Saturday, June 5, 2010

Is any report better than no report ?

Is it worth producing a CSR report when you have no data to report or is it better to wait until you have more performance to share? I will illustrate my answer to this question with a look at  Perenco's first Corporate Social Responsibility Report for 2009.

Perenco is an independent Anglo-French oil and gas company with onshore and offshore operations in 16 countries, ranging from Northern Europe to Africa and from South America to the Middle East. The Company is present in exploration basins such as Brazil, Peru, Northern Iraq, Australia and the North Sea. The company was founded in 1975, has about 4,000 employeees and around 250,000 barrels of oil production per day. And now they have a first corporate social reponsibility report.Of sorts.

The report is 16 pages long, beautifully designed with the most wonderful photographs of children and environmentally breathtaking scenes, which take up far more space than the written content. The content contains a series of brief declarations:

  • a message from the CEO

  • a statement of business integrity

  • a statement about employees

  • a statement about community policy

  • a series of short case studies relating to community investment and contribution

  • a statement of environmental policy
This publication demonstrates how far this Company is from understanding what CSR and sustainability really is, where it impacts their business and how to communicate it. Despite the CEO opening message "Our stakeholders, including employees, governments, partners and financing community, are showing an increasing interest in understanding our CSR activity. It is becoming extremely important to better explain our strategy, and to show tangible examples of positive social actions. At Perenco, we have never seen CSR simply as a way to maintain the company’s short-term reputation.",  there is little in this "report" to satisfy any stakeholder or to assist in undertanding the Company's  CSR and sustainable development activity, beyond a few nice stories. This is not a report, there is not one piece of performance data or any of the elements we would consider representative of a "real"  CSR report. 

What prompted this Company to publish this simplistic kind of document ? Do they not have any performance data  they can share ? No calculation of any of their social or environmental impacts ? Do they really think that CSR is just about observing the law, applied ethics and community contribution? Do they understand the concept of transparency? Do they think this improves their reputation or builds trust ?  I will, of course, write to them to give my feedback (despite the lack of a contact point in the report) , but in the meantime, I revert to my opening question. Is it worth producing this type of document or better to do nothing?  

My view is this: it is always better to produce any type of report, however inadequate it might be. This document shows that this Company has an initial awareness of the concept of CSR, however basic. If this is the best they can do, so be it. For now. At least it is a written commitment of their position on a number of important CSR issues. Someone has made an effort. It does show some sensitivity for managing impacts and behaving responsibly. This report, at least, serves as a basis for feedback and dialogue and the very beginning of a willingness to disclose, whatever might be prompting this.  There are many who might say that this kind of reporting is a waste of time and gives reporting a bad name. But I always prefer to see the opportunity rather than the loss of opportuntiy. Perenco shows us with this first publication that they have a real opportunity, and perhaps a need, for a comprehensive RATS programme: Responsibility, Accountability, Transparency and Sustainability.

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at ore read my tweets at


Lavinia said...

Elaine, I am pleased that you wrote this entry here and how you see reporting versus no reporting.

As I continue to explore why so few women are able to work in environments that rely on science there are two issues that have come to the surface for me.

1. the educational system does not support the type of learning in most workplaces that you describe in the context of no reporting versus the opportunity of reporting.

2. the "softer" issue relates to introducing a value of encouragement to travel in waters that are difficult and not easy to navigate and imply pushing ahead in territories unknown with a lot of uncertainty.

If there is any lesson, I carried away with me this week after going to Washington and revisiting the amount of money that is invested to author legislation and regulation and the amount of energy and work put into media to lobby against funding and inspiring the research that goes into the learning that is necessary to author a report; I am inspired by what you write here.

I am puzzled by how much money is wasted in debate, protest and promotion and frustrated by the lack of funds to create jobs that create workplaces that pull and encourage people to continuously learn by not getting it perfect and at least doing something.

Mehrdad Nazari said...

Thanks for your review of Perenco's frist CSR report. And I agree with your conclusion that its good to report. Inaugural sustainability reports, even if they don’t hit all the right notes, empower internal champions and create opportunities for better stakeholder engagement and transparency, and can help drive performance improvements. But are you not intrigued to find out what catalyzed and motivated Perenco, an independent oil and gas company operating in places like Gabon, DR Congo, Peru and Guatemala, to create its first CSR report? I decided to speculate about it on my blog (after reading yours). Best, Mehrdad

elaine said...

Thanks for your comments, Lavinia. Glad to have added insights to your learnings and research. You see, the world of sustainability reporting has implications for everyting :) best, elaine

elaine said...

Hello again Mehrdad, thanks so much for your comment, and, I read your blog post, which I found absolutely fascinating.
I think this shows how the value of context is so critical in understanding sustainability reporting and how an assessment of what is material and relevant often needs some prior knowledge of the business or the sector. Thanks for sharing your insights. best, elaine

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