Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The first G4 Sustainability Report in the World

What appears to be the first G4 Sustainability Report in the whole wide world has been published by the City of Warsaw. Wow! Hat's off to Warsaw! That's good news. But then, that's no less that we would expect with a women at the helm! Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the Mayor of the City of Warsaw, and a former Chairwoman of the National Bank of Poland, is showing leadership and foresight in publicly declaring a commitment to sustainability.  

It's a 14-page self-declared CORE level "integrated sustainability report" covering the City of Warsaw's activities in calendar year 2012. Highlights include retrofitting of Warsaw's public buildings  at an investment of Euro 230 million, investments in renewable energy worth Euro 151 million, boosting biomass energy production, an EU co-funded water treatment facility modernization at a total investment of Euro 769 million and funding of many social, educational, health, sport and cultural activities. Significant progress has been made in fighting crime and improving road safety. Warsaw also boasts the largest percentage of LEED and BREEAM-certified new building construction in the Central and Eastern European region and a new city-wide automated bicycle rental system which is used an average of over 10,000 times per day.  
I'll use this example of a public agency report to reflect on the value of G4 reporting in the public sector. We have every right to hold governments and municipal leadership to the same high standards we expect of corporations when it comes to transparency, accountability and management of sustainability impacts. We might argue that it is even more imperative for governments and municipalities to do this, both because they should practice what they preach (if they are encouraging businesses to be more transparent, through legislation or purchasing practices, for example) but also, because governments and cities frame the business environment in which companies operate, and therefore have a primary role in determining the level of sustainability practice that is applied in their geography. So far, very few municipalities around the world have taken up this approach and very few national governments have demanded it from their local municipalities. We even tend to bypass public agencies when thinking about sustainability - we don't see them as having a primary aim of lining the pockets of shareholders and consequently plagued by an inherent conflict between profit and public good, as private corporations tend to be regarded. Yet, legislators at national and local levels have a massive opportunity to drive increased sustainability awareness and practice at so many different levels. Why would we not expect them to lead the way?

That's the context in which we should consider the Warsaw report. It delivers many important messages both with what's written and with what's not written.

First, it advances trust. This report earns my trust. It appears to be authentic in reflecting the city leadership's desire to make sustainable progress and improve quality of life. It's written in plain, simple language, as though you were speaking to one of the city officials. It's to the point, nothing more than the minimum, but it covers some important aspects of sustainable municipal operations. No report is easy to write, and I suspect there have been many hours of discussion and deliberation in the production of this one.
Second, it's transparent, up to a point, and as a first report, it's a major breakthrough. If every city produced a report just like this, I believe our world would be an entirely more positive place.
Third, it demonstrates leadership. The City of Warsaw is one of the few cities to deliver this kind of report. Even the choice to adopt G4 is the demonstration of a desire to lead an approach which is considered to be best practice and an example and inspiration for all.
Fourth, it's there. I always say that 80% of something is better than 100% of nothing. Whether this report is 80% or any %, it's out there. And for that, I give Mayor Hanna and the City of Warsaw a massive triple CSR-Reporting Blog ice-cream cone award.

The City of Warsaw's timing is fortuitous. It's due to host the UN climate Change Conference (COP 19) in November 2013. No doubt, the City's first G4 Integrated Sustainability Report will soon be appearing on the COP19 website!
The less good news is that the report doesn't quite match up to the great hopes we all have for Next Generation Sustainability Reporting. It's easy to work through this report and say what's wrong about it. We could assert that the report takes a tick-box G3 approach, responding to all indicators in turn, often inadequately, indicating some lack of understanding of the scope and breadth required by G4 reporting, making reference to some of disclosures which are incomplete and sometimes unclear. We could refer to the lack of process demonstrated in determining materiality or to parts of the content which appear to be more about marketing the City's services than about reporting specific sustainability impacts. We could create quite a list of suggestions for improvement.

For example, I would like to see the City of Warsaw continuing to deliver an annual Sustainability Report and doing so with increased  evidence of process and depth. I would like to see more substance to the selection of material issues and a report structure which give these issues more presence in the way that G4 intends, with Disclosures on Management Approach which are more balanced and comprehensive. I would like to see data presented with greater clarity and consistency. Ultimately, I would like to see a report that is self-declared by the City to be G4 CORE to actually be G4 CORE. This one is not, on several levels, and that's rather a shame.

Any organization that delivers a report that claims to be In Accordance with G4 carries a great responsibility to deliver on that promise. In general, misrepresentation of the GRI Reporting guidelines does a disservice to all of us in the reporting world. We saw many abuses of the GRI G3 Reporting Framework and many claims of G3 reports that, when you took the time to look, were not actually G3 reports at all. G4 is an opportunity to use the framework well and represent it with accuracy and integrity. The appeal of being the "first G4 report in the world" or even "any G4 report in the world" should not be at the expense of delivering an accurate, balanced G4 report that matches up to its own product label claim.

I hope this report from Warsaw will be viewed and used by a wide range of stakeholders and perhaps most importantly, the ones who are most directly affected - the city's population. The efforts of the Warsaw municipality to be transparent are an invitation to the people of Warsaw to provide their feedback and input. Additionally, with the European Commission now driving legislation that will require corporations in Europe to report on sustainability, many other cities in the European Union will be well advised to follow Warsaw's lead and set an example to businesses in their areas that will be obliged to produce some form of transparent reporting in the future.

Warsaw is on the right track. Now they need to maintain the pace, drive up their game and leverage the opportunities that sustainability, accountability and transparency will inevitably bring to the ninth largest city in Europe and the capital of Poland.
elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: The Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting AND 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)


Unknown said...

100% full agree with your comments….this is only a very good intentioned checklist rather than a sustainability process report.

Anonymous said...

On behalf of all those involved, thank you for taking the time to read and comment - we very much appreciate the input and encouragement!

We agree there is tremendous value in public sector entities adopting sustainability reporting. As far as our decision to keep this report (both the Polish and English language versions) as concise as possible, it was motivated by our ultimate goal of making environmental, societal, economic, governance, and financial indicators easily accessible to the average busy citizen or visitor. Further details and discussion of processes are provided in the documents and websites linked to the report. Since reporting is an iterative and consultative process with stakeholders, we fully anticipate that subsequent reports will evolve. Thank you again very much for your feedback and for being supportive of what will hopefully become a more common practice in public sector governance.

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