report - adding to its credibility and sense of interactive approach to stakeholder engagement. 


IKEA is an early adopter of the UN Sustainable Development Goals framework and includes an index of its sustainability activities aligned with the 17 Goals, hyperlinked to the relevant sections in the report. This is another example of how IKEA has enhanced its global sustainability leadership presence – quietly moving from an underdog positioning of cheap, consumerist and low-quality to positive and purposeful impact aligned with the leading global framework for sustainable development.


IKEA’s report does not apply Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines but uses them to “inform our reporting”, preferring to stay with IKEA’s own strategy and KPI framework while demonstrating consistency in practice against multi-year targets alongside participation in industry initiatives to improve sustainable practice. Alongside this, while we could always demand more, IKEA is demonstrably leveraging its scale and reach to change consumer practice and awareness around sustainability though its core offerings and commitment to transparency as well as driving its suppliers and suppliers’ suppliers to comply with sustainable standards.


Kenya, G4 core option, 4th report,74 pages


Safaricom is a provider of integrated telecommunication services, including mobile and fixed Voice, SMS, Data, Internet and Mobile money (M-PESA) to over 25 million subscribers. M-PESA has 22 million subscribers supported by a network of 9,000 agents. Safaricom employs just over 4,000 employees. 


There is something about reports from the telco sector - all around the world. There's a certain creativity and color that almost always characterizes this sector reporting. This one from Safaricom has some spectacular visuals and is laid out in a generally aesthetic way with great use of color and bold charts and graphs. 




Even one of the usually deathly boring parts of any report - anti-corruption - is full of color.



Beyond the color, however, this report tells a great story of empowerment in Kenya in terms of connectivity, innovation and empowerment of employees and society in general. Safaricom groups its material impacts into four broad areas which provides focus and clarity. Each of these issues are dealt with in great detail. 


Each material section concludes with a Looking Ahead piece. I often find that a section called Looking Ahead is usually not worth the space. It's a poor substitute for actually being disciplined about things and setting some targets. No-one is interested in looking ahead, we are interested in doing ahead. I'd recommend that Safaricom tightens up this approach and turns Looking Ahead into some definitive plans. On the other hand, I like reports where the materiality connection is clearly made - stating the material impacts and actually reporting them. Safaricom does this well. 

A nice touch from Safaricom is the inclusion of a report road-map - how to find your way around the report - helping us to see how it all connects up.


Maldives, not GRI, 2nd report, 107 pages

Soneva is a collection of world-class hotels, resorts and spas created by Eva and Sonu Shivdasani with the establishment of a first resort in the Maldives. There are now three resorts in the Maldives and Thailand. Soneva employs around 700 employees.   




And now for a change of pace. Settle down, relax and come and enjoy the slow life. The slow life means: Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wellness Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences. Sounds good to me.


Soneva's report is a delight on the eyes, an inspiration for the spirit and a treat for the mind. Distinctly unique and self-crafted, this report is AIM in full. One of the first things you notice is Soneva's Total Impact Assessment. Modelled on work done by Puma on environmental profit and loss, and using proprietary models to create Social and Human Capital assessments, this report is one of the few that truly presents impacts rather than shopping lists. 



Detailed methodologies of all impact assessments are shown later in the report and impacts are reported in a coherent and logical way. 

Another special element of this report is the early adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals - only a few companies have started to incorporate SDG reporting (there will be more... take heed). This demonstrates how this small private company takes its sustainability commitment seriously and is aligned to the greater global people, planet and prosperity themes. 


I'd like to write more about the Soneva report, but sooner or later I must finish this post, so I will stop here. I urge you to read it. And re-read it. It's a beautiful report. But it's much much more than that.


 U.S., no GRI, 7th report, 28 pages

Sunny Delight Beverages Co. is a privately owned producer, distributor and marketer of juices, juice drinks and flavored waters in North America, operating five plants across the U.S. The company employs 570 employees.

This is an example of how a report can be simple, concise and authentic. It's a cleanly laid-out word-format document that covers off some key aspects of responsible and sustainable operations. It's the sort of report that an SME might consider replicating - good enough to generate value for the organization, minimal enough so as not to be a drain on resources. This report wins on authenticity - there's no detailed materiality process or matrix. The focus is on products, environment and communities.

A few things stand out that make this report worthy of mention. First, the CEO letter shares what seems like a very truthful account of the challenges a small company faces in maintaining a positive sustainability impact - for example, the dilemma betwen reducing the calories of beverages for better health versus the challenge of doing so in way that creates and affordable and good-tasting products. "We don't have any easy solutions but we are trying", says the CEO.  

The report places three pages of achievement highlights up front - good data-based summary of Sunny Delights progress in the reporting year. There is also a nice section where a selection of company managers introduce short case studies of examples of practice in their areas that have made a positive sustainability difference. 

Environmental sustainability is covered in great detail, supported by a set of goals.

The products section - how Sunny Delight's products improve quality of life or health of consumers - is regrettably short. This, after all, is the core of the company's sustainable impact. Aside from safety performance, nothing is said about employees either. 

In general, though, you have to admire the consistent efforts of a mid-size business to stay on the map in terms of sustainable practices and transparency. This report might not match up to the best of the AIM reports, but it's certainly a positive addition to the reporting landscape, and with a little further effort, could be enhanced to offer a fuller picture of performance and impacts.   

Japan, GRI referenced, 6th report, 50 pages

Toyoda Gosei is a manufacturer of rubber and plastic automotive parts and components based in Japan, with almost 35,000 employees in the U.S., Europe and Asia. "Gosei" in Japanese means "creation of new things from multiple materials."
Toyoda Gosei's report has all the makings of a typical Japanese style report with an abundance of charts, visuals, pages stuffed to the brim and a high level of detail in every part of the disclosure. 



The last part of the report is an appendix with even more detailed data by manufacturing plant. It also includes a nice overview of inputs and outputs throughout the value chain.


As is typical with Japanese reports, an independent external perspective is included.


While there is no real discussion of a materiality process, or a materiality matrix in the traditional sense, Toyoda Gosei has got its sustainability priorities straight and this guides the content of the report.
One of the first section of the report covers one of Toyoda Gosei's most important impacts - LED technology and its advantages for society.



A nice touch in Toyoda Gosei's report is the inclusion of employee testimonials. It's always encouraging to see some of the faces behind the company name, and even just a small selection of employees offers a certain insight about the organization and its investment in preparation of the sustainability report. It gives the impression of an open and collaborative culture.




All in all, an AIM-worthy report that demonstrates continuous improvement in Toyoda Gosei's sustainability journey.


UK, not GRI, reporting since 2006, 62 pages

Tullow Oil is an oil and gas exploration and production company operating in Africa and the Atlantic Margins. Key activities include exploration, development and production with a span across 22 countries. Tullow Oil has a workforce of approximately 2,000 employees, half of whom are based in Tullow's African operations.


Towards the end of last year I facilitated a workshop hosted by IPIECA for several companies in the oil and gas industry, focusing on reporting practices. As part of my homework for that fascinating day, I studied reports of the sector in detail, and by the end of the workshop, I had a much greater appreciation for the challenges (and opportunities) of reporting in the oil and gas industry, and probably even greater respect for those who lead the reporting efforts in each individual company. I worked through many fabulous and impressive reports. I hope I am not offending anyone, but I decided to select one of the sector reports this year for the Top Ten.

Tullow Oil's report is well structured, clean and clear. The company's approach to building long-term sustainable value growth is logically structured.


Material issues are presented in big bubbles spanning two pages, with a page reference number for each so it's easy to locate the relevant narrative in the body of the report. 

There's a performance scorecard that shows the best and the less best of Tullow Oil's achievements against sustainability targets.


And in each of the main performance sections, specific relevant material impacts and some additional insights or data are shared as an introduction to the section.




An special feature of Tullow Oil's report is the special feature. This is a deep-dive look at a specific important collaborative project in Ghana that Tullow Oil is engaged in. This feature takes us through the different supply chain aspects of the project and reports on EHS and employee development practices and performance.


Tullow Oil shares five years of performance data, organized compactly at the end of the report, together with an assurance statement, glossary of terms and a content index. In the absence of a GRI Content Index which is one of the most useful features of GRI-based reports, this keyword content index helps us get what we want out of Tullow Oil's report.

Tullow Oil's report is meticulous, focused and includes the transparency elements that make for a great AIM report.

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

That completes the round up for this year. I actually have a shortlist that includes another 14 reports.. if I can, I'll pick those up in future posts. In the meantime, I hope you can gain some inspiration, insight, interest and information that will lead to intention to continue to help us drive sustainable business and effective sustainability reporting. Don't forget the fun part. And, of course, reporters can never have too much ice cream.


Wishing you all Happy Reporting in 2016! 
Here's to the next Top Ten.


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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