Saturday, March 28, 2009

the self declared thing - hit and miss ?

So I decided to check out this self-declared thing.

The GRI has a check facility whereby any report can obtain an official confirmation that the report meets the designated application level. To me, it seems a shame to go to all the trouble of writing a report and then not having it subjected to a formal check. There is nothing more satisfying (except Chunky Monkey on a warm day) than getting that mail from the GRI which says "CONGRATULATIONS …With this e-mail I would like to provide you with the final results of GRI's Application Level check of TheTotally Amazing* Company’s report. We have checked this report against the criteria for the GRI Application Level …(+) and GRI has qualified your report as Application Level …(+). "

The Global Reporting Initiative keeps a record of sustainabilty reports which refer to the GRI guidelines. When I last checked sometime in March, 102 reports published in 2009 were logged. Of these, 54 are self declared, which means they didn’t go for the formal check. Of these 54:
  • 21 at level C
  • 3 at Level C+
  • 15 at Level B
  • 4 at Level B+
  • 6 at Level A
  • 4 at Level A+

and one hanger on who didn’t self declare but forgot to say at what level. The self declarers cut across all sectors and many countries. So it's not a culture thing, right?

As you can see, by doing a quick minor first grade calculation, 44 % of self-declarers report at the lowest possible level – C. Now, frankly, my view of Level C is that it is potentially barely more than a marketing brochure. So I decided to delve. I am good at delving. I think it's because I was forbidden cookies and candies in my childhood.

First stop: Wachovia 2007 report
What a surprise. It’s a first report. Love first reports. Guess it’s the last as well, as Wachovia is now part of Wells Fargo. There is a GRI index: interestingly the reporter has selected to respond to a number of Financial Supplement Indicators but only 7 of the core GRI indicators. And no Economic Indicators. The one LA indicator reported is LA 11: Programs for skills management and lifelong learning that support the continued employability of employees and assist them in managing career endings. This is well reported with the “Employee Driven, Manager Supported, Wachovia Enabled” program (try saying that when you are drunk) which led to 43% of vacancies being filled by an internal candidate. Nice stuff. EN3 is reported: Direct energy consumption by primary energy source. Good data over 3 years (never mind that there are significant unexplained increases in all energy consumption and CO2 emissions - it meets the reporting requirement). Wachovia reports on 7 GRI G3 indicators and another 6 from the financial supplement. But this really shouldn’t be a C report. It doesn’t meet all the criteria.

Second stop: Altron 2008 Sustainability report
75 page report called One group One goal. It's part of an integrated report. Altron say they report on 11 indicators. But I find that taken as a whole, the report is quite comprehensive. A self-declared C is way below this report's actual level.

Third stop.Robert Bosch 2007/8 Report
Bosch reported on a whole 35 indicators – way beyond what is needed for Level C. It could even be a level B. This is actually a well thought-through report focusing on material issues. Why self-declare? Why not go for the GRI check? Or assurance?

Two out of three self-declared C reports go beyond the reporting requirements. One doesn’t meet the reporting requirements. This may not be a representative sample, but it sounds like pretty much hit and miss to me.

Don't get me wrong. I don’t have shares in the GRI. But I do believe that a third party confirmation assists in making a correct assessment of the reporting level and adds credibility to the report. If you are going to refer the GRI, then why not do it in a serious way? Why not claim the credit you deserve if your report meets a higher level of transparency? And more importantly, is the GRI achieving it's objective when reporters quote the framework but ignore (abuse?) the guidelines ?

My advice to reporters: get your level checked. My offer to reporters: I'll be happy to oblige.
(I am allowed to make a mild marketing plug on my very own blog, right ?)

* The Totally Amazing Company is totally fictitious. I googled it. The nearest I got was an album by Englbert Humperdink. which probably wasn't all that totally amazing.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm based in Israel. Visit our website at: !

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