I decided to check out Ben And Jerry's latest social report. Not only because i am an icecreamaholic, and a csrreportaholic, but because I was looking for some specific information about social misisons for a new piece I am writing for a local professional journal.
Actually their last "Social and Environmental Assessment "was for the year 2006. (Guess they still have time to upload 2007, right ?)
First off, as usual, I looked for the PDF download. Oops. none to be found. Basically, you have to read the report on-line. OK. So i go to the highlights for 2006. The "short and sweet version" is 13 page-downs long and littered with hyperlinks and several videos. Definitely not short and not so sweet, as to read this page, including checking out the links and watching the videos, would take about the time it would take to eat a 35 pints of Chunkey Monkey packaged in new bleached paperboard containers supplied by an expert in sustainable forestry practices. And in that time I could easily scan a PDF (one chunkyMonkey time-unit) . Looks to me that Ben and Jerry's dont really expect anyone to read their report. Or, it's a sly ruse to get people to eat more Chunky Monkey.
Which brings me to a couple of questions:
Who are reports meant for ? Who do the writers expect to read them ? And how do they create the report in such a way that it can be read easily ? I will blog about this some time.
How do people read reports ? Sitting down in an armchair with coffee and Cherry Garcia, for a nice long read ? Or dip in to the highlights of interest and linger over the attention-catching points? Or are they simply a reference manual - need some data on social missions so look for that specifically in the report ? I suspect that most readers are in the latter two categories. As a professional report-reader, that's about where i am. So Ben and Jerry's on line thing doesn't do it for me. I cannot quickly scan the entire report, and getting to the data is painful. Not least because each link leads to another link, which leads to another link ... you get the scoop.
I have great admiration for Ben and Jerry's business and I often quote them in things I write and lectures I give. As part of Unilever, their disclosure is restricted - I had to smile as I read that their annual revenue for 2006 was between $200 million and $500 million. I mean, how large is a scoop of sorbet ? They say they used the GRI guidelines in disclosing this detail, but I was not able to locate a GRI Index or any other reference to reporting against GRI parameters. (Note: G3 is my bible). But the report is so hard to navigate that I gave up pretty soon after that. But not before I noticed their Fair Trade Vanilla. Sounds fairly delicious.
On another note. I was amused by the extent to which some activists go in suggesting that businesses go sustainable to unsustainable proportions: People for the Ethical Treatment of Aminals is reported as requesting B&J to use breast milk in their ice cream production rather than cows milk. Well. That would certainly open up a whole new area of creativity in naming ice cream brands: Titilating French Vanilla, Mom's Natural Milky Blend, Organic Strawberry - for Suckers Only, Fair Trade Boob Flavor, Peanut Butter Cup 36B underwired, Bosom Peach and more .... I mean, are these PETA people really serious ? Or is it just a cheap PR stunt ? I wonder how many of them eat their morning cornflakes drenched in breast milk ? hmmm ?
Anyway, Ben and Jerry's - I raise my scoopful of my personal favourite coffee -flavor ice cream to you in the hope that your reporting accessibility will become as brilliant as your business concept, execution and products.