Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feedback makes CSR sustainable

This is the first of three posts about feedback to companies on their CSR performance and CSR reporting. Anyone who tracks my conversations around cyberspace will know that I talk a lot ( a LOT) about this. In fact, I think the GRI should include an indicator which specifically requests the number of individual pieces of feedback that companies get on their reports (currently clause 4.17 of the GRI framework refers only to the "key topics and concerns that have been raised through stakeholder engagement". For some companies, this might mean 3 stakeholders. For some companies, 3 is generous) . 

Feedback is  what makes CSR sustainable. The CSR Feedback Series will cover: (1) (this one) Report Reviews  (2) The way companies report about feedback (3) CSR Reporting and Employee Feedback. Stay tuned. Here's part 1:

I was delighted to notice in the Verizon CSR Report for 2009 the inclusion of a mention of my feedback in the form of an Expert Review of their 08 report published on Verizon noted the three external independent assessors who had reviewed their report: BSR, AccountAbility and Beyond Business, my consulting company. See a photo shot of the section in their report below:

This was particularly gratifying, not only to appear in such revered company as BSR and AA, but also because Verizon clearly reviewed my feedback and took it seriously. This, after all, is the way we influence companies to do better.

During the past 16 months or so, I have completed over 40 Report Reviews both for and for Ethical Corporation (which I started with the May 2010 magazine issue with my review of the Bacardi report). 

The most recent reviews were H&M 2009 report, which I called "Good substance, bad style"  (I reviewed their report also in 2008) and IMC2  2009 report, which I called "Charm with outcomes" , reflecting a certain increasing maturity of their reporting. ( I reviewed both prior reports).

Report reviews are my way of providing considered feedback to companies about their reporting. A good throrough read of a report, even a shorter one, and a careful assessment takes some hours to compile. All in all, I calculate that my investment in formal reviews accounts for about 2  working weeks per year. In addition,  I write this blog, of course, which offers a lot of feedback on many reports, without the detail of a full review. I also write directly to many companies, some of whom respond, and I fill in feedback forms where provided by companies. There is nothing that makes me happier than companies who ackowledge and use this feedback. (All this is voluntary, unpaid investment in providing feedback. I am not including  here the paid service I provide to companies for pre and post publication  reviews of their reporting). 

Many Companies take the initiative write to me or engage me in informal discussion about my report reviews. Mostly, they are grateful to receive feedback. Sometimes I may have been a little more critical than they deserve, though, more often than not, modestly, they tell me that I have identified the gaps or difficulties they themselves were aware of. This is nice, because it shows that reporting issues do show up in reports, no matter how companies try to gloss over certain issues (for, perhaps, understandable reasons). More importantly, companies who engage in feedback about their report show that they are proactive about engaging stakeholder views and are open to hear things that may help them improve their presentation of their sustainability performance, transparency and accessibility of their reporting. This, for me, is the ultimate objective, as I repeat: Feedback is what makes CSR sustainable. (I kinda like that sentence.)

That's it for Part 1. Part 2 just as soon as I can get to it. In the meantime, I will be reviewing the current Verizon report mentioned above. Though the fact that they mentioned my last review in their report will not buy them any traction, I will be just as mean and nasty as I usually am hahahahahahahhahahahaha

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at or tweet me at


שירלי קנטור שני said...

Elaine, you've raised a good point (as usual). I think that corporates should be more proactive in trying to get feedback from stakeholders, and not only "pin-heads" as you and Mallen Baker...
I'm afraid that NGOs and other un-orgenized stakeholders are not aware, yet, of the duty & opportubnity they have in reviewing CSR reports and producing some kind of feedback. Maybe the new GRI indicator you suggest will drive corporates to set new mechanisems to attract stakeholders' attention and time.

elaine said...

hi shirley, thanks for your comment. Pin-heads ? hmm. That means a dull or stupid person hahaha Knowing you I dont think you meant that. I suspect you meant "experts" hahaha. Aren't I modest ?! But yes, we agree, Companies can and should do more to proactively seek engagement around their reports. elaine

שירלי קנטור שני said...

of course you're right. and as you put it in your words: experts - that was my meaning

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