Monday, March 30, 2009

how many people does it take to write 19 winning reports ? has just published the results of the second global on-line reporting competitionCRReportingAwards08. Vodafone picked up THREE awards – "best overall report", "best credibility through assurance" and "best relevance and materiality". I guess this does prove the point that long reports win awards. 377 pages of CSR. This is the second year for Vodafone as top reporter. They deserve it. As far as I can remember, I voted for them too!

Anyway, I did a quick analysis:

  • 9 categories, 3 awards per category = 27 awards
  • 27 awards went to 19 reports. Vodafone, BP and Shell each took three awards, Coca Cola and Bayer each took two awards.
  • 2,111 pages of reporting is the sum of the 19 winning reports. The top nine first place reports weighed in with 818 pages = 38% of all the reporting pages in the winning reports. Average report length 111 pages.
  • 16 of the 19 reports are based on the GRI reporting framework = 84%
  • 8 reports are GRI A+, 3 are B or B+, 1 is C and 4 undeclared levels.
  • 8 reports were application level checked by the GRI
  • 10 reports are assured = 53% of the number of winning reports
  • USA wins the race with 6 reports, UK next with 5, Germany 3, Denmark 2, Spain , France and Australia 1 report each.
  • With the exception of the winner in the Best First Report category, only one other first place winner was a first report. All the others were third, seventh, ninth or fourteenth reporting cycles.

Based on the above analysis, I reckon that if you entered your 15th, 112- pages-long, A+ GRI checked report in USA English in every category, you had about the same chance as everybody else of getting an award. Basically, this indicates credibility in the voting process, given the range of different and varied winning reports, from different types of companies in different sectors, reporting at different levels of transparency and assurance, with different reporting styles and length. All that number-crunching just to confirm what we knew already! I eagerly await the report for an analysis of the voting and trends.

I wonder how many reporting , consulting, editing, designing, and translating hours went into writing these winning reports. Let's assume a modest average of 1,500 hours for each report. This is roughly the equivalent of employing 12.8 people for a full year. Or one person for 12.8 years. Around half a million $ of shareholder money. Doesn’t seem all that much for 19 companies, right? Wonder what the ROI in business benefit on reputation, employee recruitment and retention, risk management, stakeholder relations would be for these 19 businesses? Guess if I could answer that question, I could claim a commission on the half a million $, right? (45% would be ok, I am not greedy).

Finally, if all of these Companies decide not to report in 2009 as a result of the financial crisis, we can expect :

  • global unemployment figures to increase by 12.8 people
  • $500m additional shareholder dividend payout
  • plummeting sales of paracetamol, a well known pain-reliever for reporting freaks
  • consumer confusion as they don’t know who are the most ethical companies to buy from
  • car-park sales of CSR office furniture all over the world
  • 5,251 other potential reporting companies who now see their chance at winning the 2009 award

So, all you winners, very well done. Congratulations !

Please keep reporting. It's the sustainable thing to do.


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

Reporting at the (all) top

Congratulations to csr-reporting-blog - and thank you to Alltop - as csr reporting now appears in the prestigious comprehensive totally cool and collective Alltop page on Corporate Responsibility. You have to scroll right down to bottom right, but it's there. Alltop have done us csr fanatics a great service by gathering everthing that's anything relating to CSR and putting it all one one page. This is a great service to environmental sustainability. Think of how much energy and saved clicks we accrue by not having to search the entire web everytime we want to know what's hot! I am sure my ecological footprint is now much smaller.

I thought i would take this opportunity to examine the unique relevance of the reporting blog to the rest of the news that appears on the Alltop CR page.

Well, right at the top of the Alltop we have Google's Corporate Responsibility News. This is a collection of everything that googles its way into our consciousness and the second item as I check the link is the press release about the issue of ConAgra's social responsibility report which you can find here . This is a FIRST report, I LOVE first reports, I will review it SOON on, no doubt.It's a GRI self-seclared B - hmm, can't wait.

Then we have the brilliant Mallen Baker's feed from his brand new website, Business Respect. Mallen himself deserves a lot of respect as he is usually first with insightful news, clever in his analyses and often rather provocative. Yes, even CSR people can be provocative. The first Alltopped item is the French Government's ban on Bank bonuses. Whilst it may be true that high executive salaries may not have been the primary cause of the financial crisis, I often wonder why executives are felt to deserve remuneration at the level of millions of $$$ per year., a leading veteran csr news site comes next, with a first story about awards made to Vermont organic farmers. You can read about rotationally-grazed pasture, a singular river crossover, an impaired watershed, sensory evaluation of milk and new organic Vermont cheddar cheese . If nothing else, you can expand your vocabulary. Though that cheddar does sound mouthwatering, even if it is organic. Well done to Vermont.

Finally, the best of the rest include blogs from some impressive contributors such as Wayne Visser on CSRInternational, Joel Makower, Fabian Pattberg, the DevelopmentCrossing forum and the World Bank Blog, as well as news feeds from other reputable sites such as CorpWatch, Greenbiz and BITC. I have purposely left out the hyperlinks so you can go to Alltop and get there yourself. What, you think i am gonna do ALL the work ?

However, I am gratified to say that my analysis proves without a doubt that the csr-reporting blog has UNIQUE relevance as it is the only content which is solely devoted to REPORTING, analysis of REPORTS, challenges to REPORTING methods and insights about REPORTERS.

Well, most of it. Except this post, maybe .....

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

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: !

Saturday, March 21, 2009

And another song for sustainability...

After my last post, songs seem to be popping up everywhere .. I was reviewing Marks and Spencer's partnership with Oxfam which has raised one million pounds in a return clothes program, and came accross the Godwin School choir's song about eliminating plastic bags.
Small actions lead to big changes, and Marks and Spencer feature a song the kids wrote and perform relating to the evils of plastic bags. Nice, creative, fun sustainability and corporate responsibility.

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

Sing Sustainability .....

You can't help but smile at this .... I was happily working through my next report review of Henkel's 2008 Sustainability Report and as usual, I toggle back and forth between the PDF and the website .. and i just happen to stumble accross the Henkel Song.
It's called We Together, and the lyrics go like this :

We together all together
Let our visions and our values lead the way
We together all together
That's why the Henkel name will always stay
From beginning to end A Brand like a Friend

It's downloadable in several languages and mixes on the Henkel site. Now, it's a really great song. Quite catchy, actually. Wonder if they ever though of entering it in the Eurovision. I am sure even Elvis Presley would have been happy to add it to his repertoire.. I mean, Jailhouse Rock it isn't, but it's really not bad. In fact, I was so enthralled with the thought of 55,000 Henkel employees warbling this song at every budget planing session and management training meeting that i just couldnt resist listening to the Japanese version (domo arigato yeah yeah), and the US country version ( eat ya heart out Hank Williams) and well, what the heck, i went though Turkish, German, Ukranian, Hungarian, Mexican, Arabic and orchestral ( country: Philharmonia). After all this, i can now sing the entire song in a perfect mixture of multinational lyrics, with a Manchester accent. So what if i am a little out of tune. Wonder when the Hebrew version will top the charts .....

You might be asking yourselves why i am so taken with this. First, you should understand that my life motto is: one who wishes to sing will always find a song. So you could say that the Henkel song struck a chord with me (cringe). Second, it did get me wondering how this song is used at Henkel and if it supports a sense of togetherness and community within the business. Itreminds me that during my time as VP for Human Resources at Unilever in Israel, we often used the song Proud by Heather Small, which was used by Unilever globally, if i am not mistaken, in a diversity roll-out program. That's a great song - recommend you hear it if you dont know it. It was always good way to set the mood for deeper discussions and created a kind of familiarity and sense of common spirit. I wonder how many other corporations have songs.
  • AIG: Yesterday...
  • Citibank: Money Money Money makes the world go around ....
  • Wal Mart: We are the world
  • Diageo: Message in a bottle
  • Mattel: Rag Doll
  • Adidas: Run chicken run
  • Patagonia: aint no mountain high enough

Enough of that .....Henkel, thank you for this sprinkle of melodic inspiration ...... better get back to that report review now ..... la la la doo be doo la la la ...

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I have now joined the future

Guess what ! I have now officially become a member of the future.
I participated yesterday in what was for me a very futuristic experience - yes - you guessed .. a WEBINAR!! I like to think i am a computer-literate techie sort of person, but to date, I have resisted all these millions of webinars and things, mainly because of the hassle factor (getting hooked up), the earphones factor (flat ears) , the poor connection factor (crackles, buzzes and beeps) and the half-sentence factor ( hello, welcome to.................. today............will discuss .................important to note that ....................very significant as you can see on slide 3 that....................) . But the temptation of hearing code-guru Deborah Leipziger was too great to resist. So, albeit a little late (10 yr old daughter needed mom to buy her hundreds of $$$$$ of clothes for her birthday party at the weekend), I accepted the CSR International invitation to join the first in the impressive line-up of webinar events scheduled until the end of 2009 (this is great forward planning - unlike my local culture where planning more than 3 hours ahead causes chronic migraine)

Deborah Leipziger is the first lady of corporate, industry and cause-related codes of conduct and ethical standards. Her Code Book created order and understanding of the relevance and importance of framing conduct expectations and existing best practices. A sort of Code Bible. Amen.

How is this connected to Reporting ?
No CSR report today is complete without reference to a Code of Conduct and in many cases, declaration of a string of external codes that the corporation adopts. My guess is that on average, companies have about 5 or more different codes they try to observe in their businesses.
A quick look at some CSR reports proves me mainly right:
  • ExxonMobil 2007: corporate code(s) of conduct , global responsible care charter, global compact, voluntary Principles on Security and human Rights, millenium development goals, ILO convention on Indigenous peoples
  • Westpac Banking Corp 2008 : UNPRI, principles for doing business, Equator Principles, ASX principles on Good Corporate Governance, sustainable supply chain managment code of conduct, GRI, UNEP Finance Initiative, CEO Water Mandate
  • Sony 2008: Sony Group code of conduct, EICC code of conduct (only 2 ? did i miss a few?)
  • Diageo 2008: Global compact, Dublin Principles, Business charter for sustainable development, CEO Water Mandate, internal codes of ethics, GRI

The harmonization of codes was one point raised in the discussion - though a key part of the value of the Code is the process by which it was created. So maybe we need lots of processes but less codes ?

Anyway, back to the view from the top - few insights from the guru:
  • ISO 26000 is not cutting-edge but it is broad and covers most of the range of CSR issues . It is right to go the guideline route and not the certification route, though certification at a national level in local language could be an opportunity. Some national certification bodies are already starting to consider its use - Portugal and Denmark for instance.
  • Sectorialization is becoming more popular and useful as a tool for different industries such as the electronics industry, automotives, forestry, financial sector tools such as the Equator Principles.
  • Training is essential to ensure application and assimilation of codes - this is often underestimated
  • Impact analysis including gathering of base line data is often overlooked but is an important tool in understanding both the effectiveness of the code and the unintended consequences of implementation.

In response to my question, What about a code of conduct for CSR professionals or are we exempt? there was a knowing smile and an admission that the cobbler forgot to make himself a pair of shoes, or whatever the saying is. There was the question of how do you define a CSR professional . Right now, as long as its polite, I dont mind. :-)

Anyway, i have to end this blog post now as i have to go off and write another code....

Thanks to Deborah and to Wayne Wisser, CSRI founder and webinar maestro

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

Friday, March 13, 2009

What does transparency have to do with Blushing Apples ?

Quiz Number 1
What is an Apple Cinnamon scented candle made of ?
  1. Apples and Cinnamon
  2. Parrafin Wax, Stabilizer, Dye, Fragrance
  3. All of the above
  4. None of the above

Answer : here

Yes, a superb new website from SC Johnson called What's inside discloses the ins and outs (well, mostly ins) of the contents of all of their homecare products, with plain language explanations for the uninitiated (I did a semester of Chemistry at Open University, once, so of course it's all perfectly clear to me).

Quiz number 2:

What is Benzisothiazolinone?

  1. An antibiotic for people suffering from fear of long words
  2. An exotic vacation resort in Southern Argentina
  3. A preservative that protects a product against microbial growth, to maintain product performance
  4. An addictive beverage that enhances immortality

Answer: here

Quiz number 3:

What on earth is this quiz all about?

  1. Elaine is bored
  2. You are bored
  3. Blogging is boring
  4. The fact that SC Johnson has created a super website where everyone can take an interest in the ingredients that go into the household products we use evey day in our homes, and make considered consumer choices about what to purchase and what not. This represents a major step forward in transparency and I hope that consumers will reward SC Jonson with their purchasing power, and demand that other manufacturers do the same.

Answer : hint: not 1,2 or 3

So thumbs up to SCJ. Remains only for them to include more details on this website of their policies for responsible sourcing of all these ingredients and associated packaging components.

And a final quiz:

The final quiz:

Was this post of interest ?

  1. Absolutely
  2. Absolutely
  3. Absolutely
  4. Absolutely


PS: top marks to SCJ for a bold approach. I guess when you can name a candle Creamy Custard and Blushing Apple Candle, anything's possible. At least if it doesnt light up the room you can serve it on a plate with Apple Pie and hope for a new gourmet experience.

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

irregulate and unintegrate - i think i am a minority

I came across this article in Ethical Corporation which is a commentary on the recent Danish law to require reporting of non-financials by 1,000 Danish Companies. There are two interesting points discussed in the article:
  • Integrated reporting or separate reporting
  • Regulated reporting or voluntary reporting

One by one. OK?

Integrate or separate ?

There are many reasons for integrated reporting:

  • all stakeholders see the whole picture
  • demonstrates total strategic adoption of CSR practices
  • elevates CSR practices to lhighly developed level of financial practices
  • all reporting processes are aligned and more efficient
  • create greater reporting discipline
  • results in a more compact and coordinated report (1+1 = <2)(thats>

There are many reasons against integrated reporting

  • the opposite of all the above (that was easy enough)
  • the audiences are different
  • CSR gets overshadowed by the financials
  • the nature of CSR reporting doesnt fit well with financial reporting - they are fundamentally different
  • the financial reporting cycle is highly sensitive and subject to many different regulatory pressures - aligning CSR with these reduces flexibility for CSR reporting

And the winner is :...................

Well, there is no winner, There are just thoughts and preferences. After reviewing the Novo Nordisk integrated report for 2008, i was left with the feeling that integration is a tough task, adn that non-financials certainly lose out. NN have been doing the integration thing for quite some time and are ackowledged at the leaders in this approach. I am not interested in the detailed financial data, top and bottom line is enough for me. With a little in between. But i am highly interested in everything that relates to the way they get to the top and bottom line. I wonder how many non-financial-geeks really take interest in the streams of numbers and tables. Bores me silly. Maybe that's why am not a millionaire :((. My conclusion: Integrated reporting may have relevance for investors and analysists. I suspect all other stakeholders would regard 90% of the financials as about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.

Regulate or irregulate

This is more interesting. The article mentioned above shows the levels of regulation in all of 9 countries - flimsy to say the least.

Reasons to regulate:

  • make it happen - still many companies voluntarily do not report
  • ensure controls in place
  • reporting is a catalyst for action - if you have to report, you have to do something first (in theory)
  • level the playing field for the "license to operate"- raise the bar

Reasons not to regulate:

  • regulation may create the lowest common demoninator of reporting - meet the requirement but no more - kinda remove the competitive punch in today's voluntary reporting
  • regulation will require enforcement - could lead to an army of administrators checking for CSR content at best, or at worst, non enforcement
  • CSR is so broad that regulation has to be either very detailed or absolutely minimal - so whats the point ?
  • forcing CSR into too prescriptive a regulatory mold could dampen the amazing creativity we see in the ways Company's express their CSR approach

And the winner is ..............................

Well, there is no winner. Haha. you guessed that, right ? Here, my view is somewhere in the middle. Sort of upper middle. High upper middle. CSR reporting should be supported by incentives, which are a part of regulation. Some metrics should absolutely be regulated. Businesses showing transparency should get encouragement . I am in favor of a level of regulation, but not to such an extent that the soul of CSR is destroyed.

So, a reasonably irregulated unintegrated approach appears to have a mild advantage over other options. Or am i just being negative? I can live with regulation and integration. As long as we remember that before we can produce regulated, non-regulated, integrated, unintegrated, any-ated type of report, we must see csr progress being made in the business. Maybe we ought to regulate for DOING as well as REPORTING ? Oops, now that's a tall order ....


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

Thursday, March 5, 2009

New study on sustainability reporting

For those of you who spend their lives reading sustainability reports (ok, dont all shout at once), Ernst and Young have just published a study surveying 100 reports coming out of 15 countries mainly in Europe in 2007 (up to 31.3.08). 35 pages all about reporting, isnt that neat ? You can read the report here. The report addresses the quality of sustainability reporting and makes recommendations to do it better. The quality is assessed against 5 criteria;
  • stakeholder management
  • balance (positive / negative reporting)
  • comparability (trending)
  • readability
  • reliability
  • disclosure on management approach
Bottom line: reports need to be more focused. Less shopping list and more of what matters.

Ok. That's it.

Well, not yet. You know me ... can't help but comment for all you busy people who dont want to read the entire thing, here are some subjectively selected highlights:

  • 44% of reports are longer than 75 pages - which plays to a point made by Mallen Baker that longer is apparently better ! Mallen you are vindicated.
  • 81% of reporters use the GRI framework - i like this of course - i believe the GRI framework is the best existing framework for reporting, not perfect maybe (!) but the best ... 81% is a higher number than usually quoted
  • 76% of reports contain mainly positive data with hardly any negative disclosures - aha! now it's in black and white. Reporting is still seen as a good news exercise. Paradoxically, the more the good news, the less the credibility. Wonder why companies dont get this.
  • 47% of reports include descriptions of stakeholder dialogue by stakeholder group. Stakeholder dialogue is a core concept of sustainability. Over half the reporters therefore are not addressing this in a comprehensive way. Interesting, really. I think the issue of dialogue is one of the most significant barriers to achieving true sustainability. businesses are afraid of dialogue. Dialogue is the route to true accountability. However, 47% is in the right direction.
  • On a similar track, only 36% of reports include or discuss stakeholder criticisms. There was even one company who reported that all the stakeholders had absolutely no criticsm. Wow. Isnt that neat ? Bet their CEO is paid a whopping bonus ...
  • 67% of reports include data which is comparable to previous years. This is an important point. one of the core issues i find in reports is that data is often in a vacuum. Lack of context. Dumping a load of figures in a table is not reporting. It's dumping. Guess that's obvious, right ? 67% is higher than i would have expected.

there is lots more interesting data in this report, which is a good comprehensive review. Well done to E&Y.

I guess what i miss is the core issue of materiality. Surely one of the criteria for assessing a sustainability report is whether there is an analysis of material issues and a discussion of them, particlurlarly sector-relevant materiality issues. One of the first things I look for is a list of material issues or a materiality matrix. Maybe i am just too demanding ...

Anyway, thanks to E&Y for providing me with a blog post this week. Wonder if they can do a survey next week too ?

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