Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Nine things of note in Strauss Group's ninth report

The Sustainability Reporting journey is always so fascinating. The companies that I love to work with treat Sustainability Reporting as an opportunity for deep reflection, discussion, debate, consideration, revision, re-framing and renewal. While these processes often happen throughout the year, the choice to publish a Sustainability Report by a certain date ensures that these process streams are priority-funneled into one orderly alignment of content that becomes the company's account of its impacts and its unique sustainability story.

Strauss Group has been doing this now for the past nine years, and while you might think that it's easy to simply pick up with each new report where the last one left off, this is never the case. Our world is so dynamic, our days are so crammed with everything and great companies do so much in one year, that each new Sustainability Report is a new challenge and a new opportunity. Hence the reflection, debate and renewal. And this this case, Strauss Group's ninth Sustainability Report is a unique story, a creative presentation and a compelling read.  

1. Listening, Acting, Improving
This year, the focus for Strauss was Listening, Acting, Improving. It was driven by deep introspection throughout the year, and consultation with stakeholders, especially consumers, who provided important and insightful feedback to Strauss Group about things that go right to the core of the business and the way the business is conducted. Osnat Golan, VP for Communications, Digital and Sustainability at Strauss Group made the point: "During the past two years, we have learned that the highest priorities for our consumers are fair pricing and helping to curb the rising cost of living, as well as advancing healthy nutrition through our products." This year, Strauss Group's report reflects the actions the Group has taken in direct response to stakeholder concerns and expectations.

2. Fair product pricing
There are few, if any, food companies that address pricing policy in their Sustainability Reports. What is the responsibility of a food company to price food products so that a broader spectrum of the population can afford to buy them? How many companies acknowledge this as a responsibility? I suspect that Strauss Group is pioneering in its approach to respond to the rising costs of living and the affordability of basic foodstuffs by reducing consumer list prices across a range of products in the order of between 2.5% and 22.8% in its home market in Israel in 2015. In a year when consumers were continuing to assertively state that food pricing has put certain products beyond their reach, Strauss became the first company (and the only one to date) in the local market to listen, act and improve. These price reductions are significant. After all, corporate responsibility and sustainability is not just about saving the planet. It's also about contributing to the quality of life on the planet. Fair pricing is a highly sensitive, subjective and complex issue - it takes a bold company to accept "fair pricing" as an objective and take measures to implement a fair price policy for consumers.

3. Supporting employees
The second initiative that ran alongside support for consumers in 2015 was support for employees. Employees are consumers too, and if the cost of living rises, they feel the pinch just as other consumers do. Many companies today accept the concept of "living wage" and implement policies to compensate employees in line with a target wage level. At Strauss in Israel, following the direct input of hundreds of employees in feedback meetings over the past two years, Strauss understood the need to protect lower income employees and took this seriously as an element of the company's approach to corporate responsibility and its social license to operate. In the past two years, Strauss boosted benefits for employees at the lower end of the income scale and in 2015, set the way for several very significant additions, including a fixed proprietary minimum wage around 7% higher that the legally mandated level, child care support worth thousands of dollars per year for eligible employees and the opportunity to contribute to an employer-matched tax-free savings fund that helps employees protect their future with an accessible savings program. In addition, employees receive a host of other benefits to help them cope with the economic challenges of simply making it through the month in the black.

4. The Kitchen
The progress made at The Kitchen is worthy of note in Strauss Group's ninth report. The Kitchen is a pioneering initiative by Strauss with the support of the Chief Scientist of Israel, designed to advance food-tech in Israel to deliver new technologies that improve the sustainability of food production or deliver new benefits for consumers. This is a contribution to the advancement of the food industry - the technologies that are developed will not necessarily used by Strauss Group in their operations. With an investment of $25 million over 8 years (40% funded by Strauss, the remainder by the Israeli government), in its first year of activity, the Kitchen has already propelled three amazingly innovative food-tech startups into a new sphere of development and commercial activity. Entrepreneurs would have a hard time accelerating their development without such support. Enabling them to get on the map is a significantly positive sustainability impact.

5. The performance
In one year, since the last report, Strauss Group has made significant progress on several fronts, and the performance highlights are delivered up front for readers who want an overview and not an extensive read. One summary infographic for each main section of the report does a good job in pointing readers in the direction of what's most significant.

6. The design elements
Of course, Sustainability Reports are about content, not design. But design that brings reports to life makes it fun for us to read the content. It demonstrates an intent to produce a document that will encourage readership, rather than a stuffy old PDF crammed with text that turns you off before you get to page 2. In 2015, the folks at Strauss Group's long-standing report designer, Studio Merhav, have excelled themselves in creative design that supports the narrative and makes this report a delight to read. Infographics blended with photos and freehand design cause you to stop and look at the imagery as you read the report, giving you time to consider the meaning and the messages that they reflect. A world away from the Stock era and hand-cupped globes of the early days of reporting. Here are a few examples. Aren't they fabulous? 


7. Environmental data presentation

Another design feature in this ninth report is the presentation of environmental data. Instead of the usual graphs and charts, environmental data is presented in a way which makes it fun to actually look at the numbers. This presentation supplements the detailed performance tables over several years that are included in the report for those who want the specific numbers. But for most of us who want to see the big picture quickly, this presentation does the job. 

8. The credits
Not many companies include credits to those who work on the report. Strauss Group has always done that. Credits to providers who have worked on the report is an expression of the respect Strauss has for other businesses, small businesses, as it happens, and demonstrates another aspect of both transparency and social responsibility. (At this point, it's appropriate to disclose that I worked on this report, together with my team at Beyond Business - the fourth report we have supported for Strauss Group alongside additional consulting work on different aspects of strategy development. It is always a pleasure and an honor to work with Strauss.)

9. Daniela
The achievements of Sustainability Reporting Managers often go unsung in our reporting world. A few present at conferences, a few write blogs, but most of the hard work in reporting is driven by passionate, skilled and impressively dedicated individuals who mobilize entire organizations in order to get a result their companies can be proud of - most of whom we never get to know. The achievements of Reporting Managers are no small thing, and real credit is due to them. So it is with Daniela Prusky-Sion, Strauss Group's Sustainability and Internal Comms Director, who has led this work for several years. Daniela is a dynamo, never tiring in her efforts to do things better, do things right and do more things to advance Strauss Group's strategic approach to sustainability and improved contribution. Reports under her watch get better and better.

As usual, take a look! Give feedback!

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 www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz 
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