Friday, November 12, 2010

Is one-way CR reporting dead?

I like Ethical Corporation conferences. I have attended several over the years and have never been disappointed. I go to conferences to learn from practitioners and hear the latest thinking on different aspects of CSR and reporting. I feel it has been worth my time when I come away with new information and ideas and an up-to-date feel for what is going on in the CSR space. (Meeting people is fun too, of course!) I have always come away from Ethical Corp conferences with added value. (haha, at one conference,  when Cadbury's had a stand presenting their CSR Report, I also came away with about 3 kg of Dairy Milk chocolate). So later this month I am off to the Ethical Corporation Annual CSR Reporting and Communications Summit.  In fact, I have also been asked to speak at one of the conference plenaries. (I am not showing up yet on the speaker list so I will keep you in suspense as to which session I am speaking in :)  

In the opening plenary, which I am not speaking in, (well, except for a little heckling from the stalls, maybe) SABMiller, Vodafone and Marks and Spencer will be debating whether one-way CR reporting is dead. Of course, we know the answer to that. It's not. By far the majority of companies are still pushing out their CR reports in standard PDF format, and not providng platforms which engage stakeholders in a participatory dialogue.

SABMiller have a nice online sustainable development site which includes detailed performance charting in a special metrics portal, and downloadable reports including prior years reports from way back when. The Company produces several sustainability-related reports each year. One is their full annual Sustainability Report, but others are issue or region specific.This report, for example, called "Working for South Africa - the contribution of SABMiller to the South African economy" , is a thorough, transparent and fascinating look at the beer and liquor industry in South Africa, the direct and indirect impacts SABMiller is reponsible for and the multiplier effects of SAB activities in the local economy. However, getting back to the opening plenary, and one-way communciations, SABMiller are doing it two ways, with the "Views and Debates" section, in which you can find the SABMiller sustainability blog whch has been on air with a spurt since June 2010, slowing down a little in recent months, with the most recent post being from Andy Wales, head of SABMiller Sustainable Development sharing his experiences from the BSR conference.  Despite the fact that all the recent posts I looked at do not appear to have generated any engagement in the form of comments, and provided that the SABMiller blogging team can keep up the pace, this is a good platform for dialogue. It does, however, show how tough it is to maintain this kind of platform  and generate some interaction.. Anyway, I left a comment, haha, couldn't resist.

Vodafone is a master reporter having changed the game with the "We said, We have, We will" motto which has been emulated by many in various forms. Vodafone's reports are always clear, carefully crafted and focussed well on material issues. The Vodafone website doesn't have much that is  any other way than one-way, though. All their reports, including several local country reports, are available for download as PDF's. The thing that appears to come closest to interactiveness is the page on their CSR website called CR Dialogues.  Actually, though, these aren't dialogues, they are monologues - posts by non-Vodafone people expressing their opinions, with no room to comment, despite Vodafone saying they want our views.  

Marks and Spencer Plan A (Doing the Right Thing) website is nicely branded. See how they talk CSR without even mentioning the word ? Most of this site is the one-way version with nice presentation of all M&S  sustainability ... errr...oops... Plan A initiatives. However, the M&S two-way comes in the form of getting people to make promises... pledges...  so that M&S can turn customers into Plan A customers through involvement in social, personal and environmental initiatives. Each of the possible pledges are explained in an easy style, advising readers what they can do and what a difference it makes. It's good. The website shows 18,580 people have signed up with their own individual pledges. That's quite a number. Wonder how many people have kept their pledge? However, aside from pledging, there doesn't seem to be much opportunity for interactive dialogue on the M&S site.

So, there we have it. Three speakers... two with no dialogue and one possible dialogue .. talking about whether one-way reporting is dead.. Should be an interesting session .... or a very short one. Haha. However, all three companies do maintain outstanding CSR programs and consistently report  well, and I am sure what they have to say will be fascinating. I  will be interested to hear how these companies do spark dialogue around their CR initiatives in forums which are not necessarily on their online reporting site, and how they see their own company's reporting evolving. I will be interested to hear what they have tried in terms of communication with different stakeholder groups and what has worked or not. The other interesting aspect which is often debated is to what extent the CR report itself is a vehicle  for communications. Maybe the CR report is the catalyst but the communications (read: dialogue) of necessity must take place elsewhere.

If you plan to be at the Ethical Corp Annual Reporting and Communications Summit on 25th and 26th November in London UK, do let me know or come up and say hi during the conference.  I wonder if this time they will serve Chunky Monkey during the breaks :)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness,  CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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