Thursday, December 11, 2014

Belgium: 16 first-time G4 reports

How easy is it to start your reporting journey with a G4 report? If you have never reported ever ever in the past, going straight to G4 could be a good approach, enabling you to cut to the chase and avoid the trial and error of ten to twenty years of reporting experience of thousands of companies. Going straight to G4 could enable first-time reporters to deliver focused reports, unburdened by prior reporting history. On the other hand, maybe G4 is more challenging than just another join-the-dots exercise and first-timers might not really get the value out of what it all really means. I decided to try and find out.

The GRI Sustainability Disclosure Database at around mid-December shows 92 first-time reporters who used G4 for their first report - 11 published in 2013 and 81 published in 2014. These first-time reporters came from 30 countries with Belgium in winning position way out in front with 16 first-time reports in accordance with G4. The U.S. delivered 8 first-time G4 reports, Columbia and Germany produced 6, and Spain, 5. All other countries produced 4 or fewer first-time reporters using G4.

In terms of sectors, there is a broad range and surprisingly, the non-profit sector delivered the highest number of first-time G4 reports with 8, but the construction sector delivered 7 reports while the construction materials sector delivered 5, so that's 12 reports with something to do with construction. The energy and real estate sectors each delivered 6 reports, and all the rest, 4 or fewer.

Naturally, I wondered how they all are doing it. Join me for the tour.

I thought we would start with Belgium, seeing that G4 for first-time reports appears at first glance to have become popular to the level of cult. 16 out of the 23 G4 reports published in Belgium in 2014 were first-timers. But only because someone had a big vision with cash support behind it. The visionary, as far as I can tell, was the European Social Fund (ESF) with an aim to drive the creation of sector "CSR passports" that would define the specific CSR challenges and issues facing companies in Belgium in each sector, and select 15 - 20 performance indicators especially relevant to each sector. Grants were awarded to consulting firms to work with sector organizations and individual companies to develop this set of issues and refine the CSR Passportד. The work involved companies in the relevant sectors publishing first Sustainability Reports using G4 guidelines. The horticulture and construction sectors came first, and several others are planned to follow. There are also some non-profit organizations that were funded as well. Sort of a Belgian SASB -style initiative, and a really great one at that. It's a very practical approach - develop a deeper understanding of what's important while actually delivering report outputs. Maybe that's a better way than just defining standards - maybe the standards should be defined through the reporting process and not separate from it. But that's another discussion. What I have stumbled on, quite by chance, in Belgium, is a really fabulous initiative that has brought many small companies onto the sustainability and reporting map. Of the 16 first time G4 reporters in Belgium, 15 appear to have been funded through European Social Fund (ESF). I have split them in to three sections for the purpose of this review.

First off, we have 7 out of the 16 first-timer Belgian reports that are simple, no-frills self-declared G4 core reports. You can find them on the GRI Sustainability Disclosure Database. All reports were supported by a Belgian consultancy called Kreski in a fully-funded project of EDUplus, the Belgian agency of European Social Fund (ESF) within the context of the CSR Passport project. All reports are prepared in word format, and follow the G4 guidelines in the most basic way, providing responses to the disclosure requirements and providing the data as required. Material Aspects, for example, are not separately listed - the way to know what's material is to check what's reported in the GRI Content Index. While all these reports are rather elementary, and possibly-don't-or-just-about meet the requirements for G4 reports, the idea is great and it's inspiring to see the willingness of these small companies to participate in this project. Some reports are more detailed than others, but all follow a simple flow and deliver a minimal but credible and admirable level of transparency for a group of mainly small companies, most of which are still owned by their founders or families of the founders. Of course, as it was fully-funded, it didn't cost them money... but it did require time, effort, thought and a willingness to disclose. I hope this process was energizing for the companies involved and that reporting won't be just a flash in the pan. Now the basis is created, perhaps the second report may be easier to develop.

The 7 reports in this bunch are from companies in the agriculture, textiles and construction sectors:

Alsico Group: Alsico is a third-generation run workwear clothing company founded in 1934. Currently it employees around 4,000 people and has a turnover of around Euro 170 million. This is a 37 page report covering 14 performance indicators.

Berry Alloc: Berry Alloc is a floor and wall covering company making laminates, parquets, vinyl planks and wall panels. The company is part of the Beaulieu International Group and has around 134 employees with plants in 3 countries. This is a 46 page report covering 18 performance indicators.

Fruitbedrijf Cocquyt: This is a fourth-generation run family-owned fruit producng firm founded in the 1920s, specializing in apples, pears and cherries. Thee are 10 permanent employees, supplemented by up to 70 seasonal workers. This is a 6 page report covering 17 performance indicators.

Decospan: Decospan  a wood veneer processing company with 122 employees, family owned, founded in 1978. The company is headquartered in Belgium and has subsidiaries in 8 countries in Europe. This is a 51 page report covering 23 performance indicators and a little more substantial in terms of scope and narrative that the others in this bunch.

Elanco:  Elanco is a family firm of around 70 employees founded in 1948. The company makes work clothing, specializing in uniform shirts and blouses. This is a 6 page report covering 16 performance indicators.

TomatoMasters: This is a tomato grower, the third largest in Flanders, privately owned, founded in 2012 based on a tradition of tomato growing since 1981.  Tomato Masters has 30 employees, supplemented by seasonal workers. This is a 23 page report covering 21 performance indicators.

Van Heurck NV: A private company, manufacturer of protective workwear, founded in 1920, witha 2013 turnover of Ruro 4 million, and 307 employees (of which 91% are women). This is a 14 page report covering 25 performance indicators.

While these reports are all commendable, and possibly a good way to jump-start a reporting process, the proof of their value will be in the second reports of these companies, and potentially a visible shift in approach and integration of sustainability themes into these businesses. At this point, it looks like we have reports, but not transformation. However, so far, an impressive initiative.

Next, in addition to the two construction sector reports already mentioned above, we have 5 reports from the construction sector that bring us to a total of 12 of the 16 first-time G4 reports from Belgium. These reports are generally offer more depth and evidence of a deeper connection to sustainability practice. These reports were supported by the Belgian Federation of the Concrete Industry as a key sector influencer and player, and all reports describe stakeholder consultation with other association players in the concrete industry that has led to a definition of material issues for each.  While each report is different, they all tend to follow the G4 guidelines in an orderly way, focusing primarily on direct economic, social and environmental impacts. This is good basic reporting and it is inspiring to see such a range of fairly small companies get engaged with sustainability reporting, each in its own way within a specific sector and project context. These five construction sector CSR Passport participants are:

Dak Plus: This is a family run firm with six employees, engaged in providing roofing solutions.  This is a 62 page report, but the reason it is so long is the inclusion of around 30 pages of detailed finances including budget lines for three years. Total - radical - transparency, but maybe just a little too total. This report was was partially assured (three indicators). 12 performance indicators support the stated material issues which are defined in a materiality matrix after discussion with external stakeholders.

This looks like a nice report - my Dutch is not so great so I didn't make the effort to read it all - but it looks as though it would be quite interesting to read as it seems that this company gets what sustainability is all about. It's an impressive report for such a small outfit. It's also pleasantly designed. The plan is to report every 2 years. Let's hope Dak Plus manages to achieve this.

Kerkstoel Group: This is a family-owned concern in the construction industry which brings together a number of companies under one holding, with a total of 131 employees. The report is 36 pages and states 15 material issues and reports against 25 performance indicators.

O Beton: O Beton is a privately owned company founded in 2012 and run by its two partners. O Beton employs 16 people. This is a short G4 report of 29 well-spaced pages, defining 13 material Aspects and reporting against 19 performance indicators.

Stradus Infra: This is a manufacturer of precast concrete and customized products for public places. The company employs 271 people and is part of the international diversified building materials group, CRH.  A sustainability approach seems to be reasonably well-embedded at Stradus Infra. For example, by the end of 2014 the company plans to manufacture all its products using self-generated renewable wind and solar energy. This is a solid report of 55 pages, defining 14 material Aspects and reporting against 26 performance indicators.

By the way, I love the title of this report - even if my Dutch is not that great, it has a certain ring to it.

Wycor nv: Wycor is a maker of joinery and building finishing materials for renovation, and internal and exterior finishing. The company is a limited company owned by private investors, and employs 220 people. This is a word-format report of 64 pages, defining 16 material Aspects (of which 6 are most material) and reporting against 16 performance indicators of which two are from the Construction Sector Supplement. Three performance indicator disclosures were externally assured. A materiality matrix is presented:

I didn't take the time here to see if I could guess from these reports what might be the content of the Belgian Construction Sector CSR Passport, but with such a great collection of disclosures and dialogue within the sector, I am sure this will make for a great addition to the body of sustainability knowledge and practice.

Three more ESF-supported first-time G4 reporters from Belgium in 2014 are from the non-profit sector. These are:

Amival: Amival (Labor for the disabled) was founded in 1964 as a non-profit organization with an aim to help create meaningful and rewarding employment for people with disabilities. The organization maintains several workshops where employees with disabilities can work and deliver a useful output for society while gaining skills and self-respect. The work centers around packaging, assembly and dis-assembly of electronic products, preparing promotional items and much more. The company - a "protected workplace" - has 70 employees that support the provision of work for 400 employees with disabilities. This is an 82 page report, identifying 14 material Aspects and reporting against 16 G4 performance indicators and one other called "extra" as a self-defined performance metric. A fabulous organization and a nicely laid out report.

Bewel: Bewel is another non-profit organization that supports the creation of job opportunities for people with disabilities. The work here includes silkscreen printing, textile conditioning, packaging work, cleanroom work for medical supplies and gardening and landscape maintenance work. Bewel has 10 centers in the Limburg area of Belgium, with an employee headcount of more than 1,900, making Bewel one of the largest employees in the Limburg area. This is a 51 page report, identifying 20 material Aspects and reporting against 29 G4 performance indicators and two others called "extra" as self-defined performance metrics. This looks like a well written report with some super photos of Bewel employees.

DeWinning: De Winning is the umbrella organization for 4 non-profit organizations that share a mission to support the professional integration of individuals who encounter difficulties in entering the labor market. The group provides employment projects including vocational training, social enterprise experience and career guidance and support. Different practical activities and training programs are held at each of the four centers in this association. The report covers all four operations and is 55 pages long, identifying 16 material Aspects and reporting against 23 G4 performance indicators and two others called "extra" as self-defined performance metrics.

Finally, number 16 in our first-time G4 reporters from Belgium is from an academic institution.

Ghent University: This is a first-time G4 report of 74 pages and it seems to be well done. It starts off with an assertion that I am not sure I entirely agree with but that's probably a good subject for debate.

No doubt that educational institutions have an important role to play and its good to see UGent taking a lead role. With 41,000 students in 2013, and around 9,000 employees, this institution has a broad reach. UGent reports against 48 performance indicators. The list of material issues and the materiality process is described in an external document which I did not attempt to read (language challenges again), but there does seem to have been evidence of process in determining what to report.

Whew! After all that, my knowledge of the Dutch language has certainly improved, and I have also had lots of fun checking out how so many Belgian companies can be energized into taking part in what I can only assume was a very rewarding process. Well done to Belgium and its first-time G4 reporting leadership.

Now we are off to another country... guess where  ....

 Check it out in an upcoming post :)

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 Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at to help make your G4 reporting  even better.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Elaine, good stuff. Alex

Miriam said...

Helpful insight! I'm curious to know though how you filter out just the first time reports from the database - I'm writing my Master thesis on a topic in this field and would love that piece of advice. Thanks! Miriam

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