Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Opaque Transparency

The Global Sustainability Research Alliance, led by the Canadian Corporate Knights, have published their Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World list. It's a fabulous piece of work, examining a wide range of  sustainability indicators. Congratulations to CorporateKnights for developing this ranking, and to the 100 Companies that made it onto the list.  Here are the top ten:
  1. GE 
  2. PG&E Corp
  3. TNT nv
  4. H&M Hennes and Mauritz
  5. Nokia Corporation
  6. Siemens AG
  7. Unilever plc
  8. Vodafone Group plc
  9. Smiths Group plc
  10. Geberit
A couple of surprises , I suspect, on that list, but it's a great piece of research and analysis. Each Company result is supported by a page of data summary, and what's GREAT is that you can download an Excel file of all the analysis data.

Of course, being passionate about reporting and transparency , I was interested to note which Companies came out tops aganist this parameter. Here are the top ten transparent Companies according to this ranking:

  1. Atlas Copco ab  (Rank34, Transparency 96%)
  2. BT Group plc (Rank 35, Transparency 93%)
  3. Roche Holdings (Rank 58, Transparency 92%)
  4. Diageo plc  (Rank 18, Transparency 90%)
  5. Iberdrola Sa (Rank 55, Transparency 90%) 
  6. Omv Ag (Rank 76, Transparency 89%) 
  7. Kesko Oyj (Rank 33, Transparency 88%) 
  8. Novozymes A/s (Rank 41, Transparency 88%)
  9. Statoilhydro Asa (Rank67, Transparency 88%)
  10. Umicore Sa (Rank 44, Transparency 86%)

Isn't it fascinating that there is absolutely no overlap in these two lists?
The most sustainable Companies are not the most transparent Companies.
The Transparency Levels of the 10 most sustainable Companies are all lower than the most transparent Companies, ranging between 25% and 81% transparency. The number 2 most sustainable Company has a Transparency score of only 25%.  The corollary of this is that the most transparent companies are not rewarded for being transparent in this ranking. This is disappointing, especially given the presence of Ernst Ligteringen, the CEO of the GRI, champion of transparency, on the
Global Council of Experts who oversaw the ranking. Whilst I understand that the methodology aggregates a number of factors, and that not everything has the same degree of weighting in calculating an overall sustainability quotient, I fail to understand how Companies can be sustainable without being transparent.

For me, and perhaps I am a little extreme, or obsessive, or passionate, or stupid, transparency is an essential core element  in sustainability which serves to leverage and drive performance in many different ways.  Where there is low transparency, there is low trust, low dialogue, low openness to innovation, and low attention to stakeholder needs. When a Company is not transparent about its performance, I wonder how committed that Company is to improving performance. Whilst I do not expect such a ranking to be based on transparency alone, I believe that some degree of overlap would make this ranking more credible.

Anyway, rant over. It's still a good initiative. You should be pleased I didn't do an analysis of sustainability relative to leadership diversity . Ha Ha.  That would have been a much longer post .... (for starters: two of the most sustainable Companies have ZERO women on the Board of Directors and only 7 of the Global 100 Most Sustainables have over 25% women directors.)

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

Monday, January 25, 2010

The perfect Sustainability Report

There is no such things as a perfect Sustainability Report. Forget it!

This was the essence of my  guest post this week on the Global Reporting Initiative Blog.

You can read it here.

Short and sweet. Have a great day !

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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sustainability is pure poetry

Larsen Toubro is a massive multinational conglomerate based in India. They published their second Sustainability report in December 2009,  entitled " * conditions apply ". This is what they mean, in their words, "This planet that we call home is like no other in the galaxy. No other body in the orbit has the cocoon of atmosphere that sustains life; nowhere else do waters flow from summit to sea,nourishing civilisations along the way. This unique, bountiful and beautiful world of ours has helped man flourish across time. It can certainly provide for us far into the future but ...... contitions apply". Isn't that poetic ? Wait, it's gets better.  Sustainability is not just "survivability" , it's "thrivability" . Now they are rewriting Websters. There are more poetic and linguistic twists throughout the report. I will leave you to pick them out.

Larsen Toubro is into everything including construction, power development, oil, gas, thermal power, metallurgical projects, mass transport systems, heavy engineering medical systems, insurance, banking, software, infrastructure, industrial machinery and the list goes on. Quite some business, employing over 35,000 individuals.

I haven't read this GRI checked A+ 112 page report in detail. I just wanted to point out a nice feature. The  8 members of the Executive Leadership Team each make their own statement about Sustainability relative to their sphere of responsibility, alongside their photo. This is nice, because it demonstrates a personal commitment by each of the leaders of the business. Each one of them is on record as being committed to sustainability. Just a shame that not  one of them is a woman ! How sustainable is that ?!

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

Friday, January 22, 2010

Just a Nugget of CSR

I was looking at Fortune 2010 Best Companies to work for which I became aware of via a Tweet by CSR Master-Tweeter @davidcoethica.

Company number 5 on the list is a privately owned family grocery store business called Nugget Market.. The top  reasons cited fur Nugget's ascent are the 10% monthly discount for employees on groceries up to $500, and the fact that the bosses surprised the employees by washing their cars at an employee appreciation event. Ok, I think, (rare occurrence, I know) this doesn't seem like such a big deal. What can it be that propels this small Company to the near-top of such a prestigious list, ahead of giants like Cisco and legends like Whole Foods and even Goldman Sachs, who pay more in bonuses and compensation ($16.2 billion set aside in 2009) than little Nugget people could hope to earn in the next decade (2008 revenues were $287 million). So, I thought (hmm, getting used to this thinking thing), let's take a look at Nugget Market Webbet Sitet. (careful, that's subtle). Actually I was interested if Nugget Market discloses anything about sustainabilty or corporate responsibility.
What do you think ? Take this test.

Does Nugget have a CSR policy ?
A:  Yes, it's wonderful and shows that Nuggest is committed to good business AND sustainability
B:   Not really, but they do contribute to the community
C:   No, so we can assume that they don't care about CSR
D:   No, they probably think that washing employees cars is enough

What does Nugget do to manage its impacts on the environment?
A:  Everything
B:  Nothing
C:  Oh tons, but it's just nowhere to be found on their website
D:  They wash employees cars to ensure employees don't waste water doing it themselves 

Why does Nugget's recipe for baked mahi-mahi look so delicious?
A: Because the mahi-mahi  is sourced from a Greenpeace sustainable fishery
B: Because you have to drink it with taut, supple and herbal Sauvignon Blanc
C: Because anything with a name like mahi mahi deserves the benefit of the doubt
D: Because well, heck, i'm all out of Chunky Monkey and anything looks good at this point

Does Nugget publish a CSR or a Sustainability Report ?
A:  Yes, but it hasn't been written yet
B:  They will do when they work out what it is
C:  Of course not, sustainability reports are only for BIG companies
D:  Come on, no one reads sustainability reports.

Now count up all your A's, B's C's and D's. Award yourself 1 point for an A, 4 points for a B, 17 points for a C and 27 points for a D. Add up your total. Check your result.

01 - 27 points:  You failed. You found zilch about Nugget CSR policy.
28 - 29 points:  You failed. You know nothing about Nugget CSR policy.
30 - 43 points:  You failed. Nugget CSR plicy is a mystery to you.
44 +     points:  You failed. Nugget and CSR remains an open question for you.

But don't despair, if you want to go work for Nugget, you have some very clear guidelines about how to present yourself. Do not dye your hair purple or pierce your upper lip. And if you didnt take a shower last week, forget it !

I think it's great that this small Company ( @Nugget_Market ) has excelled at being a good employer and this is not to be understimated. It is one of key elements of a sustainable business. I think it's great that Nugget have a strong sense of community and charitable works. Nugget obiously has a strong customer following  and appears to be a respected local business.

I just find it a little frustrating that such a great business, with 9 food stores and 1,300 employees, does not take the opportunity to show even greater leadership and do even greater business by adopting a Corporate Responsibility policy and examining its overall impacts, particularly with regard to sustainable sourcing, food labelling and traceability, and overall environmental impacts. And possibly even a little transparency .. you know I love CSR reports.
Is this asking too much ? 

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

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting your toes wet

es, folks, it's that time of year again. The time of year we vote for the best of the best of CSR reports. Now in its third year in the West End ... er ... in Cyberspace ... CRRA 10  (Corporate Register Reporting Awards for the uninitiated) is open to votes from all West End  Cyberspace residents. I am wondering how the plot will evolve into an ultimate denouement of winners. Shall we lift the curtain and throw a spotlight on the key protagonists ? (It's not that I'm the theatrical type, I just like to play around a little.. haha, pun intended).

60 Reports compete for Best Report  (Headache category)
21 Reports want to be Best First Timers (Get-your-toes-wet category)
12 Reports aspire to be the Best SME Report (Small-is-big category)
15 Reports go for Best Integrated Report (Get-it-all-together category)
20 Reports go green as Best Carbon Disclosure (Count-my-offsets category)
30 Reports aspire to Creativity in Communications (Greenwash category)
45 Reports display Relevance & Materiality  (What-counts cateogry)
37 Reports hang their hat on Openness & Honesty (Oxymoron category)
24 Reports assure us of Credibility thru Assurance (Who-are-you-kidding category)

Oy! Where do you start and how do you choose. I addressed this in a previous post and promised to come back to the get-it-all-togethers, the get-your-toes-wet and the small-is-big reports at a future date. This is that date. In the toe-wetting category at least.

The get-your-toes-wet category.
It always surprises me how many first time reports there are every year. Several hundred, and growing each year. I always like and respect  first reports, as they represent a major step-change and catalyst in a Company's approach to CSR and transparency. Another thing that susprises me is how little some first-timers learn from the years and years and  thousands of reports that have already evolved into established reporting formats and some, not all, that are very effective. Getting on the reporting stage (that West End thing again) is very hard. Let's not underestimate this effort.

So , of the 600+ first timers in 2008, who's on the list for the CRRA 10 First Timer award? .Perhaps this will aid you in deciding which reports to look at and which to vote for.  I have exercised great restraint and listed only ONE thing I like about each report and NONE of the things I don't like - haha - you will have to discover those for yourselves.

Of the 21 reports in this category, 2 are not GRI reports, and most of the others are GRI C level (12 reports) . This speaks to the apparent importance of having the C Application level, as a leg up into the reporting world. One report made the ambitious FMT target (Full Monty Transparency) with an A report, and a handful had their report assured. First reporters came from all sectors and many countries and ranged from tens of employees to tens of thousands, and from small-scale turnover to multi billion $ Companies.

Who deserves the number one slot? Judge for yourself.  And vote !!

Abreu and Associates -Portugal -  We advocate sustainability
GRI B self declared 122 page report, published in May 2009.
Independent Portuguese law firm with 134 lawyers, one of top five law fims in Portugal. Claims to be the first sustainability report in the legal sector in Portugal
One thing I like: Discussion of sustainability in a legal context.

Astra Zeneca Canada- Working on what matters in ways that matter
Non GRI - 26 pages , published in September 2009.
This is a community involvement report only. It contains testimonials from employees and community partners. It does not cover any other aspect of sustainability or CSR.
One thing I like: Personal statements from a range of people.

Ayala Corporation Phillipines - Pioneering for a sustainable future
GRI C self declared, 48 page report, published in October 2009
Ayala Corp is the holding Company for a diversified range of industrial activities in the finance, telecomms, electronics and many other sectors. Employs over 35,000 in the Group with revenues of over $3.5 billion. Claims to be first conglomerate in the Phillipines that published a sustainability report.
One thing I like: Environmental footprint chart

Bovis Lend Lease UK Sustainability Review
GRI C self declared, 130 pages, published in September 2009
Bovis Lend Lease is a provider of construction and project management services in the real estate market.
One thing I like: Executive summary at start of report

Brasil Foods SA Brazil -Annual Report of Sustainability
GRI C third party checked, 70 pages, published in June 2009 
Brazilian foods company employing 59,000 people with revenues of $7.5 billion. The report is published under the name of Brasil Foods, after the merger with Saida food Company in which Perdigao is the 68% partner. Actually it is an integrated report serving as an annual financial report which meets GRI C guidelines. The  report is written in the name of Perdigao, and Perdigao published an annual report with 10 pages of  CSR / sustainability content in 2008
One thing I like: Packed with data

CA Inc USA 2008 Sustainability Report - Connected
GRI C third party checked, 80 pages, published in November 2008 
Self-proclaimed "world's leading independent  IT management software Company"  with revenues of $4,277 billion, employing 14,000 people. Although this is registered as a third party checked report, and the GRI icon is for a C third party checked report, there is no evidence of a third party check. Looks like a C self-declared.
One thing I like: Clean design

Corporate Express Australia Ltd -2008 Sustainability Report
GRI B GRI -Checked 46 pages, published in September 2009
Office supplies Company with 2,500 employees and  revenues of $1.3 billion.
One thing I like: Listing of stakeholder concerns and key reponses to them.

Elsport Kredit Fonden - Denmark - CSR Report 2008
GRI C+ third party checked , 83 pages, published in April 2009
Elsport is the Danish Export Credit Agency administering the Danish Export Credit scheme. The organization employs 64 people. Small organization with a big impact.
One thing I like: Absolute clarity and detail

Henry Davis York - Australia - Sustainability Report 2008- Imagine
GRI C+ Third Party Checked, 50 pages, published in November 2008
Australian law firm - the first report for lawyers down-under apparently. Henry Davis York has 47 partners and 385 staff.
One thing I like: The personal touch - statements from the people responsible for CSR.

Horizon Holdings Inc - Canada - Sustainability-based Annual Report
GRI B  self declared , 33 pages, published June 2009
Horizon is an Ontario based electricity provider providing power to Ontario, with $88 million in revenues and 336 employees.  
One thing I like: the GRI "filing" - detailed responses to GRI indicators as a separate section.

Jumeirah Group LLC - Dubai - Corporate Responsibity Report 2008
GRI B self declared, 36 pages, published April 2009
Jumeirah Group is a hotel group based in  Dubai, with 11 luxury hotels, with 12,000 employees (revenues not disclosed) . One of the few reports to come out of the UAE.
One thing I like: Names of individuals with responsibility to drive the CR Program.

Millipore Corporation - USA - 2008 Sustainability Report
GRI C self declared, 94 pages, published in April 2009
Milliport is a life science Company providing tools for the development of bioscience research and biopharmaceutical manufacturing. They have revenues of $1.6 billion and 5,900 employees
One thing I like: Real pictures of real people working in a real company
National Instruments Corporation - USA - 2008 Citizenship Report
GRI C self declared , 63 pages, published in April 2009
This Company makes instruments for scientists and engineers for the development of new technologies. $821 million revenues in 2008 and a workforce of approximately 5,000 people.
One thing I like: Highlights, Challenges, Commitments format

Northeast Utilities - USA - 2008 Corporate Responsibility Report
GRI B self declared,38 pages, published in July 2009
Electricity and natural gas provider in New England. Northeast has 6,100 employees. Couldn't work out how much money they cash in.
One thing I like: Good safety performance reporting .

Societe de Transport de Monreal - 2008 - The STM in 2008 Sustainable Development Report
GRI C self declared, 46 pages, published in June 2009
Public transportation Company in Montreal, 8,398 employees, $927 million in revenues.13th largest corporation in Quebec
One thing I like: Contextual information and background.

The Walt Disney Company - USA - 2008 Corporate Responsibility Report
GRI C self declared, 97 pages, published in March 2009
TheWalt Disney leisure business which brings in around $38 million in revenues and employs over 100,000 people (depending how you count the seasonals).
One thing I like: Modest tone and admission of shortfalls.

TUI Travel plc - UK - Sustainable Development Report 2008
GRI C self declared, 46 pages, published in July 2009
TUI Travel is a leisure and lifestyle activity travel Company with 13.9 billion pounds sterling in revenue and  50,000 employees operating in the UK and in Europe.
One thing I like: Progres versus prior year targets.

Vaisala Oyj - Finland - Vaisala Corporate Responsibility Report 2008
GRI C GRI checked, 50 pages, published inMarch 2009
Vaisala is an environmental and industrial measurement Company, producing observation and measurement products for meteorology and other functions. Revenues 242 million EUROs. Employees 1,200.
One thing I like: Their vision.

VIP Packaging - Australia - 08 Sustainable Choices
GRI undeclared, 49 pages, published December 2008
Privately owned packaging Company, employing 1,154 people.
One thing I like: Benefits and challenges of packaging.

WPA Pinfold - UK - Sustainability Report Edition 1
Non GRI, 31 pages, published August 2009
WPA Pinfold is a brand and communications design Company. This is the only report i have ever seen which does not contain even one single number. That is, if you discount the odd date, page numbers and the cost of the chairs in the offices (no kidding).  It is not a report, it is a nicely designed book of sustainability philosophy. I wonder why they called it a report ?
One thing I like: The fact that they provide free fruit for their staff

888 Holdings plc - Israel/Gibraltar - 2008 Corporate Responsibility - People Planet Play
GRI A GRI checked, 87 pages, published in October 2009
888 Holdings is an online gaming Company.
One think I like: The fact that I wrote it.

There are only two more things I want to say:
1. Happy voting!
2. Where the heck are you hiding the Chunky Monkey?

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

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The infinite possibilities of online sustainability reporting

Online sustainability reporting is evolving rapidly. No longer does  the plain ole downloadable PDF represent the state-of-the-art of transparent presentation of sustainability performance. No longer must we wait it out for the last megabyte to appear on our screen and we can start to read the CEO statement with glee (see Wainwright Bank's 2008 13 MB download report) . These days, we should expect to be enticed, attracted and engaged by more attractive presentation of metrics and people telling their sustainability stories. We are offered different ways to control the data such as DIY report builders (see Philips report for 2008) or nice ebooks to read as we curl up in an armchair with our laptops (see Deutsche Bank 2008 report or the spectacular SeventhGeneration 2008 report). We can see videos of Company Managers telling it as it is (hear Gap Inc CEO walk his talk in the 2008 Report), see a range of podcasts (see Bayer 2008),  or even take a tour on an interactive map to the hub of csr activitiy that the Company is engaged in at a specific location (see Cisco 2009 Report).  Some Companies offer only a summary report as a dowload (see Unilever 2008) whilst others offer a regular array of local  or localized reports (see Vodafone and Telefonicaor alternative language versions (See Fedex 2008) . Some Companies do more than just report on CSR, they move towards engagement and interaction using blogs (see the Intel CSR blog) or fully-fledged websites to host genuine dialogue ( see Voices of Challenge by Timberland on their 2007-2008 Report) or interactive polls so that we can demonstrate we are still awake as we read (see Adidas 2008 Report) (Adidas even asked the verrrrrrrrrry risky poll question "Are Sustainability Reports useful ?" and to date 85% of the responders said YES!! (Hah! Vindicated at last!I hope it wasn't just the report writer and consultant who voted!). Some reporters ask for feedback  (BMW 2008 Report ) and some make it worth your while by offering a PRIZE for providing feedback (see Beiersdorf 2008, who also got really caught up in the online sustainabilty fever and urge you to take their Sustainability Quiz - oops, no prizes for winning that - wonder why?!) )., who we partner with on reporting, as they are the leading online reporting technology and presentation specialists in Europe, produce magnificent interactive charts that you can sit playing around with forever (see Royal Dutch Shell 2008).

There have been some reviews of online report presentation - by Radley Yeldar in April 2009,  in July 2009, and more recently by AltaTerra Research in a report called "Greening the Company Website: A new Era in Sustainability Reporting" . This last review covers more than just presentation - it provides an evaluation of the substance, accessibility and navigation capabilities of 60 leading Companies and their online reports (though the focus is mainly on environmental information). Timberland scored highest, with a group of others including Alcoa, BASF, Centrica, Kingfisher, TNT and BT coming up close behind. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the highest scoring attributes for online presentation was navigationability (my new word for 2010) , whilst the provision of data substance and timeliness scored lowest. The research also reviews the degree of assurance of online data (something we have tended to expect only from printed reports). Another interesting insight from this research is that the Companies who tend to rank high in other sustainability indices are not necessarily the ones who present their reports best online. This is not dissimilar to what we found last year when we produced the Transparency Index - an evaluation of the sustainability transparency of the leading Companies quoted on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

So, what this all about? What's the deal with reporting formats and online creativity? Does this really make a Company more sustainable? Do all these formats really make reading reports easier, better, orgasmic? What are the factors that lead us to select a certain format over another format? And what does the Reporting Blog like to see? 

Well, it's all about which wall your ladder is standing against, to paraphrase the Seven Habits guru, Dr Stephen Covey. It's wonderful to have a magnificently navigable report, but if my ladder is against a wall that requires data (positive and less positive), on time, in context and with appropriate commentary, then the most creative online extravaganza won't be effective for me, even if I climb to the top rung.

As far as online is concerned, I want to see the material issues prominently presented, and I want to navigate the website seamlessly without having to open up link after link in new windows that ultimately crash my mind, not to mention my PC. I want data against the most important indicators, GRI or otherwise. I want the ability to ask questions and provide feedback ... and get answers, not just push a questionnaire into a black hole (as I did with the Avon Report some time ago and never got any form of acknowledgement or response). I want to be able to download something, perhaps just a summary, so that I can use the report as a reference without being online, or so that I can annotate and bookmark the PDF, one of my numerous report-reading habits. I would be happy to engage in open dialogue provided I can see the dialogue of others as well, which is a true tribute to transparency and bold engagement - but I would also like to see Company employees engaging in this dialogue with external readers - no one I know does really well  yet (I think Intel is the closest).

In other words (well, in the same words, but shorter), I want to see online reporting leading us to a level of true substantive material transparent reporting, and true engagement and dialogue. Online  presentation is a TOOL to help achieve this, not an objective in itself. Professional presentation can undoubledly attract readership and make the report more palatable, even attractive, but let's not forget that the horse pulls the cart and the wall holds up the ladder.  Haha. I was tempted to write : The Monkey rules the Chunky, but i thought that might be a bit obscure for all of  you who are vanilla-only consumers.

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

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Ghetto Fighters and CSR

What do the Ghetto Fighters  have to do with CSR? Stay tuned. I will explain.

Who were the Ghetto Fighters ?
These were the group of people who led the resistance to the final liquidation of the  Warsaw Ghetto which was established by the Governor of the Warsaw district in Poland in 1940. A fighting organization was declared in 1942, led by Jewish leadership in the Ghetto, to stage the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising , the "first urban uprising in German-occupied Europe", which succeeded in holding out for over a month until it was finally defeated in May 1943. All those who were left were deported to extermination camps, though a certain number survived. Of those who did, some made their way to Israel and founded Kibbutz Lohamei Ghetaot (Ghetto Fighters) Museum in 1949, on the sixth anniversary of the uprising. In addition to building a cowshed, a kindergarten and living quarters, one of the founders' very first acts was to lay the foundation for a memorial museum, which would be not only a way of remembering those who had lost their lives, but also serve as a tribute to the survivors' spirit and the renewal of life. Warsaw had been home to over 350,000 Jews before the occupation. By 1943, only 11,500 remained.

So, what has this to do with CSR?
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was a triumph of vision and leadership under the most impossible circumstances one could ever imagine. Instead of waiting till the "storm had passed", or committing mass suicide (a very real option at the time cf: Massada), the choice was to use every possible option to survive and leave a legacy. Some incredible leaders emerged from within the Ghetto population to pioneer what would be a miraculous fight against inhumanity and abuse of everything we know about human rights,  respect for and acceptance of othersequality and tolerance. The community drew  itself together, gathered its collective spirit and capabilities, developed a network based on trust and mutual support, to fight the good fight. But these were not the only people who made choices. There were many righteous people who assisted the oppressed Jews during the occupation and during the uprising. Those people had chosen not to be complicit in the evil of the Holocaust, but risked their lives to help where they could. The entire story of the Warsaw Ghetto and its Fighters is a tragic but wonderful manifestation of  values and how we adhere to values when under extreme stress.Ultimately, the Warsaw uprising is the optimistic a story of the spirit and victory of humanity. The survivors, few though they may have been, went on to recreate life, share and teach their experiences, and promote humanism and democratic values for generations to come.Ultimately, the Warsaw Ghetto is a lesson in sustainability.

So, you are STILL wondering what this has to do with CSR. Here is the final piece in the puzzle.
In my meetings with a long-standing friend and fellow professional in the field of advancing social justice, who is today the Marketing Manager of the Ghetto Fighters Museum, we discussed how this unique and inspiring place could serve as a platform to teach sustainability. The Warsaw Uprising may be over, but globalization of business has contributed to the continued oppression of many different  peoples in the world, there is discrimination in business organizations, abuse of human rights, complicity in supply chain irregularities, erosion of values, particularly in times of crisis,  a lack of collaborative spirit and a reluctance to combine and share resources to ensure the best collective chances of survival on our shared planet. Competitive forces work against the best outcome for all. These are issues of CSR and sustainability, which we can see in every aspect of the Warsaw history. By using this platform, we can create a learning experience which is powerful and associative in a way which no other learning framework I know can achieve.

And we have a little time for Q&As:

Q: Wouldn't it be totally depressing to attend a workshop surrounded by a memorial to the tragedy of the Holocaust?
A: No. The Museum celebrates the survival, the bravery, the risk-taking, the astounding capabilities of those driven by values, humanism and a better future life. The Museum celebrates the human spirit and what it can achieve. It's an optimistic message.  

Q: But did those people really have a choice? They were attacked, they defended themselves. What choice is that ?
Of course they had a choice. Anyone who has read
Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, will know that life is a conscious choice, survival is a choice, sustainability is a choice. They could have chosen to do nothing. The righteous ones amongst the Polish people could have chosen to be complicit, like so many others. This is the parallel with business today. Business, or the people who run businesses, have choices. Choices which are not so easy to make. But they are choices. The Warsaw Ghetto may seem like an irregular backdrop, but those who have attended workshops there to date have proven  that this format can be a catalyst for deep paradigm change.

Back to CSR
We are now developing a series of workshops in partnership with the Ghetto Fighters Museum  team (the Museum has been running workshops, courses and learning programs, including management training, for a long while)  The CSR workshops will cover: sustainability principles, ethics and assimilation of ethical values in business (especially in times of extreme pressure) , diversity and inclusion, collective and personal accountability and more. These workshops will blend with existing CSR processes in businesses to support new generations of CSR leadership at all levels. 

Oh, and we might even serve Chunky Monkey in the afternoon break.

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

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thank you, H&M!

How do you learn ? You make mistakes. This is the lesson Swedish global fashion retailer H&M learnt this last week in New York, when an insightful and bold young lady Cynthia Magnus, a name H&M wont forget for a long time, found discarded bags of unwanted clothes outside H&M's store on 34th Street, New York. Clothes in the bags had been intentionally damaged to prevent re-use - gloves, socks, jackets, shirts - clothes which needy families could derive great benefit from. The story was first  reported by Jim Dwyer in the New York Times on Jan 5th, and did not omit to make reference to H&M's statements of commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. Within hours, cyberspace was buzzing with anger, indignation, scorn, incredulity, cries for boycott, accusations of irresponsibility, analyses, commentaries, tweets and diggs and facebook posts. By Jan 6, Twitter was the number 2 trending topic. And H&M published their response.

A search for "H&M destroying clothes" on Google now brings up over 70,000 references. Actually, bags of discarded Walmart clothes were found too but H&M have born the brunt of the outrage.  All major news publishers took up this story. And it seems like everyone had something to say. Here are some more mentions from a variety of sources. 

Jan 6, a blog post from ... followed by several responses
Jan 6, from - on the full story
Jan 6, from Jim Dwyer again on the NYT blog - with a follow up and H&M response
Jan7, from the Huffinton Post - with pages and pages of reactions
Jan 7, from the - on the "storm of protest"
Jan 7, a blog post by WalletPop - retweeted 121 times
Jan 8, from the Mother Nature Network - on H&M's declared intention to donate clothes in future
Jan 9, post from the Party for Socialism and Liberalism - called "capitalism values profits not people's needs"  
Jan 10, from Shine on Yahoo - a summary and review of the story
and, funnily enough, a great analysis from the insightful Maya Forstater on how H&M should have responded popped up on my Tweetdeck screen as I write this very post.

H&M has actually come a long way in CSR. They have produced an annual CSR report since 2002, the last one being published in April 2009 covering 2008's activities. I actually reviewed this last report on . All H&M's reports are downloadable from their website, as is their Code of Conduct in 25 languages and a range of other responsibility related materials.  The Company has made significant progress in developing sustainability strategy and was one of the first to speak out against Uzbekistan's forced labor and child labor in the cotton picking fields (though I must say that their position is a little ambivalent - "avoid Uzbekistan cotton in their products" rather than definitively banning it. The CSR Manager of H&M, Ingrid Shullstrom, maintains a blog on the H&M CSR home page. As chance would have it, she writes on 29th December, just a few days before H&M hit the headlines, that she will not be posting during January and February 2010 due to extended leave and "should something exceptional happen in the field of CSR during my absence, one of my colleagues might post an update in this column". What impeccable timing. So far, colleagues havent posted an update, but the headline "H&M donates clothes to charity" does appear in bold on the same page. Coincidental, or similar impeccable timing? 

Anyway, I wanted to draw attention to a few things:

Folks, it can happen to the best of us... embedding CSR in all levels of the business is a fantastic challenge (see former post about Deutsche Telekom) , and with the best will in the world, someone goofs. No excuse. You have to embed harder. H&M have learnt THIS lesson, now, I bet. 

In one of the articles I read on the subject, H&M is now rapidly scrambling to update all their policies and procedures relating to discarding and donation of old clothes. I suspect, so are all of the the retailers that have heard this story. Better late than never, right?

And of course, the power of the social media, and especially Twitter, to act as a catalyst for such a story. This vindicates my previous comment that Twitter has done more for CSR than some of the great thought leaders. Just by getting it out there, just by providing a platform for so many people to have their say, no corporation in today's world can expect to get away without responsibility, accountability and transparency. Either you proactively manage it, or, as H&M found out in this instance, it manages you. When you are on extended leave.

Should heads roll at H&M? No
Should we believe that H&M are an irresponsible retailer ? No
Should we boycott H&M ? No
Should we be outraged at this incident of destruction? Yes
Should we accept H&M's apology and give them time-out to revise their practices ? Yes
Should we be keep a close eye on H&M in the future ? Yes
Should we expect to see this incident reported in H&M's next CSR report for 2009, due out in a few months? YES

And as with everything, good emerges from bad. I suspect that every single fashion retailer will have learnt from this incident, and H&M top of the list. 

So thank you H&M, for your mistake , we have all learnt something. And I suspect that the world will be a (slightly) better place as a result.

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

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A little fish with your STPP, madam ?

I dont watch much TV. But this week I caught an investigative documentary called Kolbotek. I was rivetted, shocked and scandalized. My flabber was gasted, my ass was tounded and my over was whelmed, as they say in Manchester. Here's the story.

Fish importers have a choice betwen quality and price. If they go for (low) price, they purchase fish which is packed in China, in a packing process which first picks out  wriggling worms from the freshly caught fish by hand using tweezers, bangs holes in the fish so that it will absorb water and chemicals, immerses the fish in a water-STPP solution in order to make it look bloated and bigger than it really is, shakes it around so that everything gets properly absorbed, and finally, freezes and packs it, without any indication of the volume of water in the pack, in many cases without indicating the presence of STPP. STPP (sodium tripolyphospate) is a commonly used preservative, but in this case, it serves to ensure maximum water retention so that when frozen, what is a kilo of fish, is actually 50% or more water. So when we have bought frozen fish, we have been buying more chemically treated water than fish, and paying a high cost for this privilege.

On revelation of this irresponsible trickery in the fish industry, some Israeli grocery chains responded. Shufersal was the first to make an unconditional recall of all relevant fish products and take them off the shelves. Another private chain, Rami Levy has also removed products. Other retailers are "considering". Now, some thoughts:

So first, I want to congratulate (and thank) this fast response by Israel's largest grocery. Clearly the responsible thing to do. Beyond Compliance. An act which will give them extra  points both in my mind and on my credit card account. And I hope many others.  Shufersal is a big player, over 240 stores, over 10,000 employees and over $2.5 million in annual revenues. Despite this demonstration of responsibility, aside from financial reports, we are not treated to any additional level of transparency. The only thing that resembles Corporate Responsibility on their local language website is a Code of Ethics, though their corporate vision stresses leadership. Where is Shufersal's commitment to responsible consumerism, to greening of the retail chain, to responsible workplace and supply chain practices ? Who knows! This act of responsibility counts in their favour, but a thorough lack of transparency is a big opportunity for this chain to truly lead the Israeli grocery industry to new levels of sustainability.How about a first CSR report, Shufersal ?

Second, I want to know who trains the buyers of the retail grocery chains, and what standards, if any, they work to. This fish thing is a complete scam. A knowingly deliberate act to mislead consumers in the interest of higher profits. Who questions this? Where are the ethical purchasing training courses? My consulting business has  recently forged an alliance  with the Israel Purchasing and Logistics Managers Association, to assist the development of ethical, responsible and green purchasing practices. I think I might suggest we start with grocery retailers. 

Third, I took a look at CSR in the fish industry. There are many issues we have been aware of for years regarding the fish industry and sustainable fisheries. The Marine Stewardship CounciI was established by Unilever and the WWF in 1995 to address safeguarding seafood supply and mitigate the impact of overfishing on the marine environment. The work done by the Council since then in controlling and establishing fishery standards is applaudable. But a site search didn't bring up the issue of STPP. I found a nice CSR report by MarineHarvest for 2008 no mention of STPP there either.  Seems to me that there is a loophole of awareness here, which I suspect may be exploited in other markets at the expense of consumers everywhere. So folks, check your labels, ask questions of your retailers, and if all else fails, go off fish. At least, the STPP flavored kind.

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

Friday, January 1, 2010

Doctor Sustainability - a new Reporting Blog feature for 2010

NEW on the Reporting Blog for 2010. Ask Doctor Sustainability......

Dear Doctor Sustainability: I have been having serious problems getting my senior management to agree to publish a Sustainability Report. They say that we should just get on with the work, and not waste time producing reports. I am going out of my mind. I have nowhere else to turn. I have tried everything. My husband's cousin says I should resign. Do you think that would be the sustainable thing to do?

Dear Desperate: I have much sympathy with your dilemma, it is one shared by many Managers in many Companies. My advice would be to go underground. Get a team of committed people together and start to write the report anyway, using the GRI Let's Report framework. Just get the template and fill in the blanks. If the worst comes to the worst, and your senior management find out, you can always stay underground and emerge in time for annual bonus.

Dear Doctor Sustainability: We published a CSR report last year and I have now noticed there are many errors. Our carbon footprint is the wrong size, and it doesn't match both feet. Our employee headcount doesnt include bodies - it's just heads. And the chapter about green building was written before we painted the Head Office blue. I believe our stakeholders should be told. Wouldn't you say that transparency is a key element of sustainability? 

Dear Transparent: If it was published, in print, in black and white, it must be true. Your stakeholders will believe anything. Especially if you have an Assurance statement that makes it very clear that they haven't noticed any errors.


Dear Doctor Sustainability: The Chairman of our Board (actually it's a woman but she believes that calling herself a Chairman advances the business interest more effectively) has decided that we should publish a Sustainability Report and has set a deadline two months hence. But here's the thing. Our organisation is not sustainable. We have nothing to write in this report. What should I do? Tell her? Or borrow some texts from marcom and hope no-one notices?

Dear Unsustainable: What makes you different from 95% of the Companies that publish reports? Not having anything to write doesn't stop these reporters from filling 100+ pages. In fact , you could probably piece your report together by copy-pasting a random selection of generic paragraphs from other reports. Just make sure you use photos of your own employees, and believe me, your Chairman will be delighted when you deliver the report in UNDER two months. 


Dear Doctor Sustainabilty: I was wondering how many reports have been published in 2009 and which is the best ? Where can i get good data ? 

Dear Data: I am pleased you are looking for data. This is something often lacking in Sustainability Reporting. For data on Sustainability Reports, I always use, and their data shows, for the first time since 1992, a slight dip in the annual number of reports. In 2009 , there were 3,185, versus 3,446 in 2008. But  this is not an exhaustive list, I estimate closer to 3,500 published reports as several local-language reports may not be included. If you want to inluence this data, make sure you issue your report in 2010. And tell your friends.

Dear Doctor Sustainability: We are about to start work on our next Sustainability Report. Many believe we should go for an Integrated Report which includes the Annual Financial Report and the Sustainability Report in one publication. Others say we should continue to do them separately. I am in anguish over this dilema and haven't slept for 5 nights, my wife says I am exhibiting signs of stress, and my colleagues have threatened to banish me to the PortaKabin in the Company grounds. Please help. Should we separate or integrate?

Dear Stressed: The way I look at it is this. Is your business integrated or does it regard sustainability as a project which people work on alongside the business? The honest answer to this question should clearly indicate the reporting route to choose. Of course, if you answer dishonestly, then go for an integrated report. You can fill it up with financials and keep the sustainability bit to a level which won't cause your Company any embarrassment. And the sleep thing, I recommend a good helping of Chunky Monkey before your head hits the pillow.


Dear Doctor Sustainability: I really admire you. How did you become a Doctor in Sustainability. You are my inspiration. I have been looking for a study program so that I can become a Doctor in Sustainability too. What do you recommend?

Dear Competitor: Next question, please.


Doctor Sustainability is available to answer all your Sustainability Reporting questions. Please post your questions in the comments section below and Doc Sus will respond before your next report goes to print (or to online).

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