Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What they said at the CSR conference

Here I am back from the Ethical Corporation Reporting and Communications Summit held in London on 25th and 26th November. Promising to provide answers to whether one-way CR Reporting is dead, what integrated reporting means in real life, whether stakeholder engagement adds value, what good CR practice looks like online and more, this conference presented an array of CSR practitioners from the best of companies such as Vodafone, M&S; JS Sainsbury, Sony and more. Below is the conference in quotes which I have tried to reflect fairly and not take out of context (much). These are things that I wrote down. There were many more insights to be gained from listening to the entire presentations and debates, but this should give you a bird's eye view. Background on the speakers and companies can be found at the conference link in the first line of this blop.

Andy Wales of SABMiller
"Sustainable development is part of everything we do"
"For every job we create in Uganda, 100 additional jobs are created"
"I remain unconvinced that analysts are looking at the long term issues "
"Less than 10% of people [visiting our site] download the [CR] report"
"People have a completely bizarre view of how our bisiness works"

Chris Burgess of Vodafone
"It's very difficult not to report these days"
"The main value of sustainable reporting is more of an internal one"
"We're not really clear who reads our reports"

Rowland Hill of M&S
"The best reports are considered to have a compelling story to them"
"A report should be the tip of an overall communications iceberg"
"A report has done 90% of its job by the time you've got it signed off"
"Our employees have never been as engaged as they are now.. but when we gave the [sustainability] report to our employees, it hit the recycling bin faster than we could say something short."
"Key external opinion formers are the target of our reporting"
"An Ipsos Mori survey in September 2010 showed that when asked "Which sustainability reports have you read?", 40 respondents from the NGO and CR expert community responded M&S (68%), Tesco (65%), Coop (65%) Sainsbury (55%), Next (8%) Debenhams (8%) " (actually this was more of a slide than a quote but it's close enough:)
"Integrated reporting is an interesting thing"

Marcelo Esquivel of Anglo American, Chile
"The first challenge [of writing reports] is to make sure they are read"
"I definitely believe integrated reporting is the immediate fture"
"We are proud of the net positive impact we generate in communities"

Simon Braaksma of Phillips
"Sustainability is part of our company strategy"
"Our report is not written by one person, it's a military operation"
"[Our report] helps employees understand the business strategy"

Judith Moore of the World Bank
"Stakeholder engagement and feedback [on our report] is disappointing"
"[Reporting] has actually made our job a lot easier  - it creates a lot less dissonance in our work and makes it easier to raise money in capital markets"

Louise Tyson of BP
"You get caught up in a discussion about share price and environmental issues - but is important to remember that 11 people died"
"Most crises are much shorter .. this one lasted several months"
"Targets we set for the next BP report are transparency (using accessible language), balance (not being defensive), commitent to the Gulf of Mexico and a roadmap for BP and the way forward"
"The big challenge is who's going to read our report "

Chris Harrop of Marshalls
"The UNGC is a very good roadmap to organise our own sustainability actions"
"We use the UNGC framework to fame our discussions with stakeholders"
"Our CR report is easy to write"

Toby Webb of Ethical Corporation
"cutting edge" "authentic" "genuine"  (talking about the Patagonia CSR website)
"Timberland talks about issues they don't know how to solve"

Marjolein Baghuis of the GRI
"Stakeholders need to see results from their inputs"

Emily Nicholl of Sony
"First forget social media .. this is about being social..."
"We have to shift from smiley baby reports to development and data-heavy and rigorous reports"

Jeffrey Oathan of Centrica
"Reporting can be prety boring"

Revital Bitan of Intel
"Our localised CSR reports create a link between Intel and national issues"
"A CSR report is like a reference guide"
"Think integration not subsitution"
"Be prepared to engage"
"Employees are trained in blogging but blogs are not censored"

EDF Energy (marketing slogan) (I love this)

If we save today, we can save tomorrow. 

Finally, the only thing I was hoping to hear but unfortunately was not articulated even once during this informative and  thought-provoking two day conference was:

"And now it's time for an ice cream break - free Chunky Monkey for everyone!" 

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, November 19, 2010

The New CSR Social Media Index. Essential Reading

The big news this week is the publication of the Social Media Sustainability Index. It has a short subtitle: "An essential guide to how the world's most sustainable companies are communicating their green convictions and deeds through social media". Haha. Real short, right ? But this new Index  is a delight. It's well researched, well written and quite illuminating. I love it! (I don't usually go overboard with the superlatives, being a British-born restrained sort of type, but I really do like this index which combines two of my favourite worlds - CSR and Social Media). Let's dive in:

Commissioned by SMI,  and authored by Matthew Yeomans of Custom Communications, an experienced business and environmental journalist, the report provides an overview of "The changing world of sustainability communications", a useful series of tips on the Do's and Don'ts of CSR in Social Media for optimum reputation management and  a list of Green Twitterati from the media, consultants (including yours truly and most of my other faves), companies, NGO's and academia/politics. This is a #FollowFriday list if ever I have seen one. The report continues with an overview of Sustainability Social Media elements such as online publishing of sustainability information, campaigns and reporting, showing how companies are currently leveraging these channels. Then comes a list of 15 companies "to watch", those who demonstrate best Sust-Soc-Med practices. AMD, Allianz and Dell are at the top of the list. This concludes the report narrative. The remainder of the report is the result of a detailed analysis of the way companies are using SocMed, providing a matrix showing each comany's Sust-Soc-Med activity, sector by sector. There are 10 sectors (sector leaders in brackets) :
  1. Basic Materials (Alcoa)
  2. Consumer Goods (Ford)
  3. Consumer Services (Starbucks)
  4. Financials (BBVA)
  5. Healthcare (Novartis)
  6. Industrials (GE)
  7. Oil&Gas (ENI)
  8. Technology (IBM)
  9. Telecoms (Telefonica)
  10. Uilities (PG&E)

As with any index of this nature, what is of most interest, serving to establish credibility, is the methodoloy used to perform the analysis. Here the Sust-Doc-Med-Index is quite clear: each company (using the North America and Europe DJSI list of 287 companies) has the possibility of scoring up to 100. Marks were given for how actively companies were in using social media for sustainability, how creative they were and how accessible their stuff is. This is how it goes:

If companies had a social media channel - blog, twitter account, YouTube channel - devoted to CSR then they got 40 points. (This is a "dedicated" social media channel)

If companies used a general corporate social media channel to sometimes discuss CSR then they got 30 points.


If companies were also running a social media campaign dedicated to a CSR cause (for example,  Pepsi Refresh ) then they got another 20 points.

If companies were opening up their social media channel to comments and conversation then they got 10 points.

If companies were making their Sustainability Report accessible using social media they got 10 points.

Finally, companies were ranked on how creative they were in conveying sustainability through social media (storytelling, creative ideas) with a score of 1 - 20. This is the only part of the methodology which requires an assessment and a differentiated  rather than an absolute score for the elements described above. Getting a full 100 points therefore is possible only if companies are really really creative, as judged by the analyst. This is a clear, logical methodology which makes for good credibility of the ranking results. No companies scored a full 100, but a few came very close with GE, Starbucks, IBM, Ford and Dell all earning 95 points or more.

A few quick facts from the analysis:

85% of companies use social media as some part of their communications or PR portfolio.

All 3 companies in the Telecommunications sector and 10 out of 13 companies in the Technology sector have blogs, but NONE of the companies in the Basic Materials, Health Care or Oil and Gas sectors have blogs.

The vast majority of Consumer Goods companies have Twitter accounts,  Facebook pages and You Tube channels.

Technology was by far the most engaging sector for the author of this report. He found that the US tech companies all have dedicated social media sustainability communication channels. Only 4 companies out of the 25 surveyed in the Oil and Gas sector use Social Media.

5 of the top 10 scoring companies are in the consumer facing sectors: Ford, Starbucks, Puma, Pepsico and Svenska Cellulosa. err wait. Svenska Cellulosa ? Had to take a look at that. Here is their website. The first things that stands out on their sustainability section is a survey ...but when I clicked on "Take the survey" I ended up in a Google Docs page with no survey. However, despite the fact that this company doesn't blog or tweet, they do do Facebook and YouTube.

Nestle would have scored higher were it not for their now infamous Facebook blunder, which lost them 40 points. If they had been a little more prudent, they might have just nudge into the top 20.

Matthew Yeomans  told me about Sust-Soc-Med:
Companies that make best use of social media for CSR communications understand that online communities care about sustainability and, as companies, they are interested in the input of all their stakeholders. What's more, they understand that social media allows the smart companies to show how they can be useful to society, allowing them to walk the walk rather than just talking about how sustainable they are.

But be warned, says the report, "social media communities are notoriously quick to spot fakery and dismantle corporate spin. The companies that try to hoodwink the public or inflate their claims of sustainability using social media will be found out very quickly".

To round off, CSR and Social Media need to be on the same page. As a route to engagement, dialogue and  building reputation, the power of Social Media is huge. Companies who think this through well, and execute well, will gain immeasurable benefits. Perhaps many companies shy away from the Soc-Med thing because of the potential risks. I think the balance has now changed and the potential risks are greater by not engaging in social media.

The Sustainability Social Media Index will be updated annually. A full 12 months for all the laggard companies to check out their ranking and get blogging. Looking foward to seeing the changes next time around, oh, and to reading the plethora of corporate blogs that are likely to appear in 2011. And as I write, I just got followed by @ecomagination. How did they know I was writing this piece?

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

12 CSR Reporting Trends for 2011

I recently published an editorial on CSRwire.com called "Sustainability Reports: don't ask "if", ask "how". In a nutshell, using the PwC CSR Reporting Trends 2010 study published last month, and the Radley Yeldar "How Does It Stack Up" reviews of European and UK CSR Reports, and the Lundquist second "Global Leaders" report, which assesses online sustainability communications (and not just sustainability reports),  the inevitable concusion to be drawn was that sustainability reporting is now a minimum expectation of companies and the key to differentiation is the way a company reports, rather than, as was the case not so many years ago, whether the company reports. There are still thousands of companies who do not communicate on sustainability, but sooner or later, there will be no avoiding full accountability and transparency. The ones who do it well will gain a range of internal as well as external benefits. You can read my full editorial here.

Anyway, as it is now mid-November, thoughts are turning to the end-of-year lists (The Best of 2010... The Worst of 2010... The Trends.. The Rising Stars .... The Leaders and the Laggards ... etc) and all those kinds of articles which appear in December, and I have already been asked for my view of how CSR Reporting did in 2010 and what the trends I see for 2011, for an article to be published on this subject. My response ended up being blop material. So here it is. After I tidied it up a little!

CSR Reporting 2010 and 2011 trends

2010 has been a good year for reporting. It started well with news of a sharp increase in reports produced by the S&P 100 in 2009 93 of the 100 now reporting and by mid October, the GRI was reporting a 60% increase in reporting in 2010 versus 2009. . The PwC trends summary for 2010 shows strong advancement of a reporting culture. The success of the GRI 2010 Conference in Amsterdam and the establishment of a new GRI foothold in the USA, the continued expansion of the Carbon Disclosure Project and their new Water Disclosure Report  as well as many other other frameworks  all point to increasing focus on business transparency and reporting.  Companies are becoming more creative with reporting techniques, and using the power of the internet to reach more readers. The strong push towards Integrated Reporting and the establishment of the Integrated Committee (IIRC)  has provoked new debate, activity and even listing requirements on some stock exchanges. The focus on reporting as a feed into investment analysis tools has heightened with Sustainable Indexes continuing to have an important role, including the publication of the Global 1000 Index by CRD analytics, which powers the NASDAQ Global Sustainability Top 50.
The debate on reporting moved in 2010 from whether to report to how to report – and this includes fundamental questions about presentation of CR reports (online or print/download) , separate versus integrated and frequency of update (annual or more frequently). Whilst the talk is towards integrated, companies are not moving wholeheartedly in this direction and much work still  needs to be done to define what integrated really means and how it can be applied in a way which is better than now. Perhaps many will wait to see what guidelines and frameworks will emerge to assist them in addressing the highly complex issues that true integrated reporting poses.
Trends to watch in 2011
Non-profit reporting : We are starting to see more scrutiny of large NGO's and the understanding that as large organizations, they should be committed to transparency in spite of, or perhaps because of, their inherent social or environmental nature. The release of the GRI NGO sector supplement will probably have an influence here.
Integrated reporting : It is likely that more companies will want to get ahead of the game on integrated reporting, and will start by joining a financial report and a sustainability report in one cover. Whilst this is not true integration, some companies will go this route for many reasons, if only to be counted as leading a new phase of sustainability reporting. What we might see, however, is a greater attempt by companies to quantify the financial impact of their non-financial performance in one way or another. This is long overdue and would be a welcome development in Sustainability Reporting , even if full integration is not yet a practical option for most.
Online engagement around reporting : The drive to use reporting as a platform for interaction will gain speed in 2011. Today, only a handful of reporters (Guardian, SAP, Timberland to name a few) have really designed their reporting efforts around a more holistic view of sustainability communications and are using their report as a catalyst to engage stakeholders. As time goes by, more companies will realize that this is not only far less risky than they think, but also an inevitable feature of being a sustainability leader.
Use of social media tools to engage stakeholders in the reporting process : As online engagement becomes more widespread, companies will have no choice but to explore the possibilities of Social Media and use tools that are available on the Internet. We will see a proliferation of corporate CSR blogs, more Facebook pages and more tweets from Company accounts. Some may even take the lead from the Guardian who used their blog platform to ask stakeholders what the Guardian should be reporting on . In this way, Companies will try to engage stakeholders in the content and development of the report, rather than just gaining their reactions.
Dominant online formats: More companies will develop their online architecture to include sustainability data and use the annual reporting cycle to create order, priorities and create a structured report which is printed only in a summary form. Websites will be the domininant information carriers.
Issue based reports: We have seen an increase in sustainability reports which  are region or issue based: L'Oreal issued a report on Diversity, SAB Miller issued a report on their economic impact in South Africa, Unilever has issued a series of reports on different aspects of their sustainability initiatives, Nestle has issued a report on water management, and another on Nutrition and Diet. More companies will be looking to differentiate themselves through focused and targeted reporting on their impacts in specific regions or on specific issues.
Materiality and Engagement: These two areas are those which most companies fail to report well, and yet are key to good sustainability communication. We have seen companies start to mature into reporting on these issues. I believe better reporting on materiality and stakeholder engagement will characterize 2011 reports.
Some trends I would like to see but I doubt will materialize in 2011:
Brand based reporting for consumers: I would like to see more companies influencing consumers with their sustainability reporting, via the brands that they distribute and the customers they serve.  I would like to see some Sustainability Reports for Brands rather than global reports which mean little to local consumers or customers. I would like to see consumers being engaged at the point of sale with sustainability information contained on product packaging so that they can make the right choices as they purchase.
Employee involvement: I would like to see evidence of greater employee engagement and involvement in the reporting process. Many companies do not report on the process of their report development or use the great insights of employees in the body of the report itself. I would like to see more evidence of a CSR enabled culture in the business and its evidence in the reporting process and the report.
Outcomes: The most important change I would like to see is the move from reporting on what has been done to what a difference has been made i.e. the move from inputs, decisions, plans and actions to a real assessment of what impacts the company is making as a result of all these inputs, decisions, plans and actions. Outcomes has to be the key focus for 2011. However, I suspect that so many companies will continue to take the easy route of just listing all the good things that they have been doing and not really bothering to put in the extra effort so that we can all know whether it was worth it. This would mean considering the indirect impacts as well as the direct impacts a company has.
Localized reporting: I would like to see more global companies producing local reports describing their local impacts. When a global business reports, it is at a high level and meaningless for local stakeholders. Intel, GE, Vodafone,  Telefonica, Motorola and others have developed a leading habit of parallel reporting at local level. I hope that more global companies will do the same in 2011.
SME reporting: There are some glimmers of hope in the SME community but by and large, reporting has not been assimilated in this sector. However, as SMEs drive economies, we cannot ignore their collective impact on our societies. My firm view is that SME reporting will be largely driven by MNE requirements for reporting in their supply chain, much like the excellent initiative of Puma in the context of a GRI project or the requirements of Walmart from its first tier suppliers. I would like to see more MNE's driving this and supporting their supply chains in becoming more transparent and more sustainable.
Finally, a word about context. There is a body of thought that says sustainability reporting should be contextual, i.e. impacts which are defined in terms of their contribution to overall global sustainability rather than individual unconnected impacts of a single company. See this interview with Mark McElroy of the Centre for Sustainable Innovation. I am going to remain quiet on this for the time being till I distill my thoughts more comprehensively, but suffice it to say that beyond the additional more general contextual information shared as background to material issues reported on, I don't see many companies going this route, whatever its merits or otherwise.
So there you have it. Be prepared for an onslaught of posts, opinions and predictions of reporting trends for 2011, many of which will differ and only some of which will prove to be relevant. See you in December 2011 to check out how everyone did.

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en (Beyond Business Ltd, CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, November 12, 2010

CSR in six words

I was alerted to something fun on the internet by Kate Shopper who is omnipresent on Facebook and always posts interesting things. This time, it was Six Word Stories. I found myself smiling and amazed by how much you can actually say in six words. Like this: Surgeon drops brain. Patient loses mind. or this one: "I'll do it tomorrow". Tomorrow: ditto. or this one: Boy smiles, magician cringes: motionless rabbit. Of course, my immediate thoughts turned  to CSR stories and how we could tell them in six words. Here are a few that I came up with:

BP: Oil spill. Big mess. Bye Tony.
Telecomms: Communicate more with stakeholders. Add ARPU.
Reporting: CSR Report. Drop on foot. Hop home.
Unilever:  Dove gives self-esteem. Axe axes it.
Guardian Sustainable Business website: New site doing well. Please "like"
Food security: We nourish the planet. And ourselves.
Professor Karnani: CSR doesn't work. Rely on  government.
Aron Cramer: Sustainable Excellence. Oxymoron? I say not.
Online reporting: Sustainability Report online. Click. Click. Click.
Nike: CSR. Just do it. Pretty quickly.
Reporting: Insomnia. Read sustainability report. No insomnia.
Nestle: We love Facebook. Yeah. Right. Logoff.
Reporting: Sustainability report. 354 pages. New doorstop.
Green Activism: Protect the environment. Attack a corporation.
Pepsico: Refresh everything. Including our CSR strategy.
Human Rights: You are human. You have rights.
Gender Diversity. Advance women in business. Men gain.
Integrated reporting: One Report tells all. Who's listening?   
Sustainability rankings:  Rankings are supid.. Unless you're top.
Reporting. Online report. Printed it. Don't tell.
Banks and CSR : Financial inclusion. Overdraft. More banking profits.
Green IT:  Sleep mode. Save energy. Tweet less. 
Reporting: Online reporting. Save paper. New spectacles
CSR: CSR will save the planet. Eventually.
Sustainability: It's for the kids. Some day.
Al Gore: Inconvenient truth. Me hero. Convenient truth.
GRI: Reporting is key. Where's the keyhole?
Assurance: Assured CSR report. Assured it's boring.
Poverty: Digital divide. Donate PC's. No internet.
BOP: Poor people. Big market. Strike gold.
Elaine: Chunky Monkey. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Heaven.

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Is one-way CR reporting dead?

I like Ethical Corporation conferences. I have attended several over the years and have never been disappointed. I go to conferences to learn from practitioners and hear the latest thinking on different aspects of CSR and reporting. I feel it has been worth my time when I come away with new information and ideas and an up-to-date feel for what is going on in the CSR space. (Meeting people is fun too, of course!) I have always come away from Ethical Corp conferences with added value. (haha, at one conference,  when Cadbury's had a stand presenting their CSR Report, I also came away with about 3 kg of Dairy Milk chocolate). So later this month I am off to the Ethical Corporation Annual CSR Reporting and Communications Summit.  In fact, I have also been asked to speak at one of the conference plenaries. (I am not showing up yet on the speaker list so I will keep you in suspense as to which session I am speaking in :)  

In the opening plenary, which I am not speaking in, (well, except for a little heckling from the stalls, maybe) SABMiller, Vodafone and Marks and Spencer will be debating whether one-way CR reporting is dead. Of course, we know the answer to that. It's not. By far the majority of companies are still pushing out their CR reports in standard PDF format, and not providng platforms which engage stakeholders in a participatory dialogue.

SABMiller have a nice online sustainable development site which includes detailed performance charting in a special metrics portal, and downloadable reports including prior years reports from way back when. The Company produces several sustainability-related reports each year. One is their full annual Sustainability Report, but others are issue or region specific.This report, for example, called "Working for South Africa - the contribution of SABMiller to the South African economy" , is a thorough, transparent and fascinating look at the beer and liquor industry in South Africa, the direct and indirect impacts SABMiller is reponsible for and the multiplier effects of SAB activities in the local economy. However, getting back to the opening plenary, and one-way communciations, SABMiller are doing it two ways, with the "Views and Debates" section, in which you can find the SABMiller sustainability blog whch has been on air with a spurt since June 2010, slowing down a little in recent months, with the most recent post being from Andy Wales, head of SABMiller Sustainable Development sharing his experiences from the BSR conference.  Despite the fact that all the recent posts I looked at do not appear to have generated any engagement in the form of comments, and provided that the SABMiller blogging team can keep up the pace, this is a good platform for dialogue. It does, however, show how tough it is to maintain this kind of platform  and generate some interaction.. Anyway, I left a comment, haha, couldn't resist.

Vodafone is a master reporter having changed the game with the "We said, We have, We will" motto which has been emulated by many in various forms. Vodafone's reports are always clear, carefully crafted and focussed well on material issues. The Vodafone website doesn't have much that is  any other way than one-way, though. All their reports, including several local country reports, are available for download as PDF's. The thing that appears to come closest to interactiveness is the page on their CSR website called CR Dialogues.  Actually, though, these aren't dialogues, they are monologues - posts by non-Vodafone people expressing their opinions, with no room to comment, despite Vodafone saying they want our views.  

Marks and Spencer Plan A (Doing the Right Thing) website is nicely branded. See how they talk CSR without even mentioning the word ? Most of this site is the one-way version with nice presentation of all M&S  sustainability ... errr...oops... Plan A initiatives. However, the M&S two-way comes in the form of getting people to make promises... pledges...  so that M&S can turn customers into Plan A customers through involvement in social, personal and environmental initiatives. Each of the possible pledges are explained in an easy style, advising readers what they can do and what a difference it makes. It's good. The website shows 18,580 people have signed up with their own individual pledges. That's quite a number. Wonder how many people have kept their pledge? However, aside from pledging, there doesn't seem to be much opportunity for interactive dialogue on the M&S site.

So, there we have it. Three speakers... two with no dialogue and one possible dialogue .. talking about whether one-way reporting is dead.. Should be an interesting session .... or a very short one. Haha. However, all three companies do maintain outstanding CSR programs and consistently report  well, and I am sure what they have to say will be fascinating. I  will be interested to hear how these companies do spark dialogue around their CR initiatives in forums which are not necessarily on their online reporting site, and how they see their own company's reporting evolving. I will be interested to hear what they have tried in terms of communication with different stakeholder groups and what has worked or not. The other interesting aspect which is often debated is to what extent the CR report itself is a vehicle  for communications. Maybe the CR report is the catalyst but the communications (read: dialogue) of necessity must take place elsewhere.

If you plan to be at the Ethical Corp Annual Reporting and Communications Summit on 25th and 26th November in London UK, do let me know or come up and say hi during the conference.  I wonder if this time they will serve Chunky Monkey during the breaks :)

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness,  CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sustainability Reporting - going too far?

Have you come across a sustainability report for a brand ? I have been trying to think if I have seen anything that comes close, and I can't say I have.

One of the core aspirations of consumer brand companies is to attract and engage consumers. However, consumers don't appear to make a big effort to read sustainability reports. On the one hand, companies want to engage with their consumers, and leverage their sustainability efforts as an element of their competitive advantage. On the other hand, the wealth of sustainability information that is now available about about corporations goes over the heads of consumers. Unless there is a big deal like the BP oil spill, or the H&M discarded clothes disaster or claims of child labor in Bangladesh or wherever. Most consumers don't go out of their way to look for sustainability data and wouldn't know how to read a sustainability report if you planted it on the bridge of their nose. Sustainability reports serve a range of valuable purposes, even if they are not noticed by consumers. However, many companies produce such reports in the hope that consumers will read them and be impressed.

Why is consumer awareness of sustainabilty reports so low? Obvious. Because reports are hosted where consumers are not. When I go to a supermarket to purchase branded goods, I don't see Sustainability Reports strategically placed on the supermarket shelves. When I buy a new PC, or refrigerator, or even a new car .. purchases which require a conversation with a salesperson and therefore an opportunity to talk sustainability -  no-one shoves a sustainability report down my throat. But frankly, even if this happened, and if Kellogg's CSR Report were stacked next to the shelf of cornflakes, or each showrroom car had a Sustainability Report carefully placed on the driver's seat for all those who need to get into a car before considering whether to buy it, I am not sure consumers would take the time to read it.

Why doesn't the consumer want to read a sustainabililty report? Obvious. Because the report is about the company behind the brand, a relationship which is 2 degrees away from the consumer. What the consumer can relate to is the impacts of the specific brand that the consumer is purchaisng or about to purchase. That's why the Barcoo invention is so brilliant. It gives the consumer information in exactly the place and exactly at the time the consumer needs it. When she is making a purchasing choice. However, Barcoo sustainability information is about the company, not the brand. Only product related information such as ingredients etc is detailed by brand.

The solution? A sustainability report by BRAND. Oy. Doesn't that sound like a headache ?

The BRAND sustainability report would be part of the brand value proposition.  Maybe it doesn't have to be such a headache. There are some sustainability metrics which are brand specific and some which relate to total company. Take Jaffa Oranges. These are sold with a label showing their carbon footprint per orange. Take most consumer brands. They all have packaging. Some even have small stick-on pamphlets which contain advertising material or information about the product. What if these were to contain a mini-version of the brand's sustainability information, with a link to that brand's Sustainability Report? Many shoppers have internet access on their cellphones, iphones or ipads when they go shopping. Most  may content themselves with reading more when they get home, because the URL for the Brand Sustainability Report would be listed on the packaging. What if there were a possibility to text message feedback at the POS to the company about the brand and its sustainability proposition? Would this be used by consumers ?

How do you go about preparing a BRAND sustainability report? Pretty much in the same way you prepare a budget for the brand. Direct costs, variables, overheads. Each brand would be assigned its share of total company overheads whilst specifics such as energy use in production, packaging volumes etc would be brand specific. There are some elements of the report that would be common to all the brands owned by a specific company, such as overall community involvement programs.  I believe that it could be a feasible calculation for a company that is used to reporting on a total company basis. Take the way Intel reports, for instance. They produce their total company report and then similar local reports that follow the party line but inject  local flavor for local stakeholders. Could not this principle be used for reporting by brand?

Finally, after all this, the trillion $ question is, is it worth the effort and would  consumers really care? Would this give a sales advantage to a brand with a sustainability report (at least until the others catch up)? Would the time and effort to produce such a report far outweigh the potential benefits for all but the largest billion $ global brands ? Would the sustainability focus by brand actually create a new prism for improving sustainability performance within a company and lead to better decision making ? Or is this just taking sustainability reporting toooooooooooo far? I don't know. But I was thinking about it so I wrote it. What do you think ?

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness,   CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Monday, November 8, 2010

CSR, healthcare, nonprofit: all in one report

Yesterday saw the launch in Israel of the first Social and Environmental Reponsibility Report (in Hebrew only) of a not-for-profit healthcare organization, the second largest in Israel, Maccabi Health Services.
(Disclosure: my company, Beyond Business, supported the process and writing of this report)

The report conforms with GRI Application level B, and is the first time ever an organization of this kind in Israel has adopted a comprehensive approach to social and environmental responsibility and has reported in a transparent way, publishing probably the most revealing document ever for this organization, or indeed, any other of the healthcare organisations in this country. Maccabi defines four key areas of responsibility: public health, workplace, community and environment and the report includes summaries of stakeholder panels and feedback provided to Maccabi which assisted in determining the report content. This  represents local best practice. The report also defines future targets including a commitment by  Maccabi to report every two years. Regretfully, at this stage, the report has not been published in English but at least the 1.9 million heath-insured members of  Maccabi, the 6,413 employees and the many other local stakeholders will be able to read the report in the local language.  

In a conference to launch the report, the Maccabi CEO explained how taking a comprehensive approach to responsibility brings both internal and external benefits. In fact, the organization won the IPRA (International Public Relations Association) environmental award for its unwanted drug collection campaign , an innovative programme designed to remove an critical element of hazardous waster from our water sources and also drive environmental awareness and responsibility amongst the Israeli public. Over 1600 litres of unwanted drugs on average per month were deposited in special bins for safe disposal provided by Maccabi in the first 2 years  (2009 and 2010) of the campaign, which continues to operate throughout the country. This is a significant amount of hazardous waste which would otherwise been thrown in family garbage bins or flushed down the toilets, with potentially harmful consequences.

Aside from the focus on the report, a fascinating speaker at the conference was Johnathan Patz, professor and director, global environmental health at Wisconsin University. Johnathan ran us through an aspect of climate change which doesn't get addressed all that frequently in talks and writings about the global climate change crisis. Extreme variations in climate and weather bring about a range of adverse health related consequences - a brief summary of some of these  can be found in this section of the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Johnathan quoted a study from way back in 1996 when peak traffic was reduced so as to "clean" the air for athletes arriving for the Altlanta Olympics. At the same time, child asthma-related visits to the emergency room reduced by 42% (whereas non-asthma related visits remained the same), proving the significant immediate tangible effects of car emission pollution on health.  Johnathan also talked about the global warming impact on the spread of disease by mosquitos. As mosquitos (as all insects) are cold-blooded, their bodies take on the temperature around them. Higher temperatures advance the development of parasites that the mosquito may be carrying and therefore spead disease more rapidly. Zimbabwe, which is at high altitude and therefore cooler, has very low malaria rates as a result of this. If Zimbabwe were to get warmer, and it will,  then the mosquitos will have a field day there too. He also mentioned "environmental refugees" as another outcome of overall global warming and climate change consequences. Johnathan's solution - amongst other things - move to low-emission trsnaportation - feet, bikes, public transport etc- to reduce one million deaths per year from urban air pollution and nearly 2 million deaths per year from leading an unhealthy lifestyle resulting from, amongst other things, reliance on motor vehicles. Looping back to Maccabi Health Services, it is clear that there are also strong environmental imperatives to promote a healthy lifestyle healthcare providers should also make this connection as part of their sustainability strategy.

Overall, a good day for CSR. The leadership shown by Maccabi is to be admired and emulated. Johnathan Patz is to be commended for clearly articulating how climate change affects our health and what we can do about it.  And we should listen to both.

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness,  CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

CSR is not a sport

David Connor of Coethica, the ultimate expert in CSR, sports and SME's, wrote a post about Manchester City's recently published CSR website. You can read the post here. David got me thinking about CSR reporting in the sports world, given that Football Clubs and other sporting commercial activities are big brands and big  money and have massive social and environmental impact at national and international levels. The largest football club in terms of revenue generation in Europe is Real Madrid, with over $550 million per year, according to the Deloitte Football Money League. Even little old Newcastle united rakes in  $140 million per year.

What are material issues for football clubs? Violence on the sports field and the impact of sport on crime,  impact of big sports events on local communities around sports stadiums, the contribution of sports to national economies, the iconization of sporting heroes and impact on today's youth, sources of revenue and the diversification of football clubs into other businesses such as sourcing of fan products, financial services etc and all the sustainability implications of these, advertizing policies, environmental impacts in a range of aspects including the sustainability of sporting events, supply chain aspects of apparel sourcing for player kits and fan sales, competition for Club Membership, and more. Have I missed anything? This is just a list that springs to mind without too much thought.   

I took a closer look at what is happening in the football field (pun intended hahaha) , and as David pointed out in his blog, I didn't come up with too much. This means that there is a GREAT opportunity out there, right ?

A nice write up on the ethics of football clubs, which is a little out of date now (2008) but interesting to view as a super summary of the core issues was published on Ethical Consumer.

Manchester City
Manchester City  launched their CSR Report 2009/2010 Interactive site this year, which is a first for any football club, and is accessible right there on their home page. David Connor of Coethica says about the report " a media rich, information poor, series of pictures of children, wind turbines, disabled people and smiling employees accompanied by scattered narratives about community initiatives, but little genuine substance. There are the beginnings of thoughtful environmental stewardship but nothing fantastic to celebrate. Not quite an own goal, but definitely not ‘Premier’ in any aspect." I concurred, largely, saying "This might work well for MCFC fans and the general public who look to the internet for entertainment rather than for a serious disclosure of corporate accountabililty". CSR is not a sport and should not be treated in the same way as a Football Club hypes the hiring of new players. The core impacts of Manchester City's big football business are not addressed in their pyrotechnical sparkling and dancing report, and the fact that they have enough money to engage in carbon offsetting does not really cut to the chase. However, credit where it's due - this is one of the best demonstrations of a basic form of CSR awareness from a UK football club and hopefully will serve as platform to increase a maturity of City's approach.

Manchester United
Manchester United have some CSR-type policies on their website and a whole site about the Man U Foundation, but nothing approaching a CSR Report or comprehensive approach to sustainability as far as I could ascertain. This is a personal disappointment as I consider Man U. as my home club, having been born in Manchester and raised to believe the Reds are the Best. Not the best at managing their business sustainably, I now discover.

The Aston Villa Sustainability Report for 2010 is a nice first time report. Unfortunately, the download from their website is a 4 page executive summary which I almost dismissed as a pretend-report. Fortunately, CorporateRegister.com hosts the full report, and I must say that this is a great effort. It's a little selective, but it covers some very essential points and includes data on a range of environment and social parameters and makes concrete commitments for future sustainability performance improvements. 

In June 2010, Chelsea published their third  "CSR Report", for the 2007/2008 season. This shouldn't really be called a CSR report, it's more like a community involvement report, sharing stories and nice pictures about what Chelsea is doing in the community. Chairman Bruce Buck says "CSR is at the heart of Chelsea" bit it is not clear from the report that he or others at Chelsea really know what CSR means. Nonetheless, good community awareness and commitment. Big room for development of a CSR platform.

I couldn't find any more clubs that have a CSR policy (though many have a "Foundation" for charitable or community giving). Why does this business sector feel it is immune from the risks and opportunities that sustainability can bring ? The small glimmerings of fledgling awareness from these few clubs may be the start of a tipping point, but if so, there's a lot of work to be done in the meantime.

Thanks to David Connor and his great blog for scoring a goal with his post on this subject.

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In support of Jeffrey Hollender

I don't know Jeffrey Hollender, but I know what he stands for. In fact, lots of people know what he stands for because of the incredible job he has done over the years in propelling the green agenda through Seventh Generation, a small company with a big voice and an even bigger impact. Till now, the voice of Seventh Generation has been heard, and respected. On reading the letter to shareholders and employees by Board Chairman Peter Graham reproduced on Marc Gunther's blog, I couldn't help hearing a different voice, one for which I have far less respect.

I can't imagine what it feels like to be pushed out of the Company you founded and worked hard to build. I can imagine even less what sort of people you have to be to take a decision like that. Stephen R. Covey taught me (though he may not know it) years ago that things are not always what they seem, and as an outside observer it is clear that all the details of this unfortunate affair are not apparent to all but an inner circle. However,  I just cannot imagine what would prompt Board Members of a successful ethical groundbreaking highly praised business to kick out the founder, apparently, in a hostile and morally questionable way. If Seventh Generation were publicly traded, it is about now that I would expect stock price to plunge.

To rub salt into the wound, Seventh Generation published its fifth Sustainability Report (called Corporate Consciousness Report) just recently, following previous award winning reports. The 09 report is fully online.What a hollow ring there is now to the words of the same Peter Graham in his opening remarks: "Jeffrey remains very much a part of the Seventh Generation family in his new role as chief inspired protagonist and executive chairperson. “In the end, I am moving on, yet have no intention of going anywhere at all,” he said in announcing the change. “Indeed my own future echoes Seventh Generation’s: There is no road map for what we’re building here, and the adventure is really just beginning.”" Guess the adventure was somewhat different to the one Jeffrey envisaged.

I suspect Jeffrey Hollender is not the sort of guy to be beaten and I doubt he will disappear from the sustainability scene. In fact, I expect he will emerge from this incident stronger, more determined and probably more creative, and will continue to influence public opinion and corporate practices. First, Jeffrey, I wish you good luck! Second, I hope you will turn this to your advantage.

To the  team at the top of Seventh Generation, I say that the distance  between a successful company and a dead one is very short. All eyes will be on Seventh Generation leadership, waiting for another move which offends our sense of justice, respect and morality. If that happens, then we can truly start peparing the Seventh Generation Eulegy. In the meantime, the jury is out.  

(Thanks to Fabian Pattberg for his post on this subject, and subsequent comments by Christine Arena, who prompted me to weigh in on this issue)

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness,  CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bedbug footprint: new CSR performance indicator

An interesting article in Workforce Management about the prevalence of bedbugs in the workplace caused me to ponder about the Corporate Responsibility of businesses to ensure a bedbug free workplace.

Apparently commercial offices are beoming increasingly susceptible to bedbugs, as employees unwittingly bring bugs into the workplace from, one can assume, their own beds (or wherever they happened to sleep, I suppose. Better not ask too many questions). Bedbugs are incredibly versatile and adaptable and can infest "practically any soft surface like chairs, rugs, sofas and even cubicle dividers". This is clearly a concerning situation, which all employers should be aware of. Any business who has chairs, rugs, sofas and cubicle dividers should be on the alert. I believe it is the Corporate Responsibility of all businesses to forbid entry to bedbugs in all workplaces and refrain from complicity in bedbug workplace infestation. At this point I would like to commend Vestergaard Frandsen, an interesting business operating under its own Humanitarian Entrepreneurship business model who offers in the company's 2009 Corporate Responsibility Report  a solution to the bedbug disaster in the form of a thin layer of woven cloth impregnated with insecticide that you stick to the walls of your home, office, meeting room or cubicle, to inhibit the spread of bedbugs and other little gatecrashers. This treatment is effective for three years, at which point you should renew the sheet or start scratching.

The timing of this bedbug alert is actually quite fortuitous, as the GRI has announced their intention to work on the G4 version of the Reporting Framework, to be ready by the end of 2012. This is the perfect time to introduce a set of bedbug performance indicators. I would suggest a new section in the G4 called BB Performance Indicators. Here are my suggested indicators:

Aspect: Bedbug Demography
BB 1.  Number of bedbugs found on company premises by gender, location and source
BB 2.  Number of bedbug fatalities due to employee brutality on discovering bedbugs in their offices
BB 3.  Number of bedbugs attending Executive Leadership meetings without an invitation

Aspect: Employee Health and Safety
BB 4.  Number of employes falling sick due to bedbug bites
BB 5.  Number of bedbugs falling sick due to employee bites
BB 6.  Number of walls treated with insecticide to kill off bedbugs
BB 7.  Number of lost workdays due to employee sickness due to permanent exposure to insecticide.

Aspect: Training
BB 8:   Number of hours spent on bedbug avoidance training
BB 9.   Number of employees trained in bedbug prevention
BB 10. Number of employees complaining of having bedbugs in their offices
BB 11. Number of employee claiming discrinimation due to not having bedbugs in their offices

Aspect: Supply Chain
BB 12:  Number of suppliers trained in bedbug avoidance
BB 13:  Number of suppliers screened for bedbug free operations

Aspect: Employee Privacy
BB 14.  Number of anonymous compaints about bedbugs recieved from employees
BB 15.  If the complaints were anonymous, how do you know they were from employees?

Aspect: Environment
BB 16:  Number of bedbugs released into the atmosphere (bedbug footprint)
BB 17:  Total amount of bedbugs recycled and made into useful items such as jewellry or PC components or lunch

If every Company adopts these performance indicators in their CSR reports, we will very soon have an accurate picture of our global  bedbug footprint and measures underway to reduce it. This would open up the possibility for an annual CSR Bedbug Elimination Award. Companies who demonstrate leadership in de-bedbugging would be elligible to pay to enter a global contest to determine the Best Bedbug-Free workplace. 

Finally, I would  also recommend that the United Nations Global Compact add an eleventh principle. 
"Businesses should support and respect the protection of the internationally proclaimed human right to a bedbug free workplace and take measures to ensure a precautionary approach to bedbug avoidance". 
Hmm. Wonder why Kofi didnt think of that.

Finally finally, because bedbugs can cause significant reputational damage, it is probably best if Companies do not include this in their CSR reports unless they can confirm 100% beyond compliance with bedbug legislation. After all, not everyone understands that bedbugs are not just for beds. Just like Chunky Monkey is not just for Monkeys.

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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
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