Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The CSR Report Tool-Kit

As the daughter of a carpenter, I always understood the importance of tools. They say that a bad workman always blames his tools. Well, in the case of CSR reports, it is worth ensuring that you have the right tools to start with.  I have compiled this set of essential tools for writing a CSR report.

A milled-head fibreglass curved claw hammer: CSR reporting involves much debate and dialogue. Often, it takes quite a while to achieve the clarity needed for a report. Prudent use of this tool will enable you to hammer out the issues in a thorough way, and deliver a report which has a clear message. Also, if during the process, you find that someone is not toeing the line, you can always hammer them to the wall.
A pair of Alpine Trail steel toe waterproof hiker boots from Timberland: CSR reporting involves a lot of getting around - physically visiting people in their own working environments to understand what they do, how they do it and what impact they are having. Often, to get to the people, you have to wade through mounds of other priorities. Sometimes you have to spend hours touring facilities and plants. A good pair of hiking books will get you to everywhere you need to go. Also, if during the proces, you feel the need to flee to the jungle because the pressure of it all is just too much to bear, this tool will be invaluable in navigating the rough terrain.
A teaspoon: CSR reporting is full of stress and time pressure. It is inconceivable that you would start to write your CSR report without a good stock of Chunky Monkey in your freezer. A teaspoon is the essential tool with which you can devour this essential nutrient at all stages in the process. Also, if you need to practise the powers of your super-consciousness in order to influence your stakeholders, bending a teaspoon a la Uri Geller will provide ample practice.
A tape measure: CSR reporting is about impacts. Positive and negative impacts. No worthy CSR report should see the light of day without effective tools for measuring impacts. This is where the tape measure comes in. You need to measure the amount of space in your report given to measures and indicators. Also, during the proces, if you have gone overboard with the teaspoon (see above), you might need to measure the circumference of your middle-body to determine the unforeseen impact of the stress of it all.
A sorghum-made broom with a long handle:  CSR reporting should not be a regurgitation of information which was previously reported or information which is already in the public domain. A good broom will help you sweep away all the irrelevant material and get to your report  with clean and fresh content. Also, if during the process, you fall in love, you can use the broom to sweep the target of your affections off their feet.
An ergonomic titling-handle power spade: CSR reporting is about transparency. Not everything that should be transparent in your CSR report is easily available.This spade is one of the most useful tools you can add to your CSR Reporting toolkit. It will help you dig deep, deeper and deepest to uncover all the details of what your Company is actually doing in the sustainability arena, both positive and less positive. Armed with everything you have dug up, you will be able to present a fair and balanced view of your Company's sustainability efforts. Also, if during the pocess, you find the need to speak in plain language, you can avoid all the CSR-Speak by calling your spade a spade.
A recycleable fine mesh sieve:  If you have decided to include a materiality analysis in your CSR report, and this is a good thing, then you will need to filter out all the non-material issues in a fairly energetic way. This essential tool will allow the efficient out-filtering of all the information that no-one is all that interested in anyway. Also, if during the proces, you need to separate the men from the boys, this sieve will come in very handy.
Rose quartz: The CSR Reporting process can be emotionally challenging, and it is likely that you will face several interactions which could be personally stressul and shake your self-confidence. Rose quartz offers spirutual comfort and encourages you to believe in yourself, because you know that CSR Reporting is the right thing to do, despite all the nay-sayers  who will challenge your sanity. Also, if during the process, you are invited to a special party, you can always make yourself a rosequartz pendant to wear with that new organic cotton outfit you just bought. 

And the most essential tool in your CSR Reporting kit:
A vibrator: Here I am referring to a class of mechanical devices for uses such as signalling. The prudent use of such a device will enable you to check for greenwash and whitewash in your report and make sure that the content you publish is authentic, representative and reflective of the Company's sustainability activities. Also, if during the process, you .... well, somethings are best  left to the imagination.

elaine cohen is the CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting fitm. Visit our website at

Friday, March 19, 2010

Who stole the bees from Burt's Bees?

Burts Bees. Aspiring to be the Greenest Company on Earth. They have made a good start, apparently. The 2009 Corporate Responsibility Update of  their "very first" 2008 report, attests to year on year increasing revenues since 2004 , growth from 400 to 480 employees , increased post consumer recycled product in packaging, lighter weight packaging, and reduced use of PVC, total electricity reduction by 21%, total water reduction of 20% , and a "net normalized reduction" of GHG's (normalized means factoring in sales growth ) of 33.5% versus base year which is 2006 (though actual total emissions versus 2006 were 5.7% higher in 2008) .   Burt's Bees give preference to socially and environmentally conscious suppliers, spend 28% of purchasing costs in their home state of North Carolina, and 1.39% to minority or women's businesses. Burt's Bees employees contributed 6,006 hours of volunteer time in 2008 and 2009, and the Company donated cash of $295,500 to charitable purposes , and $600,000 of product . Burts Bees team members love their work (those who responded to the employee survey rated their job 4 on a 1-5 scale) and 30% of the Company's executives and senior managers are women. Burt's Bees employees have a great safety record and practice yoga as part of the Company's well being program. The Company is engaged with partners such as Habitat for Humanity and Teach America and a wide range of intiiatives for the benefit of the community.And relations with parent Company Clorox are quite hunky-dory. OK. So far so good. Many good initiatives from this sustainability spirited Company and clearly strong efforts to manage their impacts. Their decision to issue an update  demonstrates a commitment to continued progress and a degree of transparency.

The question I kept asking myself as I read this report-update however was, where on earth are the bees? There is almost nothing about bees in this report. I expected to be totally blown away with bees. I thought I would read loads of hive-tales, pollen-stories, honeycomb legends, nectar anecdotes and, of couse, tributes to the Queen Bees. I hoped to learn about endangered bee species, colony collapse disorder (mentioned in  the 2008 report),and hive restoration expeditions. I thought this report would be quite buzzing with bees. I thought we would be inspired with sustainability learnings from drones and colonies of honey bees. Burt's Bees  has come  a long way since its beginnings as a Company in 1989. I took a look at  the products on their website. My eye caught the Mama Bee Belly Butter which is targeted at pregnant women with big bellies (though I suspect Chunkey Monkey regulars could benefit too, mentioning no names) but to my dismay, it is made from cocao butter though cera alba is listed in the ingredients list. Cerra alba ? Yes, you guessed it, Beeswax. I thought I might order some  Baby Bee Bubble Bath containing vanilla exract (no chocolate chunks) but no cire d'abeille (Beeswax in the language of the tricolor). So I went to the Naturally Ageless Intensive Repairing Serum to smooth out all those wrinkles (especially now that I am appearing on 3BL TV), but again, bees extract gives way to pomegranate extract. So, I think Burt has some explaining to do. Is this a Company about bees or what ? Who stole the bees?

Anyway, bees or bust, this update is a nice chatty summary, even though there are many aspects which I found confusing. The time period covered is not clear - Fiscal Year or 2008 or 2009 or half'n'half? DIfferent dates and time periods are referenced and it is not always clear to me what relates to what. The data presented is not detailed and left me wondering in most cases about the basis for calculation.  Whilst the trademarked Greater Good Burt's Bees Sustainability framework loooks graphically impressive, I cannot discern how it all hangs together in a clear strategy or workplan in each of the different dimensions. I lack a stated approach to strategy - goals, objectives, targets - presented in an orderly way. This report is a collection of snippets of good news, which is good news, I suppose, but I would have liked to have seen a more consistent buzz. I tend to think this review has been sort of force-fit into the form of a Sustainability Update, pieced together based on limited bits of information availabe.  It includes an aspirational reference to the GRI (and a somewhat meaningless table of how the 2008 report (not the update) broadly aligns with the different sections of the GRI framework. It doesnt hang together all that well, despite evidence of  continued progress. If the Company plans to introduce an update every interim year, I would find it easier to follow if conceptually it were a little sharper.  

Anyway, its hard not to get stung by Burt's Bees, and to admire them for their contribution to the pollenation of sustainability. In the meantime, I will just bumble along back to my apiology-free  corner, where life is positively buzzing.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm. Visit our website at:

Saturday, March 13, 2010

13 ways to show you love your employees in CSR reports

I have written about CSR-report-speak in the past. There is no doubt that the lingo of CSR Reporting is an art all of its own. One who reads many CSR Reports, as I do, develops the ability to discern the connection between the language and the performance. The high-level declarations need to be supported by substantive actions and data.

One of the areas in which CSR Reports are often the most slushy is when referring to employees. Whenever I read that "employees are our most important asset", frankly, I cringe. It's not true, and usually Companies who say this do not behave as though they believe it to be true. Should it be true? Are employees assets? Or are they partners? Stakeholders? People? Are they resources to be compared with the latest packing machine the Company purchased, or are they individuals which make the choice every single day to show up for work, and the degree to which they will contribute ? And believe me, after 8 years serving as a Human Resources VP, I can tell you that not ALL employees are best assets, and some are even significant liabilities. A definition of assets in the business world is: Any item of economic value owned by an individual or corporation, especially that which could be converted to cash.  Employees are not something you own. They are people you partner with. IMHO.

In reporting, which often, but not always, is a reflection of corporate culture and corporate language (depends how many copywriters were involved, I guess), there are also many ways to refer to employees: they may be personnel, or human resources, employees or simply, our people. They may be our team, or they may be our associates, our partners or our colleagues.  One banking report even refers to employees as the Bank's Men and Women. Guess they don't employ giraffes, huh?

Here are some of the ways Companies express their commitment to employees in their CSR and Sustainability Reports. If you are writing a report,  you can use this as a crib sheet. There are only so many ways you can declare your love for your employees. What is more important though, is what you do and say after you have selected the words.

Outkumpu Annual Report 2009
Outokumpu's success is based on the company's most important asset, our personnel. The Group's renewed People strategy aims to attract, retain and develop Outokumpu people globally, enhancing both their motivation and their ability to support the Group in its vision of becoming the undisputed number one in stainless steel.
Merck Sustainability 2008
Merck's ability to deliver on our strategy is dependent upon our employees — they are our single greatest asset.
H&M 2008
We provide our colleagues with the opportunity to grow and develop within H&M, providing training wherever possible.
Henkel Sustainability Report  2009
Our global team is our most important asset for a successful future.
Thomas Cook Sustainability Report 2009
The sustainability of our business depends on our employees: they are the people who turn a trip into a dream holiday for our customers. Therefore we aim to recruit the best and to keep them with us.
Marks and Spencer 2009
To encourage a successful business we need to develop and reward our people, retaining our reputation as an employer of choice.
Novartis Corporate Citizenship Report 2008
Novartis endeavors to promote the livelihoods of its associates and to be a good neighbor in the communities where it operates. Through our commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, we foster equality of opportunity, fairness and mutual respect. We strive to give our associates opportunities to grow and realize their full potential, and create an environment of continuous performance improvement and personal development.
Wainwright Bank 2009
As the bank has expanded we have consciously created an environment that provides all our employees freedom to be themselves.
Lindstrom Sustainability Report 2008
Lindstrom is an employer that looks after the well-being of its personnel.
TNT Annual Report 2009
TNT's employees are key to delivering TNT's results which is why TNT invests significant efforts to ensure that it provides a safe and attractive working environment. 
Banco Populare Di Milano Group 2008
Given the importance attached to the individual and in the awareness that happy, motivated men and women represent a major competitive advantage for the Bank, we have always invested in initiatives that enhance the level of internal wellness.
Gap Inc 2009
When asked where they work, more than 134,000 people around the world can say, “Gap Inc.” We want them to say it with pride. It’s our intent to create a workplace culture that encourages every individual to: “ Wear your passion.”
British American Tobacco Report 2008
Attracting, developing and retaining talent is key to our ambition to be a winning organisation. Given the nature of our industry, having a strong and clearly differentiated reputation as an employer is critical to our long-term business sustainability.

Having said this, any Company who says "our employees are our greatest asset" AND provides Chunky Monkey as a basic employee benefit, would be forgiven.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm. Visit our website at: 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sustainability Education starts at home

Practice what you preach! That's not a bad doctrine to live by, right? Which in my case, means, amongst other things, educating my kids about sustainability, and in particular, sustainability reporting. In recent weeks, my kids have been witness to me making video blogs for 3BLTV. Or should I say, making thousands of video blogs for the recycle bin for every single video blog that actually makes it to 3BL TV. (If I sold all my out-takes, I would be able to feast on Chunky Monkey every day till I reach the age of 324).  If you havent checked out 3BL TV yet, the most exciting video CSR news and commentary channel available on the web, starring accomplished experts such as Christine Arena, Fabian Pattberg, Chris Jarvis and David Connor, then you should so so soon. The CSR Minute starring Emily Polk is a great way to keep updated whilst you are eating your sustainable cornflakes, and the CSRUnscripted and CSRReport channels are exactly what you need to reactivate those tired brain-cells when you sense they are short on inspiration and new insight. If we dont make it to the Oscars next year, I may have to take up making movies about war and violence. To save me from that, please watch a great team of experts, and me, on 3BL TV.

Anyway, back to preaching. Sustainability Education begins at home. My nearly 12-year old daughter Eden is always keen to learn. See her first lesson in this short video. Very short. I think we will  postpone lesson number 2 till she's 19.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm. Visit our website at:  

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Whose report is it anyway ?

In support of International Women's Day, and women everywhere, I was asked to write a piece for the GRI Blog. I did. you can find it HERE. Happy Day, gals!

In preparation for this piece, I chatted some with Maria Sillanpaa, as you can read on the GRI Blog.

But sometimes, valuable insights are worth two blops.

In talking about reporting, Maria mentioned her frustration with clients who tell her: "WE MUST do a GRI report!"  Maria's response is : " By all means write a report, but do YOUR report. "

Maria is a staunch advocate of transparency and reporting, and sits on the Technical Advisory Committee of the GRI. She knows her stuff. And, here, she is right. The GRI is a framework to assist in preparing a Sustainability Report, not a checklist around which you build your report. Before you even think of whether you are responding to EN9, LA4 or 4.13, you should be thinking about your sustainability story, the concept of your report and how the way you want to tell your story and  aligns with your Company mission, spirit and culture. If you would like your report to reference the GRI framework, at some point, yes, you need to check how you are doing against the GRI indicators. But if you succumb to the temptation of blindly following the framework and producing your report as a list of answers to 100-and-something clauses and indicators, you will end up with a dull summary of activitiy which energizes no-one, including you.

If you are writing a report, remember that it belongs to YOU, not to the GRI. Make it unquestionably yours. Use the GRI framework as a tool but not as a straightjacket. Whose report is it anyway?

Thank you Maria for this insight !

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm. Visit our website at:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

No News is Good News? Sustainability at Bloomberg

Bloomberg have a new sustainability mini site. It's about how the folks at Bloomberg are creating a sustainable Bloomberg. Over 10,000 folks in 135 offices around the world. They call their programme BGreen, and aspire to use Bloomberg's influence to create  a low carbon economy. It's fairly short and to the point. This is EVERYTHING it says:
  • Bloomberg has reduced waste to landfill by 15%
  • Green Energy purchase and IT savings have reduced electricity by millions of Kilowatts by doing things such as switching lights and computers off when not in use.
  • Bloomberg have reduced their  "transportation" carbon footprint with 50 Bloomberg employees biking to work in Frankfurt and in general, using trains instead of flights where possible, shuttle buses instead of cars, and alternative shipment instead of air.
  • Bloomberg has a plan to save 15 million gallons of water per year (15% of total consumption) via employee education, bathroom retrofits and rainwater capture.
  • Materials used in location designs include environmental considerations.
  • Bloomberg plans to make a 50% carbon emission reduction by 2013 (using 2007 as a baseline).
I find myself wondering if they created this flashy minisite just for this. I mean, it could all fit on one web page. It hardly even fills a blop. So I went back to the beginning to see if there was something I had missed. And then all was clear. This is what the introduction page says:

Bloomberg is a leader
Bloomberg is visionary
Bloomberg is progressive
Bloomberg is sustainable

Well. There is nothing that resembles leadership, vision or progressiveness in this glossy virtual brochure. And it only marginally resembles sustainability. If this were a news item, it wouldn't make the freebie edition. 

So now I find myself wondering what they had in mind when they put up that site. Who is it for ? What is its purpose? Perhaps one of the 10,000 Bloomberg Green employees might see this post and tell me.

And yet, there is something to be said for starting where you are. If this is where Bloomberg is, and credit where it's due, even this is better than nothing and probably took some effort to achieve, and it's far better to talk about it now than to wait until they become leading, visionary, progressive and sustainable, which, by the look of things, is gonna take some time.

My message to Bloomberg: Great. So far so good. Now its time to make NEWS out of your sustainability program.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm. Visit our website at:
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