Saturday, October 23, 2010

CSR Reports: Print 'em.

Last week, I received an email  from a valued CSR Reporting blog reader in South Africa. Her name is Reana Rossouw and she founded and runs an award-winning organization development and sustainability consulting practice called  Next Generation. Reana presents a master class in South Africa on Sustainability Reporting, a place where lots is happening right now.

Anyway, amongst other things, Reana said this (quoted with permission):

Many a time I receive your articles and comments I immediately go on a hunt for that particular report.  However, getting copies of sustainability reports are becoming a nightmare.  Why is everyone so fixated on publishing online reports only?  I know they claim it is to save trees, however, is the real objective not to communicate with stakeholders?  I would really appreciate it if you could address this issue in one of your upcoming columns, just tell people there are still some of us who prefer to actually READ a real PRINTED sustainability report.  We use copies of the reports as a teaching tool and aid in our classes.  I would have thought companies would really appreciate it if they get requests for copies of their sustainability report – at least someone is planning to read it – but no, they prefer one to go onto a website. Which shows so much ignorance – in South Africa unlike the rest of the world we do not have unlimited bandwidth – and sometimes no connectivity – downloading a 100 page report of about 20MGB takes sometimes days as we get cut off, our connection is interrupted and then we still have to print it anyway – so they only transfer their environmental responsibility to me.

Well, I sympathise with Reana's point and have blogged about this before. I continue to find it incredible that companies claim that they are not printing Sustainability Reports in order to protect the environment, when they have no qualms about printing every other communication in the business. I find it much easier to read and review hard copy reports, even if these are summary reports. There is no reason  to print hundreds of pages, I agree, and there is no reason not to print on recycled paper. The Westpac summary report is one of the best examples of this. It is backed up by a good sustainability website, a nicely navigable annual and sustainability reporting site, and  a 2.67 Mb downloadable PDF report. The report itself is a flimsy 49 page magazine-style brochure, weighing next to nothing, nicely designed but not flashy, and containing all the important information I would look for, including a Materiality Matrix, full Performance Scorecard with quantitative targets, just enough photos to get a sense that real people work at the bank, and a pleasant overall look. In fact, it is one of the reports that I keep in my bag to show to clients when I meet with them to talk about the concept and design of their next report.

I think Sustainability Reports are important enough to print. Doing business sustainably does not mean adopting a Fred Flintstone lifestyle. We can still do busines with an eco-conscience and with care, even if we print an annual sustainability report. I prefer to read hard copies. I am much more inclined to write a review of a sustainability report if I can read it without having to be glued to my PC screen.

In fact, I invite all companies producing a hard copy report, summary or otherwise, to send me one, with a clear conscience :)  I will do my best to review it on  or on this blog. 

So, Reana, thanks for giving me the opportunity to rant about this (again!). More importantly, thank you for reading the ole blog and taking the time to let me know that you find it useful. There is no sentence sweeter to a blogger's ears than "I read your blog".  

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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