Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dr. Sustainability is BACK!

Dr. Sustainability is back in town, and as always, she is delighted to answer CSR Reporting Blog reader questions.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: How can you tell if a materiality analysis is genuine or if it was written on the back of an envelope over a beer in the pub?
Dear Alcoholic: If it was written on the back of an envelope over a beer in the pub, it's probably more genuine than most of the ones that weren't.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: What sustainability conferences have you attended recently and what conferences do you recommend?
Dear Curious: I have almost been attending loads of fantastic conferences. A couple of months ago, I was at the Climate Change Deniers Annual Conference. I denied that you can deny climate change and they kicked me out. Then I was at the We Love Reporting Annual Conference. The attendees were all wackos and weirdos so I left early. I mean, you have to be a wacko or a weirdo to love reporting. Last month I was at the Sustainability is an Imperative or We Will Perish Annual Conference. That was so depressing I am still taking valium. The best conference I almost attended was the Sustainable Ice Cream Conference in Vermont, where I was hoping that Ben and Jerry's would be distributing free fair-trade organic ice cream. When I realized that ice cream was not on the menu, I decided to stay home.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: A funny thing happened to me last month. I was finishing up our sustainability report and just as I was about to complete the GRI Content Index, I got an incredible pain that started in my head and traveled all the way down to my feet. Do you think there is any connection between the pain and the GRI Index?
Dear Painful: Yes, I have recommended for years now that GRI Reporting should come with a health-warning. You are apparently one of the lucky ones. Many of my friends and colleagues are now gazing mournfully out of a sanatorium window, unable to recognize their mothers and throwing objects at passing nurses. When you say hello to them, all they can respond is "DMA.... DMA... DMA... page... DMA... G4-21... Page...." and they carry on like that for hours. I think it has gotten a little worse with G4. Now they are mumbling "material Aspects ...... material Aspects ...... material Aspects ...... material Aspects...... material Aspects...."

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I have been reporting for years and now my company has decided to do G4 and wants a materiality matrix. Where on earth can I get a matrix?
Dear Experienced Reporter: The best matrix I have found is The Matrix. You can get it on iTunes. Called "The Most Eye-Popping and Imaginative Movie of the Year", the Matrix will be much more fun than the boring squares and arches of most of the materiality matrices you find in regular reports.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Can you please advise how I should deal with our chief legal officer who insists on reading our Sustainability Report before it is published. That's never happened before. What should I do?
Dear Backache: The fact that your chief legal officer wants to read the report before it is published is a real disaster. Typically, legal folks see a court case in anything. They can't read a sustainability report without a big pair of scissors and an extra-extra-large delete button. After your chief legal officer has done his thing, you will be left with a cover page, a back-cover, a few nice photos and about two pages of narrative describing improvements in your environmental performance and increases in community donations. Hmmm. I guess that will make your report look quite consistent with most of the reports that have been published in the last ten years. Maybe it's not such a disaster after all.   

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We have heard that stakeholder engagement is all the rage these days and at our company we have decided to get some, although we don't really want to. What's the best way to engage hundreds of stakeholders at lowest cost without them really having an influence on what we do? We want to be able to say we have engaged without really engaging.
Dear Engagement: That's such an easy question. I have the perfect solution. SurveyMonkey. Just send out your questionnaire to thousands of anonymous people (you can call them stakeholders if you like, most people don't know the difference). Even better, you can send out your survey to loads of consultants and ask them for their professional opinion for free. If you really want people to engage, promise them that you will donate $0.05 to a charity of their choice for every completed questionnaire. While the quality of feedback you will receive from 437 completed questionnaires will be totally irrelevant to your sustainability strategy and will not be useful in defining material issues, you will be able to tick the stakeholder engagement box with a REALLY BIG TICK. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I have been reading loads of G4 reports and before I go totally cross-eyed, I was wondering if i am missing something. They all look like G3 reports.
Dear Puzzled: I can recommend you start with Elaine Cohen's G4 Game Changer Series. In this series, expert GRI report-writer and commentator, Elaine Cohen, analyses the differences between G3 and G4 reports of different companies. This cutting-edge analysis will lead you to the same conclusion. G4 reports, so far, are looking pretty much the same as G3 reports. Now you don't need to go totally cross-eyed. Unless you want to.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: How can I make more people read our Sustainability Report?
Dear PeoplePerson: Give your report a new title. Call it: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We are having a real problem with gender balance in our company. As much as we try to recruit and promote women, it never works.They all have children that get sick, and they can never work overtime. They decorate their offices with pretty pictures of their kids and family pets, instead of our company values posters, and they are so OTT about multi-tasking that everything gets done without anyone noticing. Our CEO wants to show at least 30% women in management in our Sustainability Report (currently the actual is 0.43%). What can we do? 
Dear GenderBender: Look, there appears to be no hope in your company. There are two options. Kick out all the women and make it a male-only company. While this is illegal and immoral, your company will soon go down the tubes before you have a chance to face the court cases and pay the fines. The second option is to make your workplace more women-friendly. Offer all males over the age of 27 free sex-change operations and fire those who don't take up the offer.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that there is a new trend in sustainability reporting called unsustainability unreporting. What do you think about that?
Dear PeoplePerson:   I have always been in favor of telling it like it is.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, 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 www.twitter.com/elainecohen   or via my business website www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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