Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When CSR reporting is a waste of paper

CSR reports, aka Sustainability Reports, are supposed to be sustainable, right? That means no printed copies, right ? Wrong. Sustainability reports are business documents, and, like any other important business document,  it is ok to print them but. Print them but. This means that, as with any aspect of CSR and sustainability, we must exercise restraint and consideration of all stakeholders in how we do what we do. So in printing CSR reports, I might expect a Company to consider:
I confess. I like to see something in print. Gives me a feel for the Company. Allows me carry reports around and read them when i can. (Ask my hub about how many reports i take to bed with me!!) (well, on second thoughts, don't ask him). Perhaps this is hypocritical ? A sustainability consultant who likes to read printed reports? Perhaps but.

The but is that what really REALLY annoys me is unconsidered wasteful ways of sending CSR reports through the mail. I have mentioned this before in a different previous post, and now i will mention it again. (consistency is a virtue)

The following picture is of 9 one-side-printed separate pieces of paper that accompanied the delivery of the 2009 CR Report from .. and this time i will name names ... Deutsche Telekom. Delivered by DHL which is a Deutche Post Company.

Here's that consistency thing again: 9 separate one-side-printed pieces of paper. Why would you need 9 pieces of paper to go with the delivery of one slim report?

Deutsche Telekom's 2009 CSR report is  online and a 68 page PDF download. It is a well written report at GRI-checked  A+ reporting level. This is what DT have to say about saving paper:

(page 41) "Thanks to innovations such as “Paper, Pen & Phone,” customers can significantly reduce their own paper consumption and the resulting environmental pollution. The special pen developed by T-Systems records all the special characteristics of a signature via an integrated camera, thereby enabling digital identification and processing of documents signed by hand. Compared to the former archiving process, paper consumption is thus reduced by up to 50 percent, and costs are reduced by as much as around 70 percent. In order to exploit this savings potential in our own Group as well, we have launched “Paper, Pen & Phone” in around 800 Telekom Shops in Germany since February 2009."

And more (page46 ) "We succeeded in winning over almost one third of T-Home customers for our online billing. This helps us and our customers in contributing to environment protection by reducing paper consumption by over 1,500 tons".

But what about shipping CSR reports? What super innovations have been developed to ensure that paper consumption is reduced in this process?

Which brings me to another point: INDIRECT REPONSIBILITY .
It is possible that Deutche Telekom have no idea that DHL uses 9 separate one-side-printed pieces of paper for each report they deliver. Maybe this is standard DHL procedure. The kind of standard procedure that no-one ever thinks to question because that's just the way its done. But doesn't Deutsche Telekom have an indirect reponsibility for the actions of their suppliers engaged in providing products or services on their behalf?

Actually, in the DHL (Deutche Post AG)  2009 self-declared B+ report I couldn't find anything relating to paper consumption reduction, only references to sustainable paper sourcing. I couldn't find a figure for how many tons of paper consumption DHL or Deutsche Post have reduced in the reporting period. Maybe that's because they havent. However, a target area for Deutsche Post is " Mobilizing our employees: Raising awareness of climate protection and broader environmental issues, and enabling our employees to minimize our company’s environmental impact through their everyday actions." Like shipping CSR reports.

So who should we take issue with here ?
(1) DHL for using 9 pieces of paper
(2) Deutsche Telekom for letting them
(3) Me, for wanting to read the printed report in the first place ?  (hint: dont pick this option)
But the point of this post is that : i would expect that people in a company where CSR is truly embedded at all levels of the organization would pick this up.  I believe that employees at all levels  should recognize  environmental waste in  the system, assuming they had been made aware of its importance to the Company. 

These day-to-day almost-unnoticed actions can  be very important. They can also point to the degree to which each employee in any business takes personal responsibility for all aspects of the Company's CSR behaviour.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at: www.b-yond.biz/en


David Coethica said...

Great post Elaine. I too have noticed the lack of thought in many CR reports I receive.

Most I never ask for, or want!

Matthew said...

Brava Elaine,
It appears that either DHL or international customs authorities (as I think some of those documents are for them) have not embedded sustainability thinking at all levels within the organization. That was one of the things we did in my manufacturing company and I espouse today in my consulting - train the employees to call our attention to issues of waste and offer alternative solutions. I wonder how many people's hands these nine pages passed through.

Great job calling our attention to these things.

Matthew Rochte, LEED AP
CSR/Sustainability Consultant

Chris MacDonald said...

Good point, but I have a terminological quibble with your first line.

You say "CSR reports, aka Sustainability Reports..."

I don't see any principled reason to equate those two.

True, the companies that put them out may mean the same thing by those 2 terms -- but if so it's only because they haven't thought through very carefully what either term means!


FabianPattberg said...

Interesting post. Thanks for this Elaine. I think a lot of people believe that CSR Reporting is all in all a waste of paper unfortunately. But picking up on your issue with Deutsche Telekom (DT). I think there are too many parties involved with the delivery of CSR Reports (including posting) and most of them do not really care how much paper they are using unfortunately. I believe the CSR people at DT are taking every care to limit their paper usage but it is hard to control what others are doing I guess.


elaine said...

Thank you David, Matthew, Fabian and Chris for your encouraging and insightful comments.

Fabian: I too am sure that DT abd DHL have every intention of reducing waste. My point i guess is that in large companies, every employee needs to be alert.

Chris: I agree that Sustainability and CR/CSR are at different points on the continuum .. though they tend to be used interchangeably in the reporting world.. perhaps because CSR is n evolutionary stage towards the development of sustainability? Or perhaps because sustainability sounds sexier.... In any event,i accept your quibble. Thanks!

best wishes to all, elaine

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