Earlier today, I read with interest the post from Nancy Mancilla and Alexandru Georgescu, two GRI certified training partners in the USA on Triple Pundit , entitled How Balanced are CSR Reports ? As I read through the post, and the analysis of leading reports and how they "balance" the three categories of Economy, Social and Human Rights and Environment in their reporting, I noted that "Cisco and Qualcomm scored the best overall, while GAP and Symantec achieved poorer results than others" . I fully agree with the authors that sustainability reporting should contain all elements of triple bottom line performance at least at a minimum common denominator level, as well as other aspects such as stakeholder engagement. This is important, as the authors, state, to ensure the report is a full representation of sustainability performance and not just a PR exercise. I wondered, though, if ranking the reports on the basis of balance of these factors, as though acheiving "balance" were a worthy objective is not a bit, well, unbalanced. It reminded me of a section I wrote for my forthcoming book on CSR and Human Resources (read about this on www.csrforhr.com) where I wrote, in relation to the elusive aspiration to achieve work-life balance:
"...what we are aiming for is harmony. Harmony between the different roles each of us chooses to perform in our lives, blending in with our work role in a way which energizes us to do and be all that we want. Given the predominant amount of time we spend at work, a stressful situation at work can have a singularly negative effect on everything else that we do in our lives.....We all need to consider each different facet of our lives and how things hang together. " Harmony does not necessarily mean balance.
What is harmony in CSR Reporting ? It is not necessarily ticking off all the GRI Reporting framework indicators and achieving absolute symmetry in the content split in the report, though the reporting framework is a good guide to inclusiveness. It's more about assessing where the most material issues are for the business and stakeholders, and reflecting this, assigning the appropriate amount of detail and space to each topic according to its material relevance, complexity and degree of relvant company performance.The material issues addressed by Gap Inc and Cisco are entirely different, and the degree of attention of their sustainability programs in the business will differ by virtue of this. Equally, with a Company such as Gap Inc, supply chain issues may be far greater a priority than environmental issues at a given point in time, whilst with Cisco, technology topics may dominate their report. Clearly, as mentioned, a certain coverage of all bases is required to qualify as a sustainability report, but a balance of these could be a dangerous objective, encouraging the company to force-fit their report in areas which, perhaps justifiably, are not on their top-level radar. A harmonious report would reflect a good sustainabilty infrastructure accross the board, and strong performance in some areas. Sort of like the approach developed by Marcus Buckingham in Now Discover your Strengths which transformed the way we think about performance development. We cannot all be best at everything. Companies cannot be best at everything. Reports should reflect that.
I am best at reporting and eating Chunky Monkey. Very balanced.
elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at www.b-yond.biz/en or contact elaine on www.twitter.com/elainecohen