Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's a CSR report, not a Megillah!

Tomorrow is the Jewish festival of Purim. I was wondering what lessons Purim holds for CSR reporting.
Purim commemorates the escape from anniliation of the Jews by Haman, the Prime Minister of Persia way back when. Haman's plot was discovered and avoided by Ester, the Jewish Queen of Persia. Haman was hanged and Ester who had shown great bravery in revealing the plot became a heroine. That's the short version.
The Purim story celebrates freedom from oppression of indigineous peoples, the protection of human rights, right over wrong, integrity, and the power of women to save the world. No wonder, every year, Jews around the world celebrate Purim. Purim celebrations typically revolve around several customs. 
  • The first is that everyone dresses up in fancy dress. This is an ancient custom, deriving from, as one of  the theories goes, the fact that Ester disguised herself in order save herself and her community.
  • The second is that we eat Hamantaschen - this is a three cornered pastry which commemorates the hat that Haman, the evil oppressor, wore.
  • The third is that we make a lot of noise using things called Graggers. This is usually done during the reading of the Megilla (see next custom).
  • The fourth is the reading of the Megilla. This is the story of Purim that is read in synagogues. The thing about the Megillah is that it's really long and takes forever to read. Know the expression ?  "Spare me the details, dont give me a Megilla!" 
As you can by now appreciate, the lessons for CSR reporting are clear.

  • Don't try to dress up your CSR report as something it is not. The day after Purim, with no fancy dress, you are excactly what you were before.
  • The three corners of the Hamantashen remind us to balance our report with the triple bottom line, rather than just concentrating on environment or social aspects.
  • Making a lot of noise is not what CSR reporting is all about. Your report should contain relevant material content.
  • And finally, your CSR report should not be a megillah. It should be as consise enough as possible compatible with ensuring the right information gets through.
I thought I would celebrate some reporting megillahs! Some of the  longest reports I have come accross are: 

GoLite 2009 Sustainability Report - 159 pages - GRI A+. This includes 16 appendices but there is a one-page executive summary which you can make do with after you have downloaded 27 megabytes of PDF.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters - 2005 report - this was their first report with 175 pages. (Subesquent reports are somewhat shorter!)

And then there is the all-time award-winning classic by Vodafone - a 378 page absolute Megilla - the Vodafone Group 2007 Report.

But then, making a Megillah of your report may just help it win an award, according to Spada's research on Trends in FTSE 100 Environmental Reporting published in 2008. This has been true for Vodafone and Green Mountain reports - time will tell about GoLite.

In the meantime... if you want to make a Megilla of your report, remember that people may only read it once a year, at Purim! And whist they are doing so, they will be making a lot of noise with the Graggers. Maybe, after all, it might be best to focus on material content ! Happy Purim!

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

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