Every so often, you come across a company whose Sustainability Reporting is inspiring because of the creativity with which they get the message through, and the consistent delivery of high quality information. It's not so often you see an engineering and construction company deliver cutting-edge reports, but in this case, I have to award Cone Trio to Larsen and Toubro.
Larsen & Toubro Limited (L&T) is a technology, engineering, construction and manufacturing company. It is one of the largest companies in India, founded in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1938 by two Danish engineers, Henning Holck-Larsen and Soren Kristian Toubro. Both of them were strongly committed to developing India's engineering capabilities to meet the demands of industry. L&T is traded on the Indian Stock Exchange and employs over 50,000 full-time employees and over 300,000 contract workers, boasting a turnover of around $13 billion.
Leading with the theme of L&T's role in building Indian society, this GRI A+ Application Level Report is one of the best first reports you can find. Peppered with charmingly written short case studies, this Report shows the human face of engineering and construction.
This was the second report in 2009
The idea here, is, you guessed it, there are some conditions to our inhabitation of the planet and use of its resources. This is how they put it at L&T:
"This planet we call home is like no other in the galaxy. No other body in 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, beautiful and bountiful world of ours has helped mankind flourish across time. It can certainly provide for us far into the future, but… conditions apply."
Each one of the company directors has their own space to make their own sustainability commitment and add perspective (this was also a feature of the first report). This is very good practice - it shows that all the leadership is committed, not just the CEO, and it makes their commitment public for both their employees and external stakeholders to see.
This report introduces a set of sustainability targets for a three year 2009-2012 period. Some are quantitative, others are more general, but the path is clear.
This was the third report in 2010
A more creative report, bolder in its messaging, bringing out the core elements of L&T's approach in the context of global changes and local challenges. Directors' messages, sustainability targets and clear, comprehensive disclosures continue to characterize L&T's reporting, showing consistency in approach and in presentation of metrics.
This is the latest report covering 2011.
This report blends continuity with another creative twist in the messaging, while remaining true to the core aspects of L&T's role in society and performance on improving impacts. Also, there is a certain maturity developing with this report, with use of case studies and visuals which are less stock and more about presenting company people and initiatives, all of which include a statement of outcome (though many of the outcomes presented are generally results - e.g. "Outcome: 200 women were provided with vocational training." This is not an outcome, this is an output, or result. The outcome is what happened to these women as a result of their having been vocationally trained.)
What's interesting is that L&T manages to achieve this performance with only 13% of female employees in 2011 - a rate which has more than doubled from the 6% in 2008, which shows progress albeit continuing underrepresentation of women. None of the executive team members are women. Think of what this company could do if it were to develop greater gender diversity :)
There are thoughts I would share with L&T for future reporting:
- It would be helpful to have a clearer picture of the "delta" - what has changed from one year to the next, new initiatives, key areas of progress. It would be nice to see this quickly, upfront, without having to read the whole report, section by section.
- I would suggest tightening up the Sustainability Targets matrix. The targets have remained the same for the 2009 - 2012 plan, but the actual progress since 2009 in each area is not clear, as in each year, only partial responses are given. For example, progress against several targets is simply "ongoing". Some of the targets themselves could be tightened up for the next 3 year period - for example, "conduct carbon footprint mapping" could be converted to a target which expresses an intent to improve footprint, not just count it. "Promote employee volunteering" could be more specific.
- Supply chain impacts are under-reported by L&T. As a massive business with probably thousands of suppliers, many in the company's home country, it would be nice to see how L&T is expanding its influence right through the supply chain and encouraging its supply base to engage in sustainability initiatives and find their own form of accountability.
- I would suggest some inclusion of external and internal stakeholder commentaries. I think this always livens up reporting and adds credibility.
- I would love to know more about what L&T are doing to encourage the advancement of women in their business. Construction and engineering may not be the most obvious choice for most women, and there are only 940 females for every 1,000 males in India, but with almost 600 million women to choose from, I am sure there must be some executive potential there somewhere which would be good for L&T's business and society in general. L&T glosses over this in their reporting, while declaring a commitment to diversity. If there's no commitment, why say there is ?
- Convert outputs to outcomes and report both. This is not as easy as it sounds, but it is a better measure of community investment effectiveness. Outputs tell you that the ladder is in place, outcomes tell you that it's standing against the right wall.
It is important for large companies to show leadership in sustainability performance and transparency. I think L&T do a good job... with some opportunity to sharpen up the impact of their reporting in future publications :)
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability 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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)