Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gotta share ......

I am proud and honored to be included in the 2011 “Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior in Europe and the Middle East”.
What a great surprise to see this tweet from Barbara Kimmel:

Barbara Kimmel is an award-winning communications executive and former consultant to McKinsey,  who runs her communications company Next Decade Inc. She is also one of the founders of Trust Across America™ (TAA). As the TAA website says, and who would disagree, "trust is an inherent element of optimism that buoys any economy." TAA aims to identify and showcase the most trustworthy individuals and organizations, learn from them through benchmarking and create opportunities to emulate best practices. In doing so, TAA hopes to contribute to that sense of optimism.
TAA has already identified America's most trustworthy companies  and the Top Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior for 2010. Now, TAA has published a new list:
The list was put together by the Centre for Sustainability & Excellence (CSE), a leading global advisory and coaching organization providing sustainability solutions. The news release says: " These people collectively represent a group that can genuinely transform and reverse the cycle of mistrust in business." Read CSE's Sustainability Report for 2009 here.
I am of course delighted and flattered  to be named to this list and genuinely aspire to make a positive contribution to advancing sustainability practices of business which of course must be rooted in a bedrock of values and that includes trust.
I am even more delighted to be in the same list as some, whom I  know personally and recognize as genuine trust-advancers  (alpha order):
and others, who are some of the most prominent thinkers and doers in CSR and Sustainability and provide me with boundless inspiration and insight.
Thank you to Barbara, TAA and to CSE for this honor and congratulations to all those on the list. This is both humbling and energizing :)
I'd better stock up on ice cream so that I can keep helping to build trust.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

57 issues and still counting: Ford's materiality

This is the third in the Reporting Materiality series. Number One was about Delhaize. Number Two was about Vodafone. This is Number Three and it's about FORD. You may have heard of Ford. It's a little automobile manufacturer making around 2 million vehicles per year worth around $130 billion in sales and employing over 164,000 people at 73 plants, 41 distribution centers and warehouses, 57 engineering research & development facilities and 106 sales offices worldwide. Small, right? But with BIG impacts.

The Ford Motor Company Sustainability Report 2010/2011 is long and detailed. It is presented online and offers a print-page download of 486 pages. I opted for the online version!

Ford's Materiality Matrix is clickingly spectacular. 

When you click on each box, you get a drop-down list of all the issues categorized in one of the nine sections. In total, 57 material issues were identified, of which 34 are of high-impact or high-concern or both.  Sounds like Ford's Director of Sustainable Business Initiatives is gonna need a LOT of ice cream!  But actually, he should feel relieved that there are only 57 issues as Ford started out with a list of more than 500. The description of how Ford developed their materiality analysis, both in terms of identifying the issues and prioritizing them is detailed and demonstrates good process and included feedback from a Ceres-convened stakeholder group review.

The 14 top issues in the very purple top-right box include:
  • Four issues relating to climate change
  • One issue relating to public policy
  • One issue relating to water
  • Two issues relating to Ford financial health
  • One issue relating Ford future competitiveness
  • One issue relating to vehicle safety
  • Four issues relating to supply chain sustainability
While this might seem like a very through deep dive into material issues, presented interactively, the downside is that you cannot discern the relative importance of issues within a given box in the matrix. Are these 14 high impact, high concern issues all of exactly equal importance to Ford and to Ford stakeholders?

As Ford didn't volunteer this information, I picked three issues of my own to focus on.  I skipped over supply chain issues which, though important, are don't strike me as materially groundbreaking (though addressing carbon and water issues in supply chain relationships is a new high-level issue this year which is a good thing) and while water is an ultrasonic issue of growing importance, I didn't feel it's where Ford is likely to gain materiality traction. The key take-out for Gina Marie Cheeseman in her post on Triple Pundit was Ford's focus on climate change and vehicle emissions reduction.

Anyway, I picked Ford Future Competitiveness : sustainable mobility, defined as "Ford’s approach to increasing challenges of urban mobility, congestion, urbanization and mega-cities, as well as rural mobility and economic opportunity"  which is connected to electrification strategy and developing more and better electric vehicles. Ford says this is simply an issue of adding up the numbers. Here are some of those numbers: 
  • There are now more than 6.9 billion people in the world. By 2050, there will be 9 billion, 75 percent of whom will live in urban areas.
  • By 2015, it is projected that at least 35 mega-cities will have a population of more than 10 million.
  • The number of automobiles globally is expected to grow from about 800 million today to between 2 and 4 billion by 2050.
  • During 2010 alone, the car market in China expanded by 30 percent, while the market in India grew by more than 35 percent
Guess that's a nice market any self-respecting car maker wouldn't want to miss out on. The competitive edge for Ford will be to compete in a way which satisfies global demand for more vehicles and more environmentally efficient options. I would think this has to be the top issue for Ford over the next 15-20 years and an opportunity to create Sustainable Shared Value. (But that's just my opinion)

I also think the Public Policy question of  "Regulation of vehicle emissions globally, state-by-state regulation in U.S.; increasing stringency and inconsistency of regulation; challenges left by lack of U.S. federal climate legislation" is crucial for Ford sustainability. Ford lays out the climate change policy landscape quite thoroughly and it is clear that this could have major effects on their operations  (and costs) and change the way Ford can serve consumers and appease regulators.

Finally, I select vehicle safety. Despite the fact that someone said "there are no safe vehicles, only safe drivers", I liked Ford's definition " Active and passive safety; pedestrian safety; customer interest in and demand for safe vehicles; increasing regulation generally with focus on active safety; challenge of evolving in-vehicle technology". This goes beyond making motor cars and looks at the whole scope of impacts of people driving cars in our communities. Road accidents are responsible for over 1.2 million deaths per year and up to 50 million injuries. The economic, business, social and environmental burden of road accidents is tremendous and the causes varied. It is in Ford's interest to do what they can to make driving a safer experience as this reflects positively on Ford in terms of reputation, protects communities and environmental damage and also make economic sense. Ford's driver-assisted technologies could be important in helping Ford gain competitive ground while managing the business, social and environmental risks associated with road safety. Again, Ford shares relevant contextual data and discuss in detail issues such as distracted driving with a very interesting case study. 

While Ford's materiality matrix does not quite meet the need in terms of understanding the relative importance of a high number of material issues (many companies identify less than 14 issues in total, while Ford have 14 issues in their top box alone), I don't think we can fault Ford in providing a comprehensive level of narrative which both educates and enlightens about the issues of the day. The only problem is that, to read all the narrative covering 57 issues would take far longer than it would to do anything about it.

This was post Number Three on Materiality. But watch this space. We're not done yet! Any guesses on who's up next?

PS: In writing this series I was reminded by Dave Meyer of a great series of posts the he wrote on his blog Valuestreaming about Materiality in the Supply Chain. This is a great series located here.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

We said, we have, we won't, we will: Vodafone's materiality shift

In this second post about materiality, I look at an old favorite Vodafone. The first thing that strikes you this year is the shift from their trademark "We said, We have, We will " which was still present though not pronounced in the 2009/2010 report. It's a shame to see that go, but I guess it had a good run of six years or so. For those who want a little nostalgia, see the first in the series here. This year, Vodafone have moved more toward an issues-based reporting approach grounded in what seems to me to be the first exposure of Vodafone's new strategy and communication on sustainability.

The three core strategic focus areas for Vodafone are now: (1) responsible and ethical behavior; (2) eco-efficiency and (3) creating sustainable societies, the third being a reflection of Vodafone's indirect impacts through new core business offerings. Which is what sustainability at its best is all about, of course.

In the online report, creating sustainable societies is introduced by an array of videos which are well worth looking at. One is about how Vodafone's partnership with Isotrak vehicle tracking system enables transport companies to reduce fuel usage. Another is about how Eiman, aged 30 with seven children, who never completed her schooling, is now one of Vodafone's first saleswomen in Al Johara in Doha. She received the "red suitcase" full of Vodafone goodies which helped her to become a businesswoman and financially independent. (Watch this video, it's inspiring). A further clip shows how William Ndirangu, who runs a shoe cleaning business in Muranga, Kenya, transformed his business through use of the Vodafone M-PESA system through which William can make all his financial transactions including receiving payments from customers. Yet another clip shows Mfaume Hedemi, the district malaria coordinator in Lindi, Tanzania, which is one of the most malaria infested areas in the region. Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds in Africa. Vodafone partnered with Novartis and IBM to develop a system called "SMS for life" in which local clinics update their malaria drugs stocks so that drugs to treat malaria can be available whenever and wherever they are needed, especially in remote areas. There are more.... but I will leave you to discover the others. The message is clear. Vodafone is develping innovative solutions which deliver a triple bottom line .. meeting critical societal needs, enabling more efficient use of resources with less waste, and doing better business in the process.   

But I digress.... back to materiality... oops... that WAS materiality... well anyway...

Vodafone's CSR Reports have always been a good exercise in materiality. Not surprising, then, that they have won three CorporateRegister Reporting Awards (CRRA) in the Best Materiality category. Vodafone doesn't disappoint with their most recent 2010/2011 Sustainability Report and online here, you can find their curvy materiality matrix in full splendor (it does not appear in the printed summary report). To create the matrix, Vodafone uses a tool developed specifically for the ICT industry by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (of which Vodafone is a member). The assessment is done at Group level with input from teams in Vodafone's local markets

Top right issues are headed up with low carbon solutions, products and services for development and "our carbon footprint". This might surprise you actually. A telecomms company whose main material issues are low carbon solutions? What about this access and connectivity, health risks and radiation safety, electronic waste, product lifecycle and takeback or what Annie Leonard calls obsolesence or "design for the dump" etc? Wouldn't you think that these issues would be higher on the materiality grid for Vodafone?  As can be seen from the sustainable societies stories above, Vodafone sees its future, and that of its stakeholders, in a low carbon society. Just a look at the new M2M technologies which are transforming our lives and our language (how long before telematics starts to become part of YOUR daily vocabulary?). In order to compete effectively in such a society, Vodafone must first and foremost ensure it is at the cutting edge of low carbon solutions, not just selling more ARPU, but partnering with the platforms that can make this technology meaningful in changing the way people do things. Vodafone plans to roll-out 10 million M2M connections by 2013 in smart metering and smart logistics, and this is just the start.  Vodafone's competitive ground has shifted and it is now standing firmly in sustainability territory. That's why it's Vodafone's most material issue. 

This is clearly a shift in Vodathinking - last year's materiality matrix was rather different with climate change, energy and renewables being up there in the number one slot.
Looking back a little further to the 08-09 report, we can see that carbon didn't figure pretty much anywhere in the top materiality stakes and the high-flying issues were about access to communications, privacy and pricing, with direct environmental impacts (energy usage) somewhere in the middle.  See below.

This is an indication of how materiality changes from year to year and how a study of materiality maturity (my term - you saw it here FIRST!)  gives a good indication of where a company is on the compliance - direct impacts - indirect impacts continuum. Material issues change as a result of new thinking on business strategy and external market dynamics, or the relative strength of stakeholder feedback in any given year. It is important to review material issues in depth. Some issues will remain constant (at Vodafone, mobile phones, masts and health is always highly material and has remained in the same position on the matrix for the past three years), but others will change in the light of new internal and external context.

An examination of three years of materiality at Vodafone shows that issues move from primarily addressing defensive-type topics relating to stakeholder concerns (2008), through an understanding that climate change is perhaps as much as it is cracked up to be and an appreciation of climate change impacts on the Vodafone business (2009) to the full embracement (ok, my word, sorry English, but I like it) of an aspirational strategy which is truly aligned with sustainability principles (2010). This is a fascinating materiality maturity evolution. I will take a bet that low carbon solutions stays up top in 2011 as well. (You can pay me in Chunky Monkey).

Related to the materiality discussion, one of the nice things about Vodafone's reporting is the detailed disclosure about from their stakeholder engagement feedback. Vodafone lists specific stakeholder groups and report on specific issues raised by them and how these were addresed.  In 2010/2011 for example, there were 20 meetings with investors who raised a long list of issues. This input is crucial to defining materiality and in my experience, engagement always brings insights which the business benefits from hearing. Overall, nice Vodaformance on materiality.

This was Post Number Two on Materiality.  The first was here. But watch this space. We're not done yet!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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  (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Who moved my Cottage Cheese 2.0 ?

The world of social media has its upsides and its downsides and recent events in Israel prove that you never know which side is coming next!  We have all been witness to major social media campaigns serving uprisings in the Middle East about freedom, the fabric of democracy and human rights, while acknowledging the critical role that social media has to play in the role of disaster relief and recovery. More and more Corporate Social Responsibility Reports are now online, and with them, the link to Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Linked In conversations. Just recently, I wrote about the digital advances of the Strauss Group in Israel whose recent CSR report publication was digital, facebooked and launched with a live-streamed stakeholder engagement discussion.

I am not sure that Strauss really expected their conspicuous (and earnest) commitment to dialog and engagement to be put to the test so quickly in what has become one of the almost unheard-of protests by the normally fairly lethargic Israeli public. What's it all about? You may find this hard to believe.. but the issue that has engaged (at the last count) 93,269 consumers in a Facebook campaign is all about... the price of cottage cheese! 

No, it's no joke. The Israeli public is  finally moving out of its comfort zone and leveraging 2.0 tools of the day (in some very creative ways) to make their voice heard in a campaign which has become the talk of the nation in just a few short days and which may well be the first iconic 2.0 consumer Israeli pushback.

Cottage cheese in Israel is one of the most basic elements of the local diet with Israelis spending almost half a million $ a year on the stuff. The price of cottage cheese has risen by 39% in since 2008 and the price that sparked the protest is close to 8 shekels ($2.33) for a 250 gram carton. See this article written for Bloomberg News for more background. The protesters argue that cottage cheese is a staple and should be priced accordingly. 

The major cottage cheese producers in Israel are Tnuva who holds 70% of the market, Strauss Group and Tara. Both   Tnuva's Facebook Page and Strauss's Facebook Page have been inundated with comments, questions, complaints, photos and even a video clip with a Cottage Song comparing the price of cottage cheese to taking out a mortgage. Now it's cottage cheese, tomorrow it's your house! 

The subject has been on the daily news and was the highlight of, coincidentally and perhaps unfortunately, a high-profile annual Food Conference taking place just this week, at which the big shots representing all the relevant food manufacturers were present. The Minister of Finance may not have clicked "like" on Facebook but he certainly backed the consumers' corner, threatening to reduce protection on the local milk market and allow foreign exports, or even bring back price control on these products. The manufacturers, however, are seeking joint solution - farmers, regulators, retailers and all those involved in the supply chain - claiming they are being witch-hunted on price drivers which are not entirely their responsibility. Consumers are not convinced. The call to boycott cottage cheese throughout the month of July continues and 200 more people just "liked" the Facebook campagin in the time it has taken me to write these few lines.

What can we learn from all this and where's the sustainability message?

Consumer 2.0 is alive and kicking. If the most apathetic consumer in the Western Hemisphere is getting riled about cottage, then we can truly believe that consumer 2.0 is here to stay and that every consumer issue will now be an Issue 2.0. The full arsenal of social media tools are available to Consumer 2.0's and no manufacturer has any corner to hide in. As I have said in the past: either you are transparent, or you are transparent. 

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Not much point in declaring that you are committed to dialog if you do not engage when the issues get scary. It's one thing to open up your "good news" corporate responsibility report for debate, and seek feedback, as many companies do. It's another to respond promptly and pertinently to consumers when they voice a concern about the way you are conducting your core business and its effect on them. Both Strauss and Tunva have responded on their Facebook pages, in alignment with the Messages at the Top of their Companies, which are not quite satisfying the angry protesters, but they are nevertheless responses, and for that, they should be commended.  

When the market's don't self-regulate effectively, regulation happens. Here we see a beautiful case study in market dynamics. Sooner or later, someone wakes up. If the businesses involved do not skillfully manage this cottage cheese situation, the government will do it for them. What's preferable? Concede the battle (partially at least) in order to win the war, or have the government decide for you and restrict your trading practices indefinitely?  I can think of many who would opt to take control rather than be controlled. Before anyone moves your cheese, you better be sure you move it yourself.

There's opportunity in crisis:  The cottage cheese scenario an example of a situation in which a smart company can win major reputation (and business) points, By responding humbly, by accepting accountability, by taking practical steps to address a situation which is clearly high on the materiality stakes, the protest can be broken and a competitive edge can be secured. Fear of precedents should never immobilize real action. However, the realization that there is already a precedent (in the way consumers are finding their Voice 2.0) should lead to new ways of thinking and responding. What we need is Response 2.0 to Consumer 2.0 about Issue 2.0 in the battle of Cottage Cheese 2.0.

In the meantime, maybe I will start a Facebook campaign to make ice cream a basic human right.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability 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)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

From good to great: reporting materiality

So many Sustainability Reports published in this period... it's like being in an ice-cream parlor... haha.... very hard to know what to choose. You want to read all of them but you clearly cannot otherwise you would explode (yep, that's what happens when I go into an ice-cream parlor.).

One thing that distinguishes a great sustainability report from a good sustainability report, for me, is the way the reporting company handles materiality. I think we have seen many reporters mature in the last couple of years. The better reports are tending to be less shopping-list style with long lists of activities and more issues-based. In the best cases, the issues that companies focus on are plotted on a materiality matrix.

The GRI defines materiality as:

Topics and indicators that: reflect the organization’s significant economic, environmental, and social impacts or that would substantively influence the assessments and decisions of stakeholders.

Materiality matrixes (matrices?) come in many shapes and sizes. Some are rather creative. Some are minimalistic. Some are interactive. Some are so vague that they make you wonder if they have anything to do with materiality. But simply posting your materiality matrix is not enough. Good reporters ensure that the content of their reports actually address the material issues in some depth, providing both reasonable context and strategic relevance. This is the first in a series of materiality posts which examines how companies represent materiality and report on key issues. 

This is the fourth report of this Belgian-based retailer, operating 2,800 stores in six countries with 138,000 people. This report is Application Level C of the GRI. Retailing has many sustainability issues and Delhaize has navigated these skillfully and present their materiality matrix in which healthy eating and food safety are the number one issues.

Safety is clear to all, but why would a supermarket select healthy eating as its most material issue both for its own business and for its stakeholders?

Delhaize's "healthy eating" goals include improving the nutritional quality of private brand products, improving health and wellness communications and applying Guideline Daily Amount labels to private brand products. Aha! Private label brands are a clear competitive arena for retailers and for the first time in Europe, private labels reached 40% in five countries with as much as 57% in Sweden in some categories. In the U.S., private label is said to account for 17% of retal grocery sales.  At the same time, private label brands are both more profitable for the retailer and significantly lower in price for the consumer. Surveys show that consumer perception of private label brands is strong. These days, retail brands are all about health and nutrition. There is no self-respecting food manufacturer around who is not reducing salt, sugar, artificial colorings, trans-fats and other undesirables and making loud noises about the fact that they are doing so. Much of the pressure to improve health parameters is coming from consumers who are concerned about the long-term health effect of manufactured foods as well as more and more regulation in this area, including product labeling regulation.

It makes great sense for a retailer such as Delhaize to focus on both improving the health qualities of private label products so as to compete more effectively in this arena and also support the ongoing education of consumers in the healthy options available to them and why. Delhaize claims that private label brands account for over 50% of their revenue in Europe and 26% of revenue in the U.S. and provide a consumer price benefit of up to 20%. This is surely a compelling business case for sustainability. In 2010, Delhaize reviewed formulations of almost 2,000 private label products.

Other materiality "musts" for Delhaize that appear in their Materiality Matrix are Employee (associate) development, health and wellbeing, social compliance and climate change.  These are all covered well in the narrative of Delhaize's report. Middle-ranking materiality issues for Delhaize include waste, packaging, organics, fair-trade, local sourcing and community, while low-ranking issues include biodiversity, water, animal welfare and more.

Delhaize's Corporate Responsibility Report addresses materiality well, in my view. There is a clear link between the high-focus issues and corporate strategy and stakeholder interests. The only thing lacking is a more comprehensive discussion of how the materiality prioritization was developed and what kind of feedback significantly prompted the selection of issues and their ranking by Delhaize. For example, Delhaize does not report on commercial relationships with food manufacturers and food pricing policies, post-purchase food waste prevention (via consumer education), overall contribution to food security and access to food beyond specific community outreach programs. Downstream impacts on packaging and packaging waste is discussed briefly but there is no explanation for the marginal reduction of only 2% of non-reusable carrier bags issue to customers which has barely changed since 2008. I wonder if and to what extent these issues arose in the stakeholder feedback and materiality methodology.

Overall, the Delhaize report gets the message through. The design is bold, clean and clear. Goals and progress against targets are presented in an orderly way and in general, reflect improving performance. The structure for managing CR is transparent and includes people with names and faces.   The online report is nicely navigable and includes case studies, stakeholder voices and the opportunity to provide feedback by email or engage in dialog via the Delhaize CSR blog, and a glossary. (Though some elements, such as the important "About this Report" section, including the GRI Index, are only in the PDF download and not accessible from the website, which means you cannot rely entirely on the online report).  The CEO message is delivered via video. As is now becoming popular practice with online reports, you can  "like" each page of the report and share your sentiments on the Delhaize Facebook page. No iPad app, yet, though!

The Delhaize report is partially (a small number of specific indicators)  externally and internally assured and includes a statement from Forum for the Future. Internally assured? Delhaize includes a statement from the Group's Internal Auditors alongside the statement from external auditors. While there is a clear conflict of interest regarding internal auditing, it does demonstrate a level of internal rigor in the reporting process and I like it. I don't recall having seen an internal audit statement before in CSR reports.

Anyway, rounding off this Materiality Post One, Delhaize seems to be moving in the right direction. Next time I am in Delhaize territory, I will be sure to visit! Hope they sell 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)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Strauss: a lesson in stakeholder engagement

Working in my home market, Israel, on sustainability, I am often reminded of the two shoe salesmen who visit Africa and find that people do not wear shoes. The first reports back to his boss: "They have no shoes. Great. What a market opportunity!". The second reports back, saying: "They have no shoes. Terrible. We have no market." Here in our small market, the advancement of corporate responsibility and sustainability should be characterized by the first approach, but  is regrettably, mostly characterized by the second. The number of companies which have shown leadership in truly advancing sustainable practices is low, the number which operate with a respectable degree of transparency is even lower, and the number of companies which engage in stakeholder dialog in a meaningful way is lower still. Against this background, it is a pleasure to praise one company who has taken the lead in demonstrating all three. It is no coincidence that I write this post now, having just returned from participating in a stakeholder engagement event which is certainly a first in our market and, I believe, a world first.

The company is Strauss Group, Israel's second-largest food and beverage company and also an international corporation with approximately 13,500 employees operating 25 production sites in 21 countries around the world. The Group has partnerships with leading multinationals such as Danone and PepsiCo and recently Strauss Water and the global electronics giant Haier Group entered into partnership to produce, market and sell watermakers in China. Strauss is an iconic brand in Israel, carrying the name of the even more iconic Strauss family, who have been admired and respected business leaders in Israel since their humble beginnings in the 1930s. Today the Group is skillfully led by the First Lady of Israeli business, Ofra Strauss, granddaughter of the founders, who took over the helm as Chairwoman in 2001. Ofra Strauss has always been a visionary, strategic, thoughtful businesswoman who has steered the Strauss company into globalization with a good measure of talent and the entire legacy of the Strauss family values and ethical approach to business.

Strauss Group published a first Corporate Responsibility Report in 2008 (covering year 2007 and 70% of Strauss operations) and today launched their fourth report, compliant with GRI at Application Level A, covering 100% of the Company's global business. Strauss is the only company in Israel to have issued four reports, consistently, year after year, once having set the ball rolling.  The 2010 report is at present online in the local Hebrew language only but the English version will be out in a week or two.

The report is in digital / social media format, and closely linked to the Company's Facebook activity. On each page of the report, there is room to include feedback or questions (and receive responses), with all posts feeding directly to Strauss's Facebook page. Equally, there are a range of social media sharing tools for each page to Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and RSS. This is a first for our local market and is a sign of a company who is boldly embracing transparency (Strauss has been in the top three in the Israeli Transparency Index for the past three years) and using cutting edge social media tools to do so.

However, equally important as the report itself is the way the report was launched. The Company held a Stakeholder Dialog meeting with 90 representatives of business, academia, government and non-profits, who had previewed the report a week before the launch. The stakeholders were split into different groups focusing on workplace, environment, governance, ethics, community involvement and product responsibility and all were able to provide feedback to Strauss on the report, ask questions and engage in open discussion. The entire meeting was streamed live to Facebook, and those not present were able to ask questions which were answered by a panel of senior managers in the closing session.

Stakeholder discussion on responsible workplace

Opening the meeting, Ofra Strauss, Chairwoman of Strauss Group, said that you are never 100% prepared to receive criticism. "It is not always pleasant but it is always necessary." She added that transparency is an essential part of the way Strauss runs its business, and this is not only due to increasing pressure from regulators. "It is good that the regulators are waking up", she said, "but it's not enough. As a business, we have to do more. Change is only possible when we do it together".

Ofra Strauss opening the 2010 CR Report dialog launch meeting

This launch dialog is important in many ways, and not just for Strauss. The digital format will ensure ongoing accessibility and engagement but the face-to-face meeting was pivotal.

First, I am sure that the company received important insights  - I know that in our discussion group, many important comments were made and I believe that the Strauss representatives in our group found them interesting and not entirely predictable. There is a great tendency to publish a report and sit back thinking that everyone will rush to shower praise and congratulations. In the frank discussion that took place, while there was praise, there were also clear expectations and some criticisms. I believe this form of dialog is very humbling and ensures that the report lives longer than it takes to upload it to the internet.

Second, the 90 people in the meeting all learnt something new. By participating in the dialog, they heard new perspectives and perhaps, for those who don't live sustainability reporting (guilty), gained a new paradigm about the value of reporting and how to read reports. Talking about sustainability reports is a form of educating stakeholders, not just involving them.

Third, the participation of a wide range of Strauss managers in this process placed them in the frontline of stakeholder interest and influence. None of them can now say that "CSR is not my responsibility". All of them now have a direct experience of how stakeholders feel. This reinforces their roles not only as managers but also as CSR ambassadors in their organization.

Fourth, this meeting represents a commitment to ongoing dialog. The written word, published to anonymous stakeholders, is a form of commitment. Talking about the content with real people face-to-face reinforces that commitment in an acute way. When Strauss managers think about their responsibility, they will see the faces of those who attended the stakeholder dialog meeting.

I will keep you posted when the English report is published. In the meantime, I add my praise and congratulations to the Strauss leadership and hope they are charting a path that many other local companies will follow.

Oh, and before you ask, no, there was no 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)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

How to spend your spare time in 2012

Got a little spare time on your hands? Know someone who has? Want to change the world? Know someone who does? Don't worry. I am not referring to having you start up a new social enterprise for advancing social well-being for disadvantaged tribal communities in Uttar Pradesh. Nor am I referring to getting involved in World Environment Day (yes, it's today!) by helping to constructing a plant nursery from organic and recycled materials in the NatureKids School in Drake Bay in Costa Rica.

Here's the thing. What I have in mind is the Call for Action for nominations for the Global Reporting Initiative Stakeholder Council and the Technical Advisory Committee ? If you are a GRI Organizational Stakeholder, or a reporting geek, then this is your chance to get your footprint in the door.

By now, you cannot have failed to notice the massive impact the GRI has had on sustainability performance and reporting. By far the most widely used reporting framework in the world, the GRI has set itself lofty goals to main instream the transparency of more than just a relative handful of companies that report today to include all large and medium-sized companies everywhere by 2015 while upgrading the next generation of the GRI framework (G4) to achieve greater harmonization of reported data and pave the way for the Next Big Thing, Integrated Reporting. These moves, if successful, will surely transform the landscape of business globally and provide greater impetus for more responsible and sustainable practices.

The GRI operates as a multi-stakeholder organization , harnessing a democracy of views from all sectors and all regions. In spite of, or perhaps because of, this consensus-oriented structure and wide diversity of inputs, the GRI has achieved a helluva lot. Take a look at the GRI's recent Year in Review to get a sense of what progress is being made. Part of this progress is due to the commitment and intelligent contributions of the volunteer members of two of the GRI's key governing bodies, the Stakeholder Council and the Technical Advisory Committee.

The Stakeholder Council is the GRI’s formal stakeholder policy forum and provides advice on key strategic and policy issues to GRI’s Board of Directors. The Council approves nominations for the Board of Directors and makes strategic recommendations to the Board on future policy or business planning activities. The Stakeholder Council has 50 members, who are elected to their roles for a tenure of three years.

I had a chat with Carlos Eduardo Lessa Brandão, Vice-Chairman of the Stakeholder Council. Carlos is on the Board of Directors of the Brazilian Institute of Corporate Governance (IBGC), where he chairs the Sustainability Commission and the Editorial Committee. Carlos told me that he got involved with the GRI because of his "interest in the relationship between business and sustainability and the possibility to be involved more deeply with a very important initiative such as GRI, as well as the governance challenge - large and diversified group that has to make important decisions while meeting only once or twice a year." I asked Carlos about his the time he devotes to the GRI Stakeholder Council. "Since 2009, there have been 2 meetings a year (each is two days). Before each meeting, members must read the preparatory material and the curricula of candidates (there are elections every year). Additionally, the SC members are expected to help the development of the GRI network in their home countries, which demands additional time." This sounds like a serious commitment. But how does a group of 50 people make decisions? Carlos said this is due to the skill of the Chair in organizing the decision making process as well as the quality and commitment of the Council members. And what's in it for Carlos? "The opportunity to exchange ideas and enjoy a unique interaction with other Council members". Oh, and changing the world, of course.

Nominations are now invited for the 2012 Stakeholder Council. You can nominate yourself (don't be shy!). The nominations officially started on 13 April 2011 and will run until 12 June 2011 midnight (CET) Amsterdam time. So you still have time to submit your nomination :). People can vote for you until 31st August and results are announced in October 2011. Check it all out here.

The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) is a altogether a more intimate affair with a selected team of eight members at present (though up to 15 is possible according to  the TAC rules). The purpose of the TAC is to support the development of the GRI Framework by serving as the most senior advisory body to the GRI for technical issues, a technical resource for the Board on issues related to the development of the GRI Framework and assisting in maintaining the overall quality and coherence of the GRI framework by providing high level technical advice and expertise. That sounds important, right? Members serve for three year terms.

The selection criteria for the TAC gives preference to people who have demonstrated technical excellence in an area related to performance measurement and reporting (including the use of reports), knowledge of current reporting practices and the GRI, experience with and understanding of multi-stakeholder processes, experience in the technical development of international and national standards, guidelines, or other CSR tools and more.

To understand a little more about the TAC, I had a chat with Michael Nugent, Technical Manager at the International Federation of Accountants. Michael saw involvement with TAC as "offering a great opportunity help solve the really big issues the world faces - not that sustainability reporting is THE solution, but it is part of the solution and it is the part where I felt my background in standard-setting and assurance could be of use." In terms of time commitment, Michael says "It varies a lot depending on what is on. When G3 was being finalized involvement was quite intense, but at the same time it was very rewarding to be able to contribute to such a significant step forward. At the moment, my involvement is preparation and participation in a 2 hour call each month, reviewing documents out-of-session from time to time, and preparation and participation in a 2-day meeting in Amsterdam once or maybe twice a year. Work on G3.1 and sector supplements have been important over recent years, as has preparation for G4, which will now be the main issue for some time ". And what's in it for Michael? "Being a member of the TAC has been an excellent way for me to better understand different stakeholder’s perspectives on sustainability reporting."  Oh, and changing the world, of course.

Nominations are now invited for the 2012 Technical Advisory Committee. The nominations officially opened on 27 April 2011 and will run until 26 June 2011 midnight (CET) Amsterdam time. Decisions will be made by the GRI Nominating Committee in July. Check it all out here.

So. Want to reconsider? Got a little spare time coming up in 2012?

By now, you might be wondering why I am making such a big deal of all of this. Well, I do happen to believe that 2012-2013-2014 are going to be three of the most exciting and dynamic years in the history of the GRI when sustainability reporting both becomes critical mass and reinvents itself in the process. I think GRI will be at the heart of this change. I think the outcome will make a difference to the way business is conducted, regulated and reported and, therefore, to the way we all live our lives. Being part of the GRI governance in this period would certainly be a big responsibility and also rather exciting. 

I can't end up without disclosing that I have submitted my own self-nomination to serve on the TAC. Just so that you know I practice what I preach :). Wish me luck!

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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