Monday, March 25, 2013

What's your perspective on reporting?

What's your perspective on:
  • The current state of sustainability reporting?
  • The number of material issues that a company should report on?
  • The quality of assurance processes?
  • The credibility of sustainability reporting?
  • The way reporting has evolved over the past few years?
  • Voluntary versus mandatory reporting?
  • Global versus local reporting?
  • Whether the GRI is a good reporting framework?
  • Whether G4 will make things better or worse?
  • Integrated reporting?
  • The target audience for sustainability reports?
  • The frequency of reporting and ESG disclosure?
  • Who should provide sustainability report assurance services?
  • And more...
Have you got perspectives on all of the above? Because, if you haven't, the new global CR Perspectives survey brought to you by will help you develop some. And not only that, after presentation of the survey at a big-splash event on 29th April in London, at which time the results of CRRA '13 will be announced, you will be able to  get a free copy of the entire survey results. And by that time, if you haven't developed some perspectives of your own, you can borrow someone else's!
CR Perspectives is a global survey about my favorite subject: sustainability reporting. And it's happening just at the right time, as sustainability reporting is in a state of flux and promises to be even more flux-ish during 2013. The survey is structured around three recurring themes of  the approach: Content, Communications, Credibility.

The planned launch of the new generation GRI Framework "G4" in May has raised some heated debate, based on the exposure draft which was published last summer. There are those who say it's going to frighten off reporters. "Unfortunately, in our estimation, if the G4 Guidelines were implemented as currently drafted, undue complexity and reporting burden would be the order of the day." That's a quote from Aleksandra Dobkowski-Joy, a voice which counts in the world of sustainability. On the other hand, Dwayne Baraka, of the influential BITC in the UK, says, "I think that on balance the changes are a step in the right direction."   And summary discussions from G4 workshops in Australia gave the following perspective: "The overall impression was that the proposed changes to the reporting framework were ambitious, optimistic and a leadership challenge for organisations. It was also perceived that the changes represented considerable barriers for smaller organisations ...." With just two months to go until all is revealed, what's your perspective?

Integrated Reporting is also chugging along and is a concept which splits the reporting world.  You can provide your input to the IIRC Consultation Draft until mid July this year and take a look at some examples of how companies are approaching Integrated Reporting.  There are some who say it's all a big puff of hot air and it will make very little difference to the way we evaluate and respond to corporations. See this comment from Lorraine Smith of SustainAbility: "If the desired effect of reporting is to enable change, then, it would seem the jury is still out as to whether integrated reporting will accelerate change or merely rephrase the degree to which change has (or hasn’t) taken place." On the other hand, there are those who say integrated is the only way to go. Read this, from the Global Accounting Alliance. "When authentically implemented, integrated reporting offers measurable bottom line returns and ‘future-proofs’ companies."  Ahemmm. Please wait till I pick myself up from the floor. What's your perspective?

I believe the jury is still out on whether assurance has helped assure stakeholders of reporting credibility. First, the uptake of assurance is still low, and the quality of assurance varies. Many of the false claims in sustainability reports are actually found in reports that have been assured by an independent third party. Is it time to abandon assurance in favor of a new system? At UPS, they love assurance. But that's mainly for its internal benefits. Joss Tantram goes even further, saying: "I have tended to believe that a report without an independent assurance statement is not worth the paper that it is printed on." Ahemmmm. Picking myself up from the floor once again. Does assurance assure? I am not so convinced. What's your perspective?

Then there is the whole debate about single one-document reports (either printed or downloadable as a PDF) versus web-based reports which get updated more frequently than once a year. Should companies move to quarterly reporting a la Timberland? Or is more frequent reporting "inherently unsustainable" .. a "hamster wheel which never stops spinning"... at the prominent CSR commentator Mallen Baker argues. Well, I have a perspective on that. Hint. If sustainability is a long term thing, why would I get all excited about quarterly reporting? What's your perspective?

What is the best framework for Sustainability Reporting? ISO26000, although not a reporting framework, and not a certification standard, is now being adapted to provide structure for sustainability reports. BT indexes its Better Future Reporting against the ISO26000 framework. The UN Global Compact has been ramping up its Communication on Progress frameworks over the past few years, providing differentiation and proprietary criteria for reporting against the UNGC Leadership Blueprint.  While there are attempts at alignment, there are substantial differences in approach. What framework really offers best value for stakeholders? Or do we need to go back to the drawing board and, with the benefit of hindsight, start all over again? What's your perspective?

Anyway, that's just a taster. I am very interested to see everyone's perspectives, so I welcome this survey, which I have already completed, adding my perspective, and I hope there will be a massive response so that we get a collective perspective which may help influence how reporting continues to evolve.

Help create a balanced perspective. Add YOUR perspective! Complete the survey here.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via   or via my business website  (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

1 comment:

Joss Tantram said...

Dear Elaine,

Just a quick note on your fantastic fly-past on issues of external assurance and its worthiness.

My apologies for flooring you with the following assertion:
"I have tended to believe that a report without an independent assurance statement is not worth the paper that it is printed on."

The statement did though have some rather significant qualification in my original piece through the following sentence:

"However, it is also possible to have an independent statement which tells the reader so little that it is almost equally worthless!"

I entirely agree that many assurance statements can have very little utility in practice, either for reporting companies or for readers/ stakeholders.
Nevertheless, companies which understand the developmental value in in-depth assurance, especially those using AA1000AS could be party to the production of statements which do have manifest value.

In addition, and beyond the “Assurance Statement” industry, we are starting to see some company reports without a formal statement but have started to take us towards a “comply or explain” approach – for instance the recent CRRA13 overall report winner, Nike.

Assurance is in danger of becoming all about (minimal) process and not about utility or outcomes – for companies or readers – creativity and innovation is undoubtedly required but it will be essential to maintain a focus upon the ultimate purpose of assurance – it is a mechanism for trust and truth. If it becomes a mechanism for box ticking than we will have lost something vital!

Best regards,


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