Saturday, January 29, 2011

2011 Sustainability Reporting - a slow start ?

I just took a look at the GRI Reports List (which you can download here). For those of you who don't know, there are two authoritative sources for finding CSR and Sustainability Reports on the web, without having to search by individual company webpage: one is, the largest global hosting site for corporate responsibility reports with over 30,000 reports from over 7, 400 companies. Another is the GRI Reports list, which records all the reports which have referenced the GRI since 1999, though the lists for more recent years are more complete.  

In any event, as we are nearing the end of the first month of another reporting year, I was expecting to find a whole list of new reports published in 2011. However,only four reports are listed. (There may be more that have not yet been updated, such as our own report from Beyond Business :)). Here are the four reports listed:

This is a GRI B level, GRI checked report, and it is a first report for this company. It's a 28 page nicely designed report but the GRI index can be found online only, which makes it rather difficult to read the report if you are interested in checking out specific GRI related disclosures. The report covers the year 2009, though a materiality assessment was completed in early 2010. It's a little lightweight, but we all know the challenges for first-time reporting, so let's give Arizona some credit.

This is the first report I have seen which is written on the GRI Let's Report Template (and a reminder why the template is a great idea in theory but not in practice) and it is presented as one of those ebooks which move around the page and zoom in and out as you are trying to read it, like trying to catch a lizard. It's a self-declared application level C, which as you may know, requires reporting on most of the profile disclosures and 10 Performance Indicators. Of the 10 indicators that this 27-people SME which markets and sells sanitation products for mold and other irritable things selected to report on, disclosures for seven of them are "not reported externally" or "not relevant" or "not material". What did catch my eye though is reporting against indicator SO1 (community impacts), in which the report refers to the S.H.I.T project (no joke!) which is apparently described on the MCES website. My interest piqued, I looked at the website and found no mention of S.H.I.T.  I can't work out why this company selected to report if they are not serious about reporting.

Studiosus Reisen Muenchen
This appears as a GRI Checked A+ Level report on the GRI list, but the download link is broken, and the "Objekt ist nicht verfügbar". This travel agency does have a sustainabiity section on their website, but nothing that looks like a report. The website deals with socially responsible travel and ofers some interesting options that I can discern even with my rather rusty German. They also support EPCAT, a very important organization and participate in the UN Global Compact. But no report. Yet.

This is a self declared B level report from Tyco Electronics who call themselves the "world leader enabling connectivity", providing connectors, cables and relays which are found "almost everywhere and in everything" (I hope they didn't get cables and connectors into my Chunky Monkey). Tyco has 89,000 employees, and this is a first report. Here again, the GRI index must be downloaded from the Tyco website and not included in the body of the report. It's a nicely put-together report, but I am pretty sure it would not pass the GRI B level check without several modifications and additions. However, it's a reasonable first effort and Tyco should be encouraged to report more rigorously in the future.  

So, all in all, not a massively encouraging start to the reporting year. However, we can expect things to pick up, not least in the US, where the GRI will mark its official launch in the United States with the Focal Point USA meeting to be held at the New York Stock Exchange on Monday 31st January. The meeting will take place from 0900 - 1100 (ET) and include a panel discussion with some of the big names in sustainability. The event will be webcast globally and the live webcast can be viewed  here . I am sure it will be worth looking in on (for those like me, who will not be attending in person),  not least because the USA has been lagging in terms of Sustainability Reporting to date, and the new Focal Point provides promise, especially under the capable leadership of Mike Wallace, that US companies will hear the call and start making transparency a priority. I hope so!

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The most special CSR Report of all.....

Which report is the most special report of all ? Your own report, of course. So it is with great pleasure that for the first time in the history of this blog, and all manwomankind,I am able to write a post about our own CSR Report. Yes, it's the Beyond Business Sustainability Report 2010, entitled "

" How a little consulting firm makes a big impact".  

Please download the report from our website here:, and of course, give us your feedback!

 Report highlights:
  • covers Beyond Business's Sustainability performance 2009-2010 (the first two years of our new, merged business)
  • conforms with GRI Application Level A, checked by the GRI
  • includes a materiality matrix
  • confirms Beyond Business as a carbon neutral company
  • the first sustainability report from a consulting firm in Israel
  • includes case studies from several clients and partners
  • tells the story of how it is possible, with the limited resources of a small consulting firm, to make a big impact through operating responsibly, serving a wide range of clients in advancing their sustainability, and working tirelessly to create awareness for sustainable change.  
Whilst our report may not have the scale of Pepsico, Starbucks, Intel, Vodafone or Microsoft, or the multimedia appeal of Manchester City Football Club, Burts Bees or Virgin Media, or even the interactivity of SAP, the frequency of Timberland,  the integration of Novo Nordisk, the creativity of WPP, the brevity of GoLite (ha-ha), the controversy of Monsanto, the charm of Impahla or the tradition of BT, Body Shop, Shell or GE, it does present an example of a small business who believes transparency should be an essential part of any business's DNA. We believe that SME's should report, because it both serves their business interest and also because it ensures that, as essential links in the supply chain of larger businesses, they are playing their part.  Even a small business such as ours learnt something in the process of reporting, not least of which was setting sustainability targets for ourselves for the coming years. Whilst we have a built-in advantage versus other SME's in that we can write our own report, as this is our expertise, the investment for producing such a report for a small business is not so devastating as to make it prohibitive. As a strategic businesss investment, we believe it's an essential tool.

As far as Beyond Business is concerned, a further reason for reporting is the need to practice what we preach. When we talk to clients, encouraging them to be more transparent, we will now feel much better knowing that we have personally undertaken this voluntary reporting approach ourselves.Walking the talk is just as important in consulting as it is in any other business. Sustainability consultants who provide sustainability services should produce their own reports. Some great reports which I am aware of by local sustainability consulting firms are:

I mean, why would a company, who is interested in developing its own transparency, work with a consulting firm who is not transparent to help it become more transparent?

Anyway, I digress.
I do hope you will take a look at our first report and tell us what you think. Thanks in advance. 

And now... you know what sustsinability reporting dessert looks like, don't you?
Hint: Rhymes with Funky Punky.
Second hint: It's really tasty.
Final hint: I don't think it really contains monkeys.  

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The GRI Report Survey Report

You will all recall the GRI Readers's Choice Awards last year and the reporting survey that formed part of the competition. Some of you may recall how the Brazilians cleaned up, winning six first place awards out of a total of six first place awards (see the awards brochure here).

Well, now you can read what went on behind the scenes. The Reporting Change : Readers and Reporters Survey 2010 has just been published by Futerra, KPMG and Sustainability. The key thing about the survey was its simultaneous focus both on the readers of reports and those who write them, to assess whether there is an expectation match and a mutual alignment of needs. Three great sustainability minded firms have analysed the results. Here are their conclusions:

The first conclusion is that the future of  reporting is global. This is immediately followed by a revelation that over 70% of the (5,227) respondents were from Brazil (73% actually, with 10% from India, 5% from the USA and 12% form the rest of the world). Maybe the future of reporting is Brazilian? However, the report makes the point that the emerging strong presence of BRIC countries in the reporting arena shows that "appreciating cultural differences vitally important in reporting".
The second conclusion is that purpose of reporting is performance. "Reporting is driving performance worldwide .....Above any other business case for reporting, making real progress on sustainability is the priority". This is a very important assertion, putting to bed once and for all the cry that "No-one reads reports" as an excuse for not writing them. Reporting, as I too have always maintained, is a catalyst for performance and for engaging employees and others in the sustainability effort. 
The third conclusion is that reporting isn't stakeholder engagement. Reporters apparently, see reports as an engagement tool, but readers do not. Of course, if reporters do nothing to proactively engage stakeholders around the report, and just dump it on their website for people to (maybe) find, then this mismatch is understandable. 
The fourth conclusion is that reporting is trusted. But then, the report goes on to say, less that 10% of readers believe that reporting presents a complete picture. So readers believe what they read, but think it's selective. Partial trust, I guess, is better than none.  
The fifth conclusion is that standards have value. This means that the GRI framework improves comparability and transparency. This is true, up to a point.
The sixth conclusion is that all assurance is not equal. Aarrrgh.. Don't get me started on assurance. This is the understatement of understatements. Assurance quality is more diverse than the biodiversity in the tropical forests of Panama.
The seventh conclusion is that readers influence each other. Stakeholders share information with each other. Some even blog about reports. Like me. Though they didn't mention that in the Reporting Change Report.
The eigth conclusion is that reporting changes behaviour. Hear this: "Readers are investing, seeking employment and buying Reporters’ products and services based on sustainability reports. One-third of Readers are also inspired by reports to take further actions that contribute to the broad sustainability agenda." I also believe that the reporting process changes the internal behaviour of people in the business. More about that in coming months.
The ninth conclusion is that ... haha .. gotcha... there were only eight conclusions. Though I do wonder why ice cream didn't figure in any of them.  

Overall, this is a nice overview and presents the positive aspects of Sustainability Reporting from an audience which is already tuned in. There are no real "dissenting voices" in this survey, with the exception of about 10% of American readers who say that reports don't influence them at all. The survey really didn't ask any tough questions such as "Is sustainability reporting really worth the effort?" or "Can you really survive another reporting cycle without a nervous breakdown?".  

Notwithstanding (love that word), we can all be encouraged by the survey results which show that "60% of Readers claim their commitment and connection to an organisation is positively influenced by reading a sustainability report." That's a nice piece of quotable data if you are trying to convince your CEO to make the move towards reporting. Especially if she lives in Brazil.

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Women teach Ford a lesson on CSR

You have to watch these trailers. View them here. Please watch the trailers. They are from a BBC Films movie called Made in Dagenham, directed by Nigel Cole.  The movie, funny, sad and  well-written, carries a very very important message, telling the true story of 187 female machinists employed in the Ford car plant at Dagenham which also employed 55,000 men, who took unprecedented strike action in 1968. Ford Management at the time downgraded the machinist jobs to "unskilled" and reduced pay to the women by 15%. Little did the Ford management realise at the time, but this would spark outrage amongst the women who eventually brought the plant to a standstill as cars could not be made without the leather fittings made by the machinists, who demanded not only reclassification as semi-skilled workers, but also equal pay. Reaching the highest echelons of British politics and earning the intervention of the incredible and unbeatable  Barbara Castle, Secretary of State for Employment at the time, who resolved the women's issues and led through the Equal Pay Act of 1970 which became a template for similar legislation around Europe, the women of the Ford Plant at Dagenham changed history. 

Whilst the Ford management's approach at the time (we can't give them equal pay, they're women! ) seems totally pathetic and the women's claim for equal pay may seems obvious today, we still live in a world where women are not paid equally for equal work, and where women are not given equal opportunity to advance. However, this step by a group of fearless, principled women put equal pay squarely on the political and social agenda for the first time in the UK. Ford, who resisted with all their might, supported by corrupt union leadership, learnt the hard way that, sooner or later, management by values and social responsibility serves their business more effectively. This is what Ford say today about Equal Opportunity :

"Made in Dagenham" should be compulsory viewing for anyone in business. It shows us the value of CSR, introduces us to people willing to take a stand for principles and demonstrates the potential of anyone, anywhere to change the world. It's also a wonderful, entertaining movie (my 12 year old daughter also enjoyed it!)

I should also add that I was privileged to see Made in Dagenham at the invitation of another inspiring women who is always at the forefront of  advancing women's rights and the position of women in society, Sybil Goldfiner, founder and CEO of comme il faut fashion house, who held a private screening for all comme il faut employees.

Get the movie. Watch it. Share it. It's an important lesson for all of us.

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

CSR: does it pay off ?

CSR Europe has published a paper called Does Corporate Repsonsibility Pay Off? With a title like that, how could we not be tempted to take a look? This is the question everyone asks about CSR. CSR has moved from being a values-based feel-good-look-good option to a business-building strategic imperative which needs to deliver results to maintain its legitimacy. Of course, there are some who believe it is both :)

Anyway, the CSR Europe report  maintains that CSR is sector specific and therefore public policy on CSR should "support the integration of CSR into the strategic decisions of companies and to avoid consumers’ impression that a company can pick and choose CSR activities and ignore the areas where the most societal or environmental concerns are evident." The report goes on to recommend that "To make CSR concrete and targeted in each sector, leading companies, business associations, trade unions and NGOs should jointly develop a common agenda for respective industry sectors. The European Commission could play a strong convening role in promoting this agenda-setting." This makes sense. It aligns with the GRI approach of developing sector-specific reporting supplements, of which there are now several. It also reminds me of a great report which was issued some time ago by the Hauser Center which presented a model for materiality reporting by sector.

Anyway, again, the report looks at the chemical sector, the construction sector and the textile sector in detail, and makes recommendations as to how to link competitiveness and CSR in each sector. In chemicals, for instance, the focus should be on supporting and promoting innovation, implementing health and safety standards and ensuring high (eco-)efficiency. In construction, the focus should be on  public procurement processes, establishing standards (e.g. for energy consumption), enforcing the implementation of existing norms and regulations (e.g. occupational health and safety) and tackling corruption. In textiles, it's about "quality control and ensuring credibility" (though I can think of many more sector-specific issues in the textile sector).

Anyway, anyway, anyway, the most important conclusion of this report is that "Sector wide CSR challenges need joint action". This is not a new insight, however. We have seen many sector-specific initiatives developed by or concerning specific sectors over the past years, and I suspect there are many more to come. One of the best is the Access to Medicine Index which focuses on sustainability acpects of the innovative and generic pharma industry. Another is Edana, the European Association of the Nonwoven Industry which publishes sector specific sustainability reports. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development has been leading a cement industry sector initiative with a roadmap for carbon emission reduction up to 2050. The Sustainability Consortium leads many sector working groups focusing on electronics, food, home and personal care and more, involving many corporate players in their sectors. And countless more. 

However (yep, no more anyways), the CSR Europe report is unique in its focus on calling for public policies to be aligned by sector, and that "common agendas" should be developed by sector and supported by public policies.  "Corporate CSR measures could be evaluated if they are in line with the sector agenda and contribute to solving sector specific problems. In doing so sectoral CSR initiatives would stimulate, focus and mainstream action and contribute to a sustainable Europe."

This is one reason we should always look for a materiality analysis when we read Sustainability Reports. Each company has a set of unique material issues which are driven by its business strategy, size, location, sustainability performance, economic landscape, competitive environment and other factors, not least of which is the sector in which it operates. Navigating a Company's sustainability impacts requires this focus. 

Anyway, however (got em both this time), the CSR Europe Report is interesting and whilst it provides very detailed analyses of potential competitive sector impacts, it doesn't give quantitative data or concrete findings to answer the most-asked question Does Corporate Responsibility Pay Off ? Guess we will have to keep asking that one for a while longer :).

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Branding your sustainability programme

Recently I reviewed the Arcadia Group's Responsibility Report for Arcadia is an interesting company, privately-owned, with a "Fashion Footprint" that is quite sizeable.  In fact, Fashion Footprint is the core concept on which their sustainability  programme is built.  

Read the first couple of paragraphs of my review and you will see what I mean:

The fourth Responsibility Report for the Arcadia Group, or "RR10", as they call it, is as impressive as it is frustrating. Arcadia is the UK’s largest privately-owned fashion retailer with well-known high-street brands (Burton, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge, TOPMAN, TOPSHOP and Wallis), which they sell in the UK in more than 2,500 outlets. The group operates in 36 countries in Europe, the USA, the Far East and the Middle East with a further 597 international franchise stores. In 2009, Arcadia integrated the Bhs department store chain into its operations. Arcadia has 41,500 employees and had a good 2009/2010 fiscal year, increasing both revenues and profits. As with many fast fashion retailers, the group outsources all its garment production to 620 suppliers in 1,100 factories primarily located in China, India, Mauritius, Romania and Turkey.

This report is primarily about responsible sourcing and supply chain environmental impacts, with light coverage of employee engagement and community activities. It is split into nine core sections (work-streams) which make up Arcadia's overall responsibility approach, which is branded under the name "Fashion Footprint". There are signs that Arcadia is indeed committed to adopting responsible practices in many areas, and that corporate responsibility is built into work processes. Each of the nine work-streams has its set of targets which are revised each year. All employees, according to the report, have Fashion Footprint criteria in their appraisal, and it is a "key competency for buying, merchandising, design and technical staff". New starter orientation also includes Fashion Footprint education. The Fashion Footprint is led by a Fashion Footprint Advisory Panel, made up of representatives from the different Arcadia business units. The Panel has delivered Fashion Footprint Roadshows around all business units, and the report stresses the onboarding of the new large group of Bhs employees in this programme.

(continue reading the full review and my recommendations for Arcadia here)

By this time you may have realised that Arcadia have done something I have been recommending for a while - branded their entire sustainability programme under one core concept, Fashion Footprint, which is catchy and readily understood by all. It can appeal both internally and externally as a way to refocus the conversation on sustainability issues. Just  asking the question before every single business decision: "How does this affect our fashion footprint? "  can help ensure sustainability questions can get on the agenda and are effectively adressed. In this way, Arcadia's processes seem to be robust and directionally positive, supported by clarity of communication. This clarity is highly leveraged for employee engagement, communications and training.

Branding sustainability is powerful. All companies should consider branding their CSR approach. Plan A, Ecomagination, Earthkeepers are  stars, and I bet you didn't have to click on the links to know who are behind these concepts.  Arcadia do this well, and continue to build the buzz around their Fashion Footprint, especially in communication with customers. 

Take a look at Arcadia's RR10 here. Oh, and don't forget to give them your feedback :)  

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Ice Cream Ball Sustainability Reporting Methodology

Now, you all know I have a thing for ice cream. Today, when I checked into, (to see how sales of my book, CSR for HR, are doing on Amazon's Author Central Site), the first thing I came across was a promotion for Ice Cream Balls. My kids have been wanting me to get one of these for ages, but I have resisted, preferring ice cream of experts rather than home-made trial and error. However, looking at how to make ice-cream using the Ice Cream Ball, I was reminded of the way I write sustainability reports.

Step 1, fill with ice. Step 2, add all the other ingredients. Step 3, shake it around.

Step 1: When writing Sustainability Reports, after you have gone through the process of data collection and materiality analysis etc, and decided on the theme for your report, the first thing you fill your report with is Material Issues. The material issues are the ice of your report. If you don't put them in first, you will have no room for them amongst the clutter of all the other information and performance metrics that you also need to add to make the report complete, transparent and a fair and balanced representation of your sustainability performance. It's a bit like the big stones in the jar time management exercise (watch this video! it's superb!) which I first learnt over 30 years ago when I did a Covey 7 Habits course.

Step 2: All the other ingredients can now easily be slotted in around the Material Issues. You will have enough room for everything, and in the event that you are just a little short on space, it probably won't be critical to the quality of your report if you omit that extra case study or that extra description of a minor part of your supply chain process. By slotting everything in around the material issues, you not only retain control of the central messages of your report, you also use your entire reporting space most effectively.

Step 3: If you don't shake your Sustainability Report about after you have added all the ingredients and published your report, you won't be able to enjoy the ice cream. See my post on 27 ways to make your CSR Report BUZZ. You have to actively shake your report around as this is the only way to engage your stakeholders in dialogue around its content and your sustainability performance. After all, no one buys an ice cream ball without wanting to taste the ice cream, right ? No one wants to write a sustainability report and have it go completely unnoticed.

So, whether you have an ice cream ball or not, it's worth approaching your Sustainability Report using the Ice Cream Ball methodology. If you are lucky, you will end up with a great report and great ice cream. Just don't get mixed up as to which is which.

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

10 Tips for writing Sustainability Reports

I am just finalizing the writing of a hopefully interesting document about reporting and other things which will be published around February 2011. In the meantime, I couldn't risk sharing these few tips about Sustainability Reports. I am sure the authors won't mind. Oh, the authors are me. That's OK then.

Every Sustainability Report is the result of a process.
Better process, better report.
Define the process before you start working on the report and engage key people.

Every Sustainability Report tells a story.
Think of the story before you think of performance indicators.
But don’t forget the indicators.

Every Sustainability Report is about a person as well as a Company.
It’s about the person who leads the report writing.
Better person, better report.

Every Sustainability Report is as good as your sustainability strategy.
Bad strategy, bad report.
Work on your strategy before you work on your report.

Every Sustainability Report is a commitment to continued reporting.
Think through the depth of your commitment.
Stay with it when the going gets tough.

Every Sustainability Report is unique.
That doesn’t make it great.
The best approach is to make it unique AND great.

Every Sustainability Report should show progress.
Make it easy on the reader.
Make it clear where the progress can be found.

Every Sustainability Report is hard work.
Make it easy on yourself.
Stock up on ice-cream before you start writing

Every Sustainability Report has a reader.
You can be sure at least one person might read it.
Do your best job in case that one person is your largest client.

Every Sustainability Report increases your profitability.
Perhaps not now.
But it will.

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

CSR and the little 'uns

Doesn't time fly? Only two weeks to go until voting closes in THE annual online CSR reporting awards - CRRA 11. You may recall that I was very daring and offered my predictions for the winners in the first time reports category. Now is the time to take a look at my second favourite category: the SME's. Or as we say in Ramat Gan, the little 'uns. I love this category because I know how hard it is for small businesses to advance sustainability and report. I admire all the little 'uns and commend them all for their commitment to transparency.

There are only seven entrants in this category this year. There were 12 in CRRA 10 last year. Three of the seven are also entered in the First Timers category, so phew!,  my work on this post will take less time.

Here are the reports in alpha order, followed by my pick of the bunch.

Not GRI, 38 pages. Also entered in First Time Report category
ArcelorMittal India (AMIL) is a subsidiary of ArcelorMittal, the global steel maker. This report is full of big photos and small print. It is mostly photography and graphic design work and light on content. It does provide some nice local flavor, making it an interesting report, but not a serious contender for winning an award, in my view.

GRI A+, 157 pages Also entered in First Time Report category
GoLite is an outdoor apparel company, outsourcing all manufacturing, and also a Timberland brand licensee, adopting the Timberland Code of Conduct."Transparency weighs nothing. Therefore I GoLite" is a nice introduction to this first report which doesn't go very lite at 157 pages, of which over 50 are appendices, of which 14 pages form a glossary dictionary of sustainability terms. This is one of those reports that rigidly follows the GRI indicator list, including the indicator number(s) with each subsection. For my entire commentary on this report, see my earlier post.

GRI undeclared level, 28 pages
This is a strategic communications consulting firm employing 31 people in Austria, Croatia and Latvia. However, this report is not really a comprehensive sustainability report in the true sense - it is a Global Compact Communication on Progress with an added bonus cross reference to 14 GRI indicators. The policy of the Company is to produce a full Sustainability Report every two years, and a COP in the interim years to comply with UNGC requirements. This shows good commitment, in my view, for a smallish private professional company. The COP is a really nice COP, written with thought and cleverly designed, presenting a frank view of the company's progress against the 10 UNGC principles, including some perspective about the tough impact of the Global Financial Crisis on their firm, and complete with future targets. I like this COP/report and admire this company for its reporting.

Lipor, Portugal
GRI A+, 151 pages
This report is called Relatorio de Sustenabilidade 2009 so yes, you guessed it, it's in a language I don't speak. Reviewing this report therefore was a little tougher than all the rest... From the English page on their website I found out that Lipor is the "Intermunicipal Waste Management of Greater Porto –  the entity in charge for the management, recovery and treatment of the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) produced by the eight partner municipalities: Espinho, Gondomar, Maia, Matosinhos, Porto, Póvoa de Varzim, Valongo and Vila do Conde. It was built as a Municipalities’ Association in 1982, and since then been implementing an integrated waste management, system through the recovery, extension and construction of infrastructures, and development of awareness campaigns towards the population." At 156 pages, which are almost all full of text, I can only assume that this report is quite comprehensive. It looks nice enough, design-wise.

GRI Undeclared level, 25 pages
This is a sustainability services consulting firm employing 30 people. It's quite frank. "While Net Balance has a relatively modest environmental footprint, attempts to reduce it in 2009 were largely unsuccessful." "This year’s report is considerably shorter than last year’s, but better focused." "In an attempt to cut down the needless use of disposable cups, all staff were issued with reusable coffee cups." "Net Balance has found it very difficult to quantify the impact we have on our clients or the broader sustainability field." The report contains a GRI index showing responses to about 21 indicators outside of the profile disclosures. It is short (29 pages of which many are nice photos), but it is focused and does present a picture of a small organization doing things sustainably and considering ways to improve.

GRI B+ , 41 pages Also entered in First Time Report category
This is a 240 people company generating over $118 million (AUD) through development of hydro and wind energy, with a net positive environmental impact. A nice first report, presenting CSR strategy well and including a number of focused case studies which give nice insights into the way this company is contributing to low-carbon energy production and serving communities. There is even a basic attempt to describe some indirect economic impacts of the company's activities - it falls way short of a quantified in-depth assessment of indirect impacts but it demonstrates a good conceptual approach to understanding and managing impacts beyond the limits of the company front door.

Not GRI, 104 pages
Well now, this is one of the most interesting and unusual reports I have come across in a while. The Shared Interest Society is a financial services company established in 1990 "by a group of fair trade pioneers with a vision of a new way of investing money to reduce poverty." The Company now lends over 33 million GBP, working in 36 countries around the globe. It has 30 staff who conduct their business in a "manner which reflects the principles of love, justice and stewardship". The report is a Social Audit, the fifth this organization has produced. It is very transparent, very factual,  full of facts and figures, and includes stories and quotations from different groups around the world, as well as feedback from different stakeholder groups. The downside is that it is heavily worded, looooooooong and hard to read. As a transparent report covering this business's material impacts, it's excellent. As a sustainability report, it's quite comprehensive through it doesn't follow a format which makes it easily comparable to more common reporting structures. It could be reduced in length and lightened up a little to make it a little more palatable, though probaby, the primary stakeholders of this organization may enjoy reading it from start to finish. It's a good document, on the whole.  

And now for my picks. My vote will go this way:

First place: Hauske and Partner Group
Second place:  Pacific Hydro
Third place: Net Balance
Fourth Place: Shared Interest Society
Fifth place: GoLite

Which way will YOUR vote go? Because I just know you will vote. Remember, voting for CSR reports is a virtue. You will feel better about yourself afterwards.

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, January 7, 2011

The TBL business model. Clear as mud.

My brain often makes its limitations clear to me. There are some things I just don't understand. I have puzzled over a comparison between a traditional and a triple-bottom-line costing model now for quite a few minutes, and I can't work out whether I am just dumb or it doesn't make sense (or both).

It all started when a PR notice about Bascom's community outreach dropped into my inbox. It just happened to be one that missed the delete button before I had a chance to react, so I ended up reading it. It starts off like this:

"With over 90 apartment communities across the country participating, the Bascom Group raises $19,000 for the US Fund for UNICEF"

It goes on to describe that range of activities Bascom leveraged "in 95 communities across the nation" to generate $19,000  (that's $200 per community). Whilst I appreciate the efforts this company is making to help others donate money, $19,000 didn't sound like an awful lot to me, and nothing was mentioned about how much Bascom actually donated, if anything, so I read further to check Bascom out. It's a private equity firm in California which buys up properties resulting from foreclosure or bankruptcy, refurbishes them and resells them, as far as I can tell. The Company has completed transactions worth over $6 billion. $19,000 versus $6 billion. I was still curious. Delving deeper, I noticed something that looked quite positive. The community outreach programs that Bascom engages in include free rent for teachers and police officers in return for services to the community, free financial education workshops for all in their residential communities, free ESL (English as a Second Language) lessons, job fairs and more. All of these services are designed to strengthen the quality of life for those who live in Bascom properties. It's a good core-business CSR approach. Well done Bascom.  

The thing that flummoxed me was Bascom's Triple Bottom Line approach.  Bascom offers a detailed cost calculation comparison versus a "traditional model" and a "community outreach" model. The latter results in social value of $486 (net operating income differential) whilst the traditional model delivers $0 value. I worked through each line, and aside from the fact that the community model generates a higher revenue and has higher marketing costs, I for the life of me cannot fathom out how this calculation proves the TBL business case.

If anyone has any suggestions, please do enlighten me.

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

11 top food companies fail at sustainability

A very interesting report was published recently by Bank Sarasin and Co Ltd,  called: " Food and Sustainability: Will the seed bear fruit? " . It discusses the sustainability ratings of the top 15 listed food and beverage manufacturers worldwide including Heinz, Danone, Unilever, Nestle and others. The report highlights three central sustainability themes that affect food producers: (1) health and nutrition, (2) sourcing more raw materials from sustainable agriculture and (3) committing to fair working conditions.  How the sector approaches these core sustainability material issues is the basis for the Bank's rating.

Health and Nutrition - some of the issues

Obesity: We all know about the problems of obesity, exacerbated through manufactured, processed, ready-cooked, fast, faster, junk, junkier and junkiest food. There is also a suggestion that the drop in levels of breast-feeding in favour of infant formula may contribute to fatter kids. In fact, obesity levels have been steadily rising for the past 20 years and are predicted to continue to do so. This report quotes that the cost of healthcare could increase by 240% by 2040 due to upward-trending obesity levels, checked only by the fact that life expectancy of the expensively obese is shorter than that of the thinnies. Not that it's ok to enjoy your food and die early, because in the meantime, equitable access to nutritious food is still a problem.

Problem food content: Salt, sugars, fats, What role does and should government play in ensuring healthy food availability and non-availability of healthy food, for example, banning high-cal snacks in schools. More legislation can be expected as governments and consumers increase awareness.

Enjoyment food: I wonder if this concept existed in the days of Fred Flintstone? The entire food industry has created a special place for enjoyment, indulgent, pleasure foods, all of which are really superfluous to a healthy diet and a sustainable planet. The trade-offs between health and enjoyment are a phenomenon of our advanced commercialized world and food industry. Would banning chocolate make us all more sustainable? Oy! and what about Chunkey Monkey ..... err...... help....

Raw materials and sustainable farming - some of the issues 

Problem agriculture: The report quotes that agriculture, once "an emblem of prudent management of natural resources" now accounts for 90% of global deforestation, is the biggest consumer of chemicals, generates the highest volume of GHG's and consumes about 70% of the planet's freshwater resources. Not a pretty picture, huh ? We are simply eating the planet for lunch, bite by bite. Food manufacturers are key protagonists in these global dining habits.

Organics: Even with the continuing buzz around organic food, organics is still a niche market and will account for less than 1% of farmland worldwide during the next 50 years, according to the report by Bank Sarasin. Important crops such as sugarcane, palm oil and soya are still not moving up the organic ladder. How manufacturers are revising their strategies to ensure long-term sourcing security is critical for sustainable food supply. 

Green genetic engineering: For or against? Modifying seeds to make them more resistant to pests and therefore reduce use of pesticides may well sound like an ideal solution but the technology is controversial and not readily digestable by all (haha, what a pun!). Bank Sarasin thinks the risks of GMO's outweigh the opportunities and discount seed producers from their investment recommendations. 

Sustainable farming methods:  The approach of manufacturers to ensure sustainable farming methods are a part of their overall supply chain strategy is critical. Heinz, for example, is the world's biggest producer of processed tomatoes and has pioneered the cultivation of tomatoes requiring fewer pesticides. The report mentions that some major food producers have entered into agreements with leading environmental organisations to advance sustainable farming.

Factory and field - fair working conditions - some of the issues

Global rights and global labour:  As more production is outsourced, so fewer employees are protected by international labour conventions and enjoy freedom of association, the report advises. The implementation of globally applicable employment standards is problematic leaving many workers with no protection of their rights. An indicator of this is whether a company discloses how many employees in their supply chain have a fixed employment contract. Apparently, not many disclose this detail.

Poor working conditions: Issues abound in farming and food production - seasonality, "subsistence risks through crop failure and price collapse", accidents and illness caused through agrochemicals etc. It is quoted that 60% of child labour is concentrated in agriculture.

Market power of big companies: In what Bank Sarasin called a bottleneck market structure, prices and conditions are dictated by a very small number of retailers, despite sourcing from many small-scale farmers. This gives rise to an inequitable distribution of wealth and inevitably, the small guy whose quality of life depends on the price he gets for his banana takes the hit. Fairtrade, development of relationships with farming cooperatives and other approaches are available to address these issues, in part. The take-up of these options by food manufacturers is a key element in creating a responsible and sustainable supply chain.   

Overall, this report of Bank Sarasin, authored by Dr. Gabriella Ries Hafner,  offers some fascinating insights about the sustainability impacts of the big food manufacturers. It is clear that the issues are still far from resolved and that overall, food manufacture has light-years to travel before it has a net positive sustainable impact. Rethinking the entire food value chain management in a systemic way is the task ahead. In Bank Sarasin's analysis, only four of the top 15 global food and beverage manufacturers (Danone, Heinz, Unilever and Nestle)  fall into the "social investment universe"  because they appear to be addressing these issues effectively. (See the matrix in the Bank's repease about the report)

We all have a role to play in making food supply more sustainable. The issues highlighted by the report published by the Bank are just some of the things we should be watching for as we read the Sustainability Reports of these corporations (and we should be reading them).  If they are not addressing these issues, amongst others, they are not serious about sustainability and we should be letting them know that we know.

And as for Chunky Monkey... well, every rule has its exception, no ?  

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, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
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