Wednesday, March 30, 2011

SAP 2010 Sustainability Report

I can't resist taking a few minutes out of an extremely heavy workload (it's reporting season, folks!) to record a few impressions from my conversation last evening with Peter Graf, the Chief Sustainability Officer of SAP, who talked me through the highlights of the SAP 2010 Sustainability Report, the online showcase for everything that SAP can do to "help the world run better." Moving from "having a sustainability strategy" to having a "corporate strategy which is sustainable", SAP seems to be doing and saying some great things, some of which managed to cause even me to be impressed, which takes some doing, and presenting them in a creative and innovative way in their second fully online PDFless twitterable facebookable report, complete with interactive customizable graphs and data. Whereas last year's report was more about the social media song and dance, I feel this year's report has matured and reflects a stronger focus on accountability for impacts rather than  actions. Indeed, the SAP Advisory Panel, which includes Aron BSR Cramer and Bill Cradle-to-Cradle McDonough, amongst others, together with online feedback on the last report, was instrumental in urging SAP to attempt to quantify to what degree they are helping the world to run better. The Advisory Panel engages in regular conference calls and meets annually with the SAP Board. That's good practice.

SAP's response to feedback is evident in SAP's attempt to define customer impact, claiming that SAP solutions have improved the safety and health of 800 million people. 800 million people? Skeptical? SAP thought you might be. So they included a pop-up describing how they calculated this not insignificant proportion of the global population.
The customer section reads like one big marketing campaign but there is some substance to the proposition that SAP's core purpose is about helping businesses to operate more efficiently and therefore save the world. If you have it, I guess you might as well flaunt it. Next to Ecomagination and Plan A, this is probably one of the best demonstrations of how a truly strategic approach to sustainability actually does pay off. It is encouraging that the business case for sustainability seems in no doubt at SAP, though this comes only after achieving a certain level of maturity on the sustainability continuum.
We are apparently becoming a global community of Sappites. But this may not be such a bad thing, given the big strides SAP is making in environmental sustainability. SAP's absolute carbon footprint reduced by 6% in 2010 and is presented nicely, with the graph bars shown below the line, because emissions are always a liability and not a demonstration of positive impact. The shorter the line is, the lower the emissions are, and SAP appears to have been working hard to reduce the bar-length since their emission peak in 2007.

Graph options allow you to view this data by region, normalized to Euro revenue and number of employees and by GHG Reporting Scope 1, 2, or 3. But the best of all is the Abatement Cost Curve, which shows how SAP intends to reduce emissions to 2000 levels by 2020, generating not only emissions reductions but also significant cost savings, which will fund the purchase of energy from renewable sources and the generation of solar energy. This is a strong commitment and will require many changes in corporate and individual behavior.  I admire a company who makes clear plans and commits to them in a public report.

One of the changes relates to vehicles. 79% of SAP's Scope 1 GHG emissions are from company cars. One of the ways SAP is addressing this is through more virtual interactions (43 telepresence stations) and the use of electric cars. These cars are now being used in SAP USA, Germany and India and SAP is building 16 charge spots in the SAP Palo Alto site, the largest charging site in corporate USA at this time. SAP is even enabling 1,000 people to test drive the Nissan Leaf for short periods so they can get the feel of the future. Sometimes it pays to work for a large company.

The SAP strategy is defined in terms of three impact areas - operations, (which includes environmental impacts),  customers and social  and in each area, SAP defines key strategies, metrics and impacts. At the center of this is SAP's sustainability map, a very nice overview of what's on the SAP sustainability radar. (Yes, I "like" 'd it and gave it 5 stars!)

What's material about SAP's business? Again this year, SAP presents their
D-I-Y Materiality matrix in which you can see the way materiality has changed over the years and develop your own matrix of issues as a SAP stakeholder. It also has a very beneficial therapeutic effect, a little like Tetrix. If you look at SAP's materiality in real-time, you can see they have a lot to be thinking about!

The user interface of the report seems to be a little easier to navigate this year, or maybe it feels that way because it's the second time around. However, the best way to find what you are looking for is the GRI Index page. I understand that for PDF geeks like me, and print-it-out investment analysts, a 3 page Exec Summary will soon be produced.

However, one test the SAP report failed is my EN22 test. This is a core indicator and should be reported fully in a GRI A level report. See a previous post of mine on this subject. SAP's response to this indicator is not in line with the GRI requirement despite it being noted as fully reported. I have not checked the rest of the indicators one by one (maybe I will, one day, just for fun :)), but the EN22 test is an indication of a lack of rigor both in reporting and in verification.

Another poor performance area is SAP's advancement of women where the rhetoric is not aligned with the performance. "Diversity as a business driver" is the pronouncement, but despite all these wonderful Nissan Leaf cars, there is not much driving being done at SAP from the gender equality perspective. Women at SAP represent only 11.5% of top management which is 0.1% higher than the 2006 level. Clearly all the nice words around advancing women are not getting through to the male (chauvinist?) SAP leadership which  includes 16 Supervisory Board Members  of which one appears to be female, if am guessing the gender correctly based on members' forenames, and an Executive Board of 6 members which includes one women in the HR role who just made it into the report, having been appointed in 2010. Two out of 22 top roles makes 9% of women in the key leadership positions in the company. SAP says "In 2010, we established a global women’s program advisory council to promote career development for female employees".  I say that there needs to be more than a council. There needs to be a major mindset change among  men at SAP. Statistics prove that companies with women in leadership positions deliver greater shareholder returns. As I have often said, women do not need to be counseled, trained, mentored and fixed. They need to be promoted. SAP should stop womenwashing and get on with it. A good start would be to replace SAP's two male CEO's with one woman CEO providing a chance for both a cost saving and improved performance. :)

There are some other very nice features of the SAP report but time prevents me from elaborating here and now (it's reporting season, folks!), but I recommend you check it out. It has never been easier to provide feedback on a sustainability report so let SAP know you value this. I understand from Peter Graf that last the 2009 report generated over 100 meaningful queries and suggestions, many of which were incorporated in SAP practices and in the 2010 report content. Influence is a wonderful thing and SAP are making it easy for all stakeholders to grab a slice of the action.

My conversation with Peter Graf was fascinating and covered many points which I have not been able to expand on here, but I will follow up in additional posts as relevant over the next few weeks. Peter, of course, didn't tell me what to write about in this blog but I am sure he will be pleased to hear that I applaud SAP for an excellent demonstration of transparency and overall encouraging sustainability performance.

The only thing I forgot to ask Peter during our conversation was "What was it that SAP chose NOT to report?" . Hmm. Probably a good thing. Why burst the bubble ?

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, March 25, 2011

Drumroll for the CRRA 11 winners

Once again, amidst great fanfare, the annual iconic CRRA Awards Winners were announced on the evening of 24th March at a special super-duper gala event in London hosted by, the global CR resources website which hosts the world’s most comprehensive directory of corporate non-financial reporting, profiling 31,000 reports across 161 countries. This year, the competition's fourth, the number of entries were capped to enable a reasonable and un-overwhelming selection of reports from 90 companies for the 35,000 registered site users to vote on. This approach has created  a change in the line-up this year, breaking the strongholds of Vodafone, Coca Cola and Novo Nordisk who have taken Best Report, Best Creativity and Best Integrated Report for the past three years running.
Reports from ten countries made the winning line-up this year - with the UK (8 winning reports) and the USA (7 winning reports) leading the national reporting efforts. Brazil took only two reports (Banco Bradesco and Natura Cosmeticos), rather a different picture from the GRI Readers Choice outcome.  But don't despair, the three hat-trick winners of previous years  found alternative categories for report recognition, with 2 of the trio taking first place awards (Vodafone -Best Carbon Disclosure, Novo Nordisk -Best Honesty) while Coca Cola took second place in two categories, Best Report and Best Creativity. This time around, 6981 valid votes were placed, showing the continuing popularity of this largest online annual reporting competition worldwide.

So, without further ado.... drumroll..... here are the winners. (NB. Links are the report profiles on the website, so you need to be registered to view tham).

Best report
Winner: Hewlett-Packard Company
1st Runner-up: Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc
2nd Runner-up: Bayer AG

Best first time report
Winner: Virgin Group Ltd
1st Runner-up: McGraw Hill Companies Inc
2nd Runner-up: Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co

Best SME report
Winner: Pacific Hydro Pty Limited
1st Runner-up: ArcelorMittal India Ltd
2nd Runner-up: Lipor

Best Integrated report
Winner: Natura Cosméticos SA
1st Runner-up: SolarWorld AG
2nd Runner-up: AXA SA

Best Carbon Disclosure
Winner: Vodafone Group plc
1st Runner-up: General Electric Company
2nd Runner-up: Banco Bradesco SA

Creativity in Communications
Winner: Virgin Group Ltd
1st Runner-up: The Coca-Cola Company
2nd Runner-up: Hewlett-Packard Company

Relevance & Materiality
Winner: SABMiller plc
1st Runner-up: L'Oréal SA
2nd Runner-up: Novo Nordisk A/S

Openness & Honesty
Winner: Novo Nordisk A/S
1st Runner-up: Co-operative Group Limited
2nd Runner-up: Microsoft Corporation

Credibility through Assurance
Winner: Co-operative Group Limited (assured by Two Tomorrows)
1st Runner-up: General Electric Company
2nd Runner-up: Royal Dutch Shell plc

Congrats to all the winners!!! and comiserations to all the non-winners.
But take heart ... only one year to go till the CRRA 12 !

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, March 12, 2011

33 reasons to attend a conference on reporting

The  main reason I attend conferences is to keep up to date, learn new stuff and gain new insights from inspiring people doing inspiring things. Of course, networking is a big bonus, and more and more these days it's about meeting people face-to-face after months or years of positive interaction on social media, as well as catching up with those you have not seen in a ling while. As plan my trip to the UK later this month, I thought I would share my 33 reasons for attending the Justmeans Redefining Value: Integrated Reporting and Measuring Sustainability Conference in London on 25th March 2011.

33. The Agenda looks great
32. It's about sustainability reporting.. my favorite subject in the whole wide world (sorry Chunky Monkey)
31. I haven't been to a Justmeans conference before, and it's about time I checked them out
30. Some of the great thought leaders in sustainability and reporting, and sustainability reporting will be on stage - Wim Bartels, Thomas Conde, Toby Heaps, Judy Kuszewski and more
29. I am interested to hear what Niels Christiansen, Vice President of Public Affairs, Nestle S.A, has to say, given Nestle's sometimes not so comfortable positioning in the media.
28: It's in London, a very convenient location and the home of fish and chips.
27. There are plenty of breaks to download emails whilst networking.
26. The winners of the Social Innovation Awards will be announced. I always like a scoop!
25. I will be interested to hear Carsten Ingerslev, Director, Danish Government Centre for CSR, given Denmark's prowess in so many areas of sustainability including mandatory ESG reporting.
24.Maybe they will serve ice cream in the breaks.
23. The venue is close to Oxford Street. Yeah! Shopping.
22. The GRI, CDP and A4S will be updating us on the State of Reporting. Three leading lights.
21. I won't have to make dinner for the kids.
20. I won't have to make dinner period.
19. The attendance list reads like the top 100 corporate citizens list.
18. The venue is corporately responsible
17. This line is intentionally left blank.
16. The Social Innovation Awards shortlist is intriguing.
15. I happened to have March 25th free.
14. Integrated reporting is a complex topic and thinking is evolving. It's important to be where integrated reporting is being discussed. Every voice counts.
13. I can't attend the pre-conference workshop so the conference will be my compensation.
12.I am looking forward to watching everyone tweeting from the conference (what was that hashtag again?)
11.The conference promises to showcase best practices from companies at the forefront of reporting. Who would want to miss that ?
10. You never know, there just might be someone attending who is looking for a great Sustainability Reporter to help them write their next Sustainability Report. (Darn! I told myself I wasn't going to plug the services of my company, Beyond Business, in this post. I always had a problem with self-discipline.)

Keep going. Only 9 more to go. I saved the best till the last.

9. I get to meet up again with Martin Smith, the Justmeans mastermind.
8. It's something to do before my flight back home.
7. I am hoping to meet many co-#CSR-tweeps. #CSR tweeps are fabulous.
6. The conference is on a Friday. That means we can #FollowFriday it.
5. It's something to tell the folks back home about.
4. Do you really think they will serve ice cream in the breaks?
3. I will have lots of material to blog about.
2. It sounds like fun.
1. It's gonna be a blast.
0. I have the opportunity to be really generous and pass on a substantial discount to just a few people who register quoting a secret code that I am able to reveal to a few lucky friends. (If you also have 33 reasons to attend this exciting conference, just drop me a line and I will see what I can do.There are just a few places still open).

If you are at the conference, please come and say : Hi Elaine, how about ice cream?

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, March 11, 2011

Is Marks and Spencer's ladder standing against the right wall?

I am often approached by students to provide assistance with their studies on sustainability. This time, an MSc student from the UK challenged me with several questions about the Marks and Spencer 2010 report. Whilst I don't manage to response to everyone in such great technicolor detail, I used this student's questions as a great opportunity to study the M&S report and blog about the iconic Plan A, all the while assisting with the study of sustainability.

Here are the questions in red with my answers in boring old black:

What is the GRI Application Level sought by the last report by M&S 2010? I have read that it is C, but looking at the GRI index at the end, it is not clear. How do I get this information?

Yes, it's true, some reports don't clearly state the Application Level of their report in a very visible and accessible way. The M&S Report notes on page 40: "To provide a common point of reference, the Global Reporting Initiatives’s (GRI) third generation G3 framework has been used as a checklist. As the Report is mainly based around our Plan A commitments it has been prepared in accordance with the level C". I interpret this to mean that they have not rigorously applied the C framework but have more or less, in a roundabout way, generally speaking, rather, somewhat, glanced at the GRI C framework. In actual fact, after a quick review I can see that one of the mandatory disclosures, 4.15 (basis for identification and selection of stakeholders with whom to engage) is not reported. You can look at the GRI Application Levels table on the GRI website to know what indicators need to be reported at each level.

M&S doesn't explain how they selected their core of stakeholders (4.15). However, although there is lot of literature on M&S, I never found a stakeholder unhappy to be left out. Most of the NGOs and Think Tanks commentators are positive about M&S's report (and therefore M&S's way of selecting stakeholders). Here is the contradiction: apparently they haven't reported properly (4.15) but nobody is complaining as if they have done well practically. Is this correct?

Actually, the  Stakeholder Dialog section in the M&S report (pages 42 and 43) is quite impressive and certainly has more breadth and depth than most of the reports I read. Stakeholder dialog is one of the most important parts of a sustainability report and most don't do it well, mainly because they don't have a structured approach to stakeholder engagement and therefore revert to reporting about general conversations with customer and suppliers and mentioning a few industry associations they are affiliated with. True stakeholder dialog is the fundamental basis for legitimacy any organization can seek, and representing it well in the Sustainability Report one of the strongest pillars of credibility. M&S report on how they engaged an external party, Ernst and Young to gather "impartial feedback" from a range of organizations, which the report lists. All of these organizations are NGO's which focus on different aspects of sustainability. The broad stakeholder responses gained from this exercise are listed and are quite enlightening being not simply complimentary but offering good suggestions for M&S's sustainability direction. M&S's responses to the responses are also listed. In addition, M&S reports the channels for stakeholder interaction with other stakeholder groups. 

This is a good overall representation of stakeholder engagement. We might of course ask how the stakeholder groups were selected, how many stakeholders from each NGO consulted provided feedback, and why they elected to use an external party to facilitate dialog rather than create a direct route for discussion involving M&S people. We might ask for more information about the true nature of stakeholder dialog with employees, suppliers, customers and regulators, some of which is only briefly referred to in the body of the report. We also might wonder how much stakeholder feedback and input influenced the selection of Plan A commitments (and we may need to go back to January 2007, when Plan A was launched, to find out) or the new 80 commitments launched in March 2010. In response to the point about no-one complaining because M&S did not disclose against 4.15, I would say that, first of all, we don't know who complained and if so, because M&S does not disclose this. In general, however, M&S does do well with a strongly branded and well-communicated Plan A, and a very detailed report against the commitments they have made, so I doubt there will be a stakeholder lobby about a gap against profile disclosure 4.15.

They said that they reported on 4.17 (what the stakeholders have to say). However, they reported only what the stakeholders said on the issues that M&S selected. So, we don't know whether the stakeholders presented other issues as material or not. Again, I never read practical criticisms of materiality on regard of M&S report 2010. I only read your comments to the report of 2008, on regard of the lack of transparency of what happened when employees were made redundant. So, am I right that 2010 report still lacks of transparency on materiality but that, at the same time, the public seems happy with it?

This is a good point. M&S have not published a materiality matrix. We are left to assume that the 100+ commitments reflect the most material issues. We don't know from the way M&S reports anything about the relative intensity of the feedback the company has received from different stakeholders, nor do we know how these issues tie into M&S's core business strategy, aside from some obvious assumptions relating to growth and cost savings. The plan A commitments range from aiming to make all  UK and Republic of Ireland operations (stores, offices, warehouses, business travel and logistics) carbon neutral by 2012  (no. 1), to maintaining a non GM food policy (no. 53), to introducing a range of recycling services for customers including a project for used clothing (no. 44) to providing improved health and lifestyle information to employees (no. 100) and a whole lot more in between.  Which of these are material?  Which are more material ? Which are most material? And why? M&S did not meet commitment no. 49, to triple sales of organic food by 2010. In fact, 2009/10 sales were below 2005/6 levels. Is this of any material significance? Will the general health of consumers be seriously affected by avoidance of organic foods? Will M&S's share price take a hit because of this? Will fertilizer and pesticide volumes used in M&S products be increased as they sell less organic food? 
M&S have a checklist of performance indicators, their own kind of GRI, and they work through this. The difference between Plan A and the GRI framework is that the GRI framework, imperfect though it may be, is a multi-stakeholder consensus driven platform which is now widely accepted as leading practice. The M&S Plan A is a unilaterally developed performance program. It's a bit like the ladder against the wall analogy. M&S are outstanding ladder-climbers, but is the ladder standing against the right wall? And how do we know?
In response to the point as to whether the public are happy with it, it seems they are. M&S enjoys much participation from consumers and gains much kudos from thought leaders in this space. The company deserves great credit. They are doing far more, and doing it far better, than many. Perhaps that is the limit of their stakeholder aspirations (and perhaps they know that).  

I have the feeling (from many readings, but I can't point to any specific one) that the supply chain issue is better covered by other competitors, such as Sainsbury. However, M&S is famous for being very demanding with its supply chain, being mostly the only big retailer that is sending auditors everywhere. So, could M&S be weak on reporting on supply chain, but strong in practice? Why would it be so?

I think part of the response to this is the format M&S uses for its reporting. Rather than describe policies, goals, objectives, case studies, and provide a platform for stakeholder voices in the report, the Sustainability Report is a list of commitments and status statements against Plan A. This makes for a very disjointed view of the M&S performance. We only know about anything insofar as it is encompassed in one of M&S's commitments. Reporters who weave goals and objectives into a body of narrative which flows logically may well give an impression of more comprehensive reporting when in fact they may be doing less than M&S.

Marks and Spencer report is a C Level but why is it self-declared and C only (not C+) given that it was externally certified by Ernst and Young ?

The assurance statement by Ernst and Young could qualify for the GRI "+". However, as mentioned earlier, M&S are very hedgy about their claim to Application Level C. They have not really declared and Application Level but merely assessed their level of disclosure to be in adherence with Level C guidelines. They could have said C+ guidelines just as easily. However, the assurance statement did not assess the M&S report against the GRI guidelines requirements, which I would expect it to do if assuring a true GRI report. Perhaps it was just easier all round to leave this point rather fuzzy.  

So, that was, for me, an interesting review of the Marks and Spencer report, based on an even more interesting set of questions from our London student. I think that definitely deserves a Chunky Monkey next time I am in London, don't you ?

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, March 5, 2011

Context in context

This post a response to Mark McElroy and Henk Hadders. Both have been urging me to "pronounce" on the subject of context, or lack of it, in sustainability reports, in particular following  my outline of the way the GRI guidelines and integrated reporting will be progressing over the next few years.

Mark McElroy is the founder of the Center for Sustainable Organizations, and has been working tirelessly for over 10 years to advocate for context-based sustainability reporting for which he has developed a particular methodology. I chatted to Mark on the phone yesterday.

The GRI relates to the question of context in the GRI guidelines, as one of the reporting principles for defining content. The guidance on the principle of context states that reports should present the organization's sustainability performance in the wider context of sustainability. This is the explanation: "The underlying question of sustainability reporting is how an organization contributes, or aims to contribute in the future, to the improvement or deterioration of economic, environmental, and social conditions, developments, and trends at the local, regional, or global level. Reporting only on trends in individual performance (or the efficiency of the organization) will fail to respond to this underlying question. Reports should therefore seek to present performance in relation to broader concepts of sustainability. This will involve discussing the performance of the organization in the context of the limits and demands placed on environmental or social resources at the sectoral, local, regional, or global level." This is rather broad and of course, the degree to which context is reported in detail is left open to interpretation. The GRI offers nothing more specific on this subject. Mark McElroy, however, sees context in a very specific way. These are the tenets of the Context Based Sustainability Reporting approach a la Mark McElroy.

Mark says that whilst the GRI does a good job of structuring reporting, it doesn't go far enough in defining and requiring context in reporting. He says it's like leaving the costs out of a financial report. According to Mark, the issue of context can be described as the need for standards of performance when talking about sustainability. You are either sustainable or you are not, according to an agreed standard. The question is, who defines what that sustainable performance standard is? Companies measure themselves against their own past performance or their targets, or even their peers, but what is really needed is some absolute measure of sustainability so that companies can report whether they are on track, behind or ahead. Sustainability performance, then, according to Mark, should be measured in terms of vital capital resources which are required for our sustainable wellbeing such as:  natural capital, social capital (social networks etc.), human capital (personal health, knowledge, skills and experience) and constructed capital (physical infrastructures etc.). The sustainability performance of an organization is a function of the organization's impacts on these vital capital resources. In plain language, if there is only so much water available in a particular country, (water levels can be calculated with some accuracy), this needs to be divided between all the stakeholders that use that water. Some of these stakeholders are individuals, some are also people who work for companies. Everyone has a ration, or an allocation based on a calculated quotient. A company's allocation might be related to the number of people it employs. So by doing all these calculations, using precodified values, it is possible to say that company X's rightful allocation of water was Y cubic meters out of the total amount of water available. If the company used more than Y, its performance was not sustainable. I likened this a little to food rations in war time. There is only so much to go around, so everyone gets an allocation. The tricky thing in all of this, of course, is who decides the allocations and on what basis? In the case of a company, which contributes value to society in many different ways, it might be appropriate to give a greater allocation than to a private individual. This step hasn't been bottomed out completely yet, but remains the subject of ongoing research. If you want to see this methodology in more in more detail, take a look at this presentation, which is called the Social Footprint Model.

The theory here is that reporting in a vacuum gives us no indication that a company is sustainable, because, even though it may have been reducing emissions, energy, water and other materials consumption, as well as investing in the health and wellbeing of employees and communities, it still might have been be using more than its "fair" share of resources and therefore the company's performance might not have been all that sustainable after all. Mark believes that stakeholders have a right to know this, and even if the methodology is not 100% complete, it's a basis for debate and gets closer to providing tangible tools to deliver change, and should be included in sustainability reports.

This is a great approach. If only the world's resources could all be parceled up into neat packages that we could all share out according to a mutually agreed formula, life would be so much more simple. However, despite trying hard to understand this approach and wanting to believe that it can work, I am afraid I don't. I believe we would spend so much time arguing about the definition of the quotient and the formula for the allocation that this methodology in itself would not be sustainable. I don't believe it's possible to separate all the combined factors that influence the sustainability performance of a company at local and/or global level and reduce them to over-quotient or under-quotient in every specific impact area. Mark believes this is possible. He may be right. But I don't. Not for quite a few years anyway. I see how companies are struggling just to understand and report their own data, let along trying to contextualize it in such a specific way.

My definition of context in terms of what I like to see in a sustainability report is closer to the way the GRI frames it. Context should explain why a company adopts a particular sustainability strategy and invests its resources in doing certain things. An energy company, moving to renewables, might state the broader context of finite levels of non-renewables. An IT company investing in emerging economy infrastructure might talk about the impact of digital inclusion on sustainability. A food company might talk about population projections and food security requirements. A pharma company might talk about health risks and trends. Companies might state local factors which are crucial to their business sustainability such as population demographics or dominant environmental factors. Their sustainability strategies should be related to these external realities in a way which stakeholders can understand. This is high level context and wouldn't meet the criteria for Mark McElroy's detailed context-based reporting, but I tend to see a company's performance in terms of the company's contribution to global sustainability, rather than its performance relative to a pre-defined level of expected impacts. If a company has consistently reduced absolute resource consumption over time, then it appears to me they are in the right direction.

Is this is enough? Well, we probably know already that it's almost never going to be enough. In the absence of regulation which imposes limits, such as the UK Climate Change Act, each company with its own individual considerations must make an assessment of its own sustainability (will resources continue to be available to a company at the level required to maintain operations?) as well as its contribution to global sustainability. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan was hailed as one of the boldest commitments any company has ever made to sustainability. In this plan, Unilever committed to halving the environmental footprint of their products. Is that enough? Is that sustainable? I don't know. I am not sure any methodology will enable us to accurately answer that question.

Anyway, there it is. I have pronounced on context. I would like to see more context in Sustainability Reporting, as many reports don't even meet my fairly general expectation. Whilst I can appreciate they may be  merit in the visionary context-based approach proposed by the quotient methodology, I am not sure it is  possible to achieve a general consensus on the quotients and the allocations, and companies are still at such a basic level in sustainability metrics management that it's  like wanting to be able to land on the moon back in the 1960's. Ah, but we did that, right? So I guess anything's possible.

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, March 3, 2011

Is reporting waste a waste of time ?

One of the biggest issues, I believe, in GRI-based reporting is that of comparability, which is the ability to compare performance across companies. Included in the ambitious vision of the GRI was the aspiration to become a platform to enable company and sector comparisons of key sustainability performance metrics. Whilst on a broad scale, some degree of comparability is possible with companies who report with a high level of transparency, there still remain vast gaps in the quality of reporting against individual indicators. Because the GRI check is limited only to a sampling of indicators reported, these gaps are not necessarily picked up by the GRI application level check.

To explain how this shows up in different reports, I took a look at Performance Indicator EN22 which is all about something we all create (ha-ha some more than others): waste. The GRI indicator requests details of hazardous and non-hazardous waste created by the organization's operations by disposal method, reported in tonnes. Companies are asked not only to detail what they waste but also what they do with their waste. This is as important to the financial sustainability of the company (waste is money) as it is to the sustainability of our environment. It sounds like a fairly simple thing to report, right ? Well, perhaps not.

First report from this company, published in 2011, GRI Application Level B  GRI Checked. This company has published a printed report summary. The GRI index appears online only. Indicator EN22 is noted as fully reported. In the summary report, we learn that Arizona generated approximately 2.5 million pounds of hazardous waste in  the USA in 2009 and less than 10 million pounds in Europe. Over 98% of hazardous waste is sent for off-site incineration and the remaining waste at 2% is landfilled or recycled as required by law. Solid waste, which is not hazardous, is landfilled (80%), incinerated (13%) and recycled (3%). And that's it. Total amount of waste is not reported, I have to really search for the relevant data and also do some number-crunching to understand their hazardous waste levels in tonnes, and frankly, I really have no idea exactly how much this company is sending to landfill each year. EN22 is not reported in full.

GRI Application Level A+, third party checked and GRI Checked. This report is an annual report which also confirms to GRI A+ Application Level. The GRI Index is a PDF which has to be downloaded separately and not part of the printed report. Indicator EN22 is noted as fully reported.  In the printed report, we learn that Hoffman La Roche generates waste to landfill (inert waste 1,226 tons; construction waste, 14,900 tons; reactor waste 7,208 tons) and separately we are told that the organization generates 27,249 tonnes of general waste and 29,020 tonnes of chemical waste. Now, it gets more complicated. The PDF download GRI Index also has embedded downloads, such as this one one the subject of waste. In this third download, we are told that 95% of chemical waste was incinerated and the rest was  landfilled. Then there's this: In addition, 4279 metric tons of residual substances could be sold as valorised socondary products. Another 16,369 metric tons consisting of mainly solvents were recycled. As regards general waste, 19% of the 27,429 metric tons noted above were incinerated and the rest landfilled. 14,900 tons of this was rubbish from demolished buildings. In addition, 92,141 metric tons of residual materials were recycled. So, by this time, I am totally confused. Is Hoffman's total waste 1,226 PLUS 14,900  PLUS 7,208 PLUS 29,020 PLUS 4,279 PLUS 16,360 PLUS 27,429 PLUS 92,141 =192,563 tonnes ?  How much of this total waste, whatever total means, is hazardous ? The report does not distinguish between hazardous and non hazardous.  In addition to having to download three documents, try to make sense of non-sensical figures and add everything up myself, I still remain perplexed as to the total waste levels of this company, despite their pride at having reduced waste levels, so they say, during the past five years.  Here we have an A+ report checked by two separate external parties, and I can't even get a simple figure such as total waste. EN22 is not reported in full.

This is an Application B+ level report, checked by the GRI. In this report, the GRI Index is part of the report (whew!) and EN22 is noted as fully reported. And lo and behold! We have data. See  this:

Here we have clear reporting. Hazardous and Non-Hazardous waste separately recorded, split by type and tonnage. Great. Now, where did all those millions of tonnes of waste end up? Oops. Who knows? This is not reported, as far as I can tell. So, all in all, whilst I have a much easier time getting to clear numbers about waste generation, I still do not know how the Company manages waste disposal and Indicator EN22 is not fully reported.  

How should Companies report this indicator?
Clear numbers, clear narrative, clear graphics, clear reporting, in conformance with EN22 performance indicator. At a glance, we know how much waste, the split between hazardous and non-hazardous, and what happened to it. Well done Vestas!

So, at least there may be light at the end of the tunnel, as one out of four reports I randomly reviewed appears to be able to get it right. As I often say, the GRI guidelines are good. The problem we have is adherence to the GRI guidelines in a rigourous way. Despite checks and verifications, comparability evades us because reporting companies are not applying the correct degree of rigour in their reporting. What's worse, they are telling us that they are. In the meantime, therefore, let's not add to overall waste levels by making reporting waste a waste of time, as time, as we all know, is one of the most valuable non-renewable resources of all.

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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