One of the biggest issues, I believe, in GRI-based reporting is that of comparability, which is the ability to compare performance across companies. Included in the ambitious vision of the GRI was the aspiration to become a platform to enable company and sector comparisons of key sustainability performance metrics. Whilst on a broad scale, some degree of comparability is possible with companies who report with a high level of transparency, there still remain vast gaps in the quality of reporting against individual indicators. Because the GRI check is limited only to a sampling of indicators reported, these gaps are not necessarily picked up by the GRI application level check.
To explain how this shows up in different reports, I took a look at Performance Indicator EN22 which is all about something we all create (ha-ha some more than others): waste. The GRI indicator requests details of hazardous and non-hazardous waste created by the organization's operations by disposal method, reported in tonnes. Companies are asked not only to detail what they waste but also what they do with their waste. This is as important to the financial sustainability of the company (waste is money) as it is to the sustainability of our environment. It sounds like a fairly simple thing to report, right ? Well, perhaps not.
First report from this company, published in 2011, GRI Application Level B GRI Checked. This company has published a printed report summary. The GRI index appears online only. Indicator EN22 is noted as fully reported. In the summary report, we learn that Arizona generated approximately 2.5 million pounds of hazardous waste in the USA in 2009 and less than 10 million pounds in Europe. Over 98% of hazardous waste is sent for off-site incineration and the remaining waste at 2% is landfilled or recycled as required by law. Solid waste, which is not hazardous, is landfilled (80%), incinerated (13%) and recycled (3%). And that's it. Total amount of waste is not reported, I have to really search for the relevant data and also do some number-crunching to understand their hazardous waste levels in tonnes, and frankly, I really have no idea exactly how much this company is sending to landfill each year. EN22 is not reported in full.
GRI Application Level A+, third party checked and GRI Checked. This report is an annual report which also confirms to GRI A+ Application Level. The GRI Index is a PDF which has to be downloaded separately and not part of the printed report. Indicator EN22 is noted as fully reported. In the printed report, we learn that Hoffman La Roche generates waste to landfill (inert waste 1,226 tons; construction waste, 14,900 tons; reactor waste 7,208 tons) and separately we are told that the organization generates 27,249 tonnes of general waste and 29,020 tonnes of chemical waste. Now, it gets more complicated. The PDF download GRI Index also has embedded downloads, such as this one one the subject of waste. In this third download, we are told that 95% of chemical waste was incinerated and the rest was landfilled. Then there's this: In addition, 4279 metric tons of residual substances could be sold as valorised socondary products. Another 16,369 metric tons consisting of mainly solvents were recycled. As regards general waste, 19% of the 27,429 metric tons noted above were incinerated and the rest landfilled. 14,900 tons of this was rubbish from demolished buildings. In addition, 92,141 metric tons of residual materials were recycled. So, by this time, I am totally confused. Is Hoffman's total waste 1,226 PLUS 14,900 PLUS 7,208 PLUS 29,020 PLUS 4,279 PLUS 16,360 PLUS 27,429 PLUS 92,141 =192,563 tonnes ? How much of this total waste, whatever total means, is hazardous ? The report does not distinguish between hazardous and non hazardous. In addition to having to download three documents, try to make sense of non-sensical figures and add everything up myself, I still remain perplexed as to the total waste levels of this company, despite their pride at having reduced waste levels, so they say, during the past five years. Here we have an A+ report checked by two separate external parties, and I can't even get a simple figure such as total waste. EN22 is not reported in full.
This is an Application B+ level report, checked by the GRI. In this report, the GRI Index is part of the report (whew!) and EN22 is noted as fully reported. And lo and behold! We have data. See this:
Here we have clear reporting. Hazardous and Non-Hazardous waste separately recorded, split by type and tonnage. Great. Now, where did all those millions of tonnes of waste end up? Oops. Who knows? This is not reported, as far as I can tell. So, all in all, whilst I have a much easier time getting to clear numbers about waste generation, I still do not know how the Company manages waste disposal and Indicator EN22 is not fully reported.
How should Companies report this indicator?in conformance with EN22 performance indicator. At a glance, we know how much waste, the split between hazardous and non-hazardous, and what happened to it. Well done Vestas!
So, at least there may be light at the end of the tunnel, as one out of four reports I randomly reviewed appears to be able to get it right. As I often say, the GRI guidelines are good. The problem we have is adherence to the GRI guidelines in a rigourous way. Despite checks and verifications, comparability evades us because reporting companies are not applying the correct degree of rigour in their reporting. What's worse, they are telling us that they are. In the meantime, therefore, let's not add to overall waste levels by making reporting waste a waste of time, as time, as we all know, is one of the most valuable non-renewable resources of all.
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)