Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Reporting by association

Another trend we can see building momentum in susty reporting these days is the number of industry associations that report on sustainability. Industry sector reports are a fascinating breed. They are a sort of publication du jour for these associations, offering them a fun marketing ride on the back of sustainability. At one level, the industry association's purpose is to promote the sector - that's what members pay them to do - so inevitably sector reports are good great news and marketing oriented.  At another level, their reports address the collective sustainability challenges that sectors face and therefore may loosely be described as some kind of sustainability report. By and large, they tend more toward the marketing end than the reporting end, but they are often nice publications which can give you a good overview of the material issues in a particular sector and the general approach being taken to address such issues. They also help you to become familiar with the sustainability jargon of the sector. Great for jargon geeks.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) published a 2010 Sustainability Report, its second, in which it highlights how the "consumer electronics industry is acting boldly and continuing to raise the bar in addressing environmental and societal challenges." (No surprises so far, right?).  The CEA promotes growth in the $170 million U.S. consumer electronics industry through its 2,000 members and the report includes data and case studies from published fiscal year 2009 sustainability reports for the 10 largest companies in CEA membership from a global revenue perspective (Dell, HP, LG Corp.,Microsoft, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba). Well worth a look to get a quick view of the nitty-gritty issues for this sector. And as for jargon, the CEA has an eCycling initiative, sales growth of EPEAT products, green lubricants for shredders, the green grid, power islands and more.  

Another mine of interesting information (if you're a beef geek) is the National Cattlemen's Beef Association  (NCBA) who recently published the Cattlemen's Stewardship Review, which as far as I can tell is their first.  It is dedicated to "the nearly 1 million U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers who work hard every day to raise good food, keep their animals healthy, protect the land and environment and build strong communities". An interesting fact is that 97% of all cattle ranches are family owned -  we tend to think of beef as a highly commercialized industry but when you get down to where it all comes from, its about good people trying to make a  sustainable living with "cattle-raising traditions passed from generation to generation". More than 10% of cattle farmers and ranchers are women :). The U.S. Beef industry produces 20% of the world's beef with only 7% the cattle. For the health-minded, you can also learn that a sirloin steak has 34% less total  fat today than it did in 1963. The report is a nice overview of the beef industry and the key sustainability issues relating to beef life-cycle, animal care, educating consumers about beef and healthy diets, antibiotics use and disease, and environmental aspects such as use of land and water, managing manure though methane emissions from cattle are barely referenced. And for the jargoneers, BQA , the Code for Cattle Care, beef fabrication innovation opportunities, retail meat case knowledge, beef shoulder clod, the DASH diet and more should enrich your vocabulary. 

My final example today is where green turns to yellow, or vice versa, with the Yellow Pages Association's first Sustainability Report. The YPA is the "largest trade organization of a print and digital media industry valued at more than $31 billion worldwide" and it's report is a 16 pager, which goes straight to the jugular of the YPA's main business to consider the Life Cycle Assessment of a Telephone Directory (what's one of those, remind me?) though disappointingly, the report does not reveal any data from a directory LCA assessment that the was conducted by the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI). The key conclusions are that the main components of a Telephone Directory Life-Cycle are paper production, printing,  and end of life management (interestingly, distribution is not mentioned). But this is report is flimsy and not terribly informative and closer to the bon ton marketing brochure which any self-respecting trade association cannot now be without. Jargon lovers will enjoy consumer search habits, recovery rate of directories, coldset ink, ZIP code, waste paper landfill leachate and more.  

Despite Sector Sustainability Reports being interesting, they provide only a very shallow and high level view of what's happening in an industry sector. Indeed, this is one type of report that the GRI framework accommodates less well. Often the direct impacts of the Association itself are limited. The power of an Association is in the leverage of its membership and its ability to influence new directions. I think this is an something that could benefit from a GRI sector supplement to help address the different ways Industry Associations could report more effectively on sustainability.

In the meantime, I wonder if the Global Ice-Cream Manufacturers' Association will be publishing a Sustainability Report this year? Free ice cream for everyone who reads it ?

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


Reana Rossouw said...

Thanks for this interesting article. I was just looking at the World Steel Sustainability Report.
Another very interesting concept is that some producers of Steel (i.e. Sinosteel) is now also producing country specific reports (i.e. Sinosteel Africa Sustainability Report).
I believe the greatest value these industry based sustainability reports deliver is that they could actualy assist their members in identifying the most material issues and of course with benchmarking.
However, one would expect to see greater coherence with regard to targets and performance. The members of these associations should use these reports to firstly benchmark themselves against industry standards and secondly for possible collaborative efforts to address industry based challenges, issues and solutions pertaining to critical sustainability issues. Therefore these industry based sustainability reports could potentially become important.
I look forward to that - however it seems as your article rightly mention this could only materialise if these industries take responsibility for their collective impact and therefore own up to their responsibilities.

Mehrdad Nazari said...

Thanks for your review, Elaine. An outstanding industry association report which deserves to be mentioned is from the International Council on Mining and Metals - better known to sector insiders as ICMM ( I blogged about it here:

elaine said...

hi reana, thanks so much for your comment. Country specific reports are produced by many companies and i have often said that I believe this shoudl be more widespread. I will take a look at Sinosteel africa, thanks for the pointer.

elaine said...

hi mehrdad, yes, I recall seeing your blog now that you mention it. Another great example, thanks for reminding me

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