Monday, June 24, 2013

G4: First the conference. Then the movie. Now the book. Coming soon.

The G4 Book, entitled "Understanding G4", is on target to be published in July by DōSustainability, the sustainability publishing company that has developed the most fabulous range of short sharp sustainability shots for people who need to know but have no time to do all the research. My book, Sustainability Reporting for SMEs - Competitive Advantage through Transparency was published earlier this year as one of the DōSustainability DōShorts series."Understanding G4" is my newest offering, bringing you a simple, easy-to-read, eye-level guide to navigating G4 in an accessible manner, relevant for reporters and report-users.

First there was the conference. Then there was the movie. Now .. here's the book. Coming soon!

Just to give you a taste of what's to come..... here is my introduction "Understanding G4", which explains why it's relevant and why it will help.

Why pay for a book on G4, the new Sustainability Reporting Framework launched by the Global Reporting (GRI) in initiative in May 2013, when all the materials are freely downloadable from the GRI website? Check it out. Take a minute to navigate to and look for the G4 symbol on the homepage, click once, and you have immediate access to the two books which form the new G4 guidelines: the book of Reporting Principles and Standard Disclosures (94 pages) and the Implementation Manual (266 pages). Both books are downloadable, for free, as many times as you want. No password needed. In addition, there are many writers on the internet, including myself, who have published summaries of the G4 changes and what they mean for reporters. I collected at least 15 different, mostly helpful, articles and summaries, in the two weeks following the G4 launch. This is a wealth of free advice and helpful in understanding what G4 means. So why pay? Why do you need this book and how will it help you? What value does Understanding G4 add?
Here's the thing. Even if you decide to invest a day in wading through the report-techno-babble-speak of 360 pages of GRI guideline manuals, you still may be left a little perplexed as to how G4 will actually help you advance along your reporting journey. Maybe you already tried. You may be able to appreciate the primary technical changes, such as the fact that materiality is now center-stage and determines much of the report content, and that governance and remuneration disclosures have become impossibly detailed, but the overall value of G4 may still escape you. I'll be even a little bolder. It will escape you. The G4 manuals, detailed and orderly though they may be, do not help you answer the question: Should my organization start using the G4 guidelines, and if so, when and how?
This book aims to help you answer that question. But that's not all. Reporting companies or aspiring reporters are not the only ones affected by the G4 guidelines. There are stakeholders. Readers of reports. Assurers of reports. Users and students of reports. What does G4 mean for all these groups? How will customers, consumers, employees, investors and financial analysts understand the G4 report? I maintain, as you will see, that G4 is quite some departure from the box-ticking, shopping-list, PR-oriented, mechanical approach most companies have taken with regard to Sustainability Reporting. Readers of G4 reports need to approach Sustainability Reporting with a different paradigm. G4 reports, done well, will be very different from G3 reports, and offer a different kind of value to stakeholders who use them. More value in many ways, less value in others. In any case, G4 report users must substantively reset their expectations. This book will help G4 report users do this, and know what they should be able to expect from a G4 report, and what they should not expect.
I will not hide that my prime motivation in writing this book is to advance the rapid uptake of the G4 Sustainability Reporting Framework, by offering a simple and straightforward guide to help companies adopt or adapt, in a straightforward, no frills and no techno-babble way, while ensuring stakeholders get what they are trying to do. While there are some omissions, inadequacies and even oddities in G4, I view the new framework as a major leap forward for Sustainability Reporting. I believe it elevates Sustainability Reporting to a very serious platform which is right at the heart of the way business gets done, and holds tangible advantages for reporters and report-users, as long as all are on the same page in terms of what to expect and how apply the G4 Framework with diligence, intelligence, integrity and a genuine desire to advance sustainable business in a sustainable society on a sustainable planet.
There's more. G4 is the future. It will have a life of at least 7 years, maybe more. Now that G4 is out there, G3 is history. Who wants to report on sustainability using an anachronous framework? Doing so projects low-capacity for change, low adaptability, agility and responsiveness and this will negatively impact the G3-clingers-on during the two year transition period. G4 is here. Companies that take the early-adopter approach will be admired, and the laggers will be punished. This book is a way for me to help early adoption and show companies that, while a shift is needed, and beneficial, it is by no means an impossible leap into the darkness.
G4 has been largely positively received by the global crowd of analytical professionals who have taken time to review and pronounce on the key changes. Most recognize it as helping support our advance toward sustainable business. There has been a range of commentaries ranging from the frenetically (and in some cases, unjustly) critical to the warmly embracing, with the optimistically cautious in between. The majority of writers have addressed the technical changes of G4 versus its predecessor framework, but few have gone beyond the detail to provide a true assessment of the meaning of the changes and the outcomes they are designed to deliver for reporting organizations and report users. This book is no less about the technicalities of G4 as it is about the meaning and impact of G4. Of course, we'll cover some detail, but my main objective is to help drive the paradigm change and not the indicator-by-indicator change. This book should help drive home the why and how of G4 and not only the what.
As I write, I am already working on two G4 reports for clients, in my capacity as a sustainability consultant and reporter. I like it. It's clearer. It seems more meaningful. It seems like a new and refreshing challenge. I have realized that G4 helps me as a consultant add value in the reporting process - beyond just helping companies to articulate their sustainability messages and tick the right GRI boxes, I now feel that I have a more relevant and influential role in helping companies reflect the right things as well as reflect them in the right way. I feel G4 gives me a more compelling justification to urge my clients into a process-oriented approach to sustainability management and reporting, rather than being a near passive recipient of a range of materials that need to be copywritten into a coherent message, even if there is little substance behind the stories, helping companies to smooth over the cracks and gaps. For consultants, G4 is a much more favorable platform for influence and support and improves the value we offer to our clients.
Distilling this down into my specific objectives in writing this book, which I hope will add value, there are five key points:
Understanding G4 is designed to:
  • Make G4 more accessible and practical for report writers and users
  • Align expectations of G4 reports for writers and users
  • Promote a rapid, quality uptake of G4 in the context of a new reporting paradigm
  • Help reporting consultants deliver greater value to reporting companies
  • Give readers value (for money) in a form not currently available elsewhere.
This book will not avoid your needing to open and use the GRI G4 Manuals, but it is my hope that it distils down all the main points into a short, easy-to-understand guide which will help both experienced and novice reporters get on the G4 road.

We had the conference. Then the movie. Now The G4 book. Coming soon to an online bookstore near you!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

23 FSRs (Fabulous Sustainabilty Resources)

As sustainability reporters, we are always in learning mode. The fast-paced evolution of the sustainability field and the dynamic changes that happen all around us make it a challenge just to keep up with the latest thinking, recent research, new findings, leading insights etc. Stuff spins on and off our computer screens before we have time to know it's there and then, whoops, it's gone, and despite a mental note to take a look at it later, we never do. Familiar? Sure. The only thing you really have time to read is, of course, the CSR Reporting Blog. And as a big thank you, here is our new offering. FREE summaries and commentaries on 10 recent fabulous publications (some more fabulous than others) which will make you even better sustainability professionals, and provide you with interesting facts to tell at dinner parties. This is a one-time thing, so don't get your expectations up that we will be doing this on a regular basis. We are too busy trying to keep up with what's really going on out there.

A study by Ernst & Young LLP and the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship
This is the report of a survey of 579 respondents from U.S. based companies of which more than half also have operations outside the U.S. 391 of the respondents work for organizations which publish a Sustainability Report, the rest don't. It's not clear whether respondents were executive, management or non-management level. The report provides a rather glossy picture of the state of reporting, and all of its wonderful benefits. It's a little short on new insight, and a little OTT on the total wonderfulness of reporting, but it's an interesting and up-beat round-up of the reasons to report, just in case your Board or CEO is not yet convinced.  The emphasis on the value of assurance can't be missed - in several places - in my opinion. See this:

Mainstream analysts and investors are paying attention to sustainability reporting? Really? Perhaps I missed the few that do when I blinked.

An interesting table in this survey is what motivates organizations to report.

Ahead of any other reason, the noble objective of being transparent with stakeholders is cited as the key motivation to report in all the sectors represented in the survey. Brand reputation  is hardly cited as a motivator (but then, the sectors involved are largely not consumer-facing brand organizations) and even stakeholder pressure scores very low. I wonder what this means? Apparently, CEO's just want to be transparent. Tell that to yours. 
Measuring socio-economic impact – A WBCSD guide for business
This is a fabulous document from the World Business council for Sustainability Development (WBCSD) which explains the  ins and outs of measuring social impact. Know the difference between impacts, outcomes and outputs? This guide will see you straight. Know what the key tools that are available today to help you calculate socio-economic impact? This guide will both define them and tell you what they are good for. The details include ten key tools:

This guide is of specific importance, now that G4 is moving in the direction of value chain impacts. In assessing material impacts, G4 requires you to consider whether these happen internally or externally. In addition, G4 asks for performance measures relating to these impacts. In general, this is one of the hardest things to measure and most companies manage to measure inputs (infrastructure investments, cash donated, volunteer hours, pro-bono services etc.) but few manage to measure outputs, outcomes or impacts. Which is quite a paradox. Billions of $$$ and time (which is $$$) invested into communities without anyone ever asking whether they made a difference and what that difference was, or whether the funds have been used where they can do the most good. Everyone wants a big return on their $, even if this return is calculated in currencies other than monetary, such as in social benefit of different kinds. This guide may not make you an expert but it certainly gives you resources you need in order to work your way up the sustainability professionals capability chain.  (Did you notice how everything is a chain these days - value chain, supply chain, food chain, ball and chain....?)
An Ernst & Young survey in cooperation with GreenBiz Group

The report analyzes the results from 282 respondents who represented 17 sectors and are employed by companies with annual revenue greater than US$1 billion. Approximately 85% of these respondents are based in the United States.
And the six trends are: 1: The “tone from the top” is key to heightened awareness and preparedness for sustainability risks. 2: Governments and multilateral institutions aren’t playing a key role in corporate sustainability agendas. 3: Sustainability concerns now include increased risk and proximity of natural resource shortages. 4: Corporate risk response is not well paired to the scale of sustainability challenges. 5: Integrated reporting is slow to take hold. 6: Inquiries from investors and shareholders are on the rise.

Any surprises? Nah.

The Future of Corporate Giving
The Charities Trust and Corporate Citizenship

This is the first in a series of publications based on ongoing research into the way corporate philanthropy is changing. Research, comprised of a literature search, interviews with opinion leaders and an online survey of professionals, indicates that four key trends are changing the face of corporate giving:

"The relationship between a company’s community involvement and its commercial activities has been growing for a number of years. In the future, this trend will accelerate. The boundary will blur further as companies seek more measurable coherence and long-term profits from their corporate giving. Softer benefits such as staff loyalty and enhanced reputation will no longer be enough to ‘claim’ – community initiatives will need to measurably contribute to driving company profitability. Social value and commercial value cannot be neatly separated. But all the interviewees we spoke to and 85% of survey respondents felt that there would be a greater focus on delivery of the business strategy through corporate community involvement in the future. Of all the trends we tested, practitioners rated this as the most significant."

This is a very important insight. Does it signal the end of philanthropy and mark the beginning of community investment as a business driver and not a values-based activity? The report says that finding the synergy between company and community will be the key skills for corporate community managers and community players and not-for-profit partners. 56% of respondents in the survey conducted said that corporate giving would no longer exist as a separate activity, but would be "driven as part of core business strategy". Emerging innovations in this area cited by the report include: Vodafone's M-PESA, Nestlé's Creating Shared Value Model, Hindustan Lever's Shakti model of women's entrepreneurship - none of which are particularly new, but the fact that we always come back to these when talking about new corporate philanthropy may mean that other examples are few and far between, so far.

The other three trends identified, which are currently being researched and which will, presumably, result in further publications are : Innovation Unleashed, Collaborative Coalitions and Cause-related Movements. All sound familiar. The implications of these trends for business are discussed:

"One thing that all four trends have in common is a blurring of boundaries. Distinctions are dissolving between motivations (commercial or societal?), responsibilities (government, not-for-profit or business?), and drivers (companies, suppliers, corporate customers or consumers?). Managers of the future will need to navigate this uncertainty, build coalitions, manage multiple partners and articulate the change they have created convincingly."

Interestingly, this report does not highlight impact measurement as a trend, or as an important factor in advancing community investment. Perhaps when charity becomes business strategy, adapted business models of return on investment may start to apply.
And here are four new reports from the Global Reporting Initiative, timed to coincide with the May 2013 Amsterdam GRI Conference:

Carrots and Sticks 2013
Global Reporting Initiative
This is the third publication in the Carrots and Sticks series of the GRI, and three other partners, and was launched ceremoniously at the Amsterdam conference by dynamo Teresa Fogelberg and a group of others. Carrots and Sticks is a look at the public policies and regulatory frameworks that are rapidly changing around the world. It's a self-proclaimed "global inventory of sustainability reporting policies and guidance" and includes: 1. Governmental or market regulatory requirements and voluntary initiatives for the public disclosure of sustainability information. 2. CSR initiatives requiring or providing guidance for sustainability reporting or other forms of public disclosure. 3. Requirements or recommendations covering a single topic (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions) or sector (e.g., mining), provided the disclosure has to be public. 4. Standards on sustainability assurance.

You will probably not be surprised to know that the trend is growing. See the table below for the number of initiatives over the past 6 years. More initiatives are becoming embedded in the laws of national governments.
Green represents initiatives for voluntary reporting
Orange are initiatives for mandatory reporting
The report notes that mandatory and voluntary approaches create "mutual traction" - one tends to advance the other. Mandatory disclosure is also increasing affecting state-owned enterprises. Carrots and Sticks provides a detailed update of the status of public policy and regulation on reporting in several countries and regions: Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, Denmark, EU, France, India, Norway, South Africa and the USA. Which probably means that there is not too much to say about all the rest. Yet. Watch out for Carrots and Sticks 2020. I am sure that will present an entirely different picture. In the meantime, if you want a detailed look at sustainability reporting's regulatory status around the world, this is the best review out there.

Sustainability Topics for Sectors
Global Reporting Initiative

This 156 page report is the outcome of research among sustainability reporters and stakeholders, who submitted suggestions for sustainability topics by sector that could serve as a useful reference for identifying and prioritizing material issues in the sustainability management and reporting processes.  "In total, 194 organizations related to the different stakeholder groups either contributed directly or were researched as part of this effort. This research generated 2,812 topics which were related to 52 business activity groups. Over 600 documents support the 1,612 unique topics that have been identified through this process." The 1,612 topics are described in some detail and offer contextual information, aligned with GRI Material Aspects, so that in preparing your spanking new G4 report, you won't have to start from a blank page. The topics presented by 52 industry sectors. The sectors with the highest number of topics are:
Oil and Gas - 96 topics
Mining - 91 topics
Food and Beverage Processing - 78 topics
Electric Utilities - 71 topics
Construction and Home Building - 68 topics
Textile and Apparel - 59 topics
The tobacco sector has only 7 topics (!) - none of which relates to the degree to which their products kill people.
Sustainability Topics for the Tobacco Sector, page 64
In each sector, the high-level topic list is supported by detailed supplements which can be downloaded separately from the GRI's resource library. This is the link to the tobacco sector document, for example. Some sectors are more extensively covered than others.
This report is a very interesting collection of issues and certainly helpful. It is not exhaustive and in some cases, the list of issues is rather random. However, as input to any process which thinks about material issues, it's worth using. It would be good to see GRI continue this work. In fact, it's somewhat of a shame that more has not been done already. As G4 kicks in, this kind of thinking become more critical.  

The Sustainability Content of Integrated Reports - a survey  of pioneers
Global Reporting Initiative

The GRI sure was busy in the run-up to the Amsterdam conference, and this was one of the May 2013 suite of publications. This one, as the title suggests, is all about integrated. It looks at the integrated reports in the GRI database, aiming "to review the different ways in which self-declared ‘integrated reports’ are taking shape around the world", based on the feedback of 18 companies and contributions from a range of experts in this area. An interesting and not surprising conclusion: "The majority of companies find GRI reporting processes useful to their development of an integrated report, either because GRI helps them defining content at the start of their process, or informs their review of the report at the end of its development." In other words, sustainability first, integrated second.

Having said that, the report frankly states the issues with the concept of integrated reporting, and the fact that "at the time of writing, no globally accepted standards or practices exist with regard to what an integrated report should cover and how it should be constructed to meet the needs of its users. Neither is there clarity on who exactly integrated reports’ users are, or how such reports should ultimately be appraised for quality and substance." Spot on. Integrated reporting, despite the recent IIRC Exposure Draft, remains an enigma to most. But it sounds sexy, so I guess we'll see more of it. The survey of pioneers report (what are they pioneering exactly?) covers research (from the GRI database) on integrated reports broken down by type of companies,  sectors, countries and what these reports are called (annual reports, integrated reports, annual and sustainability reports etc.). Also the length. The average length of an integrated report is ....well, that number isn't provided.. but they are getting longer.

In 2010, 22% of reports were 200+ pages in length, while in 2012, 24% were that loooooooooooooooooooong. 40% of integrated reports in 2012 were more than 150 pages. Did anyone check the length of standalone sustainability reports? The report zooms in on South Africa and Australia in terms of integrated reporting practices, and most interesting is the perspectives of the practitioners themselves with interviews from people in reporting companies. This is an intriguing report and if integrated is on your radar, it's worth a look.
The External Assurance of Sustainability Reporting
Global Reporting Initiative

Another in the flurry of publications timed to coincide with the GRI Conference, this is a short look at the state of assurance from a GRI (and G4) perspective and based on a review of data in the GRI database. The report says: "In 2012, over 46% of reports listed on GRI’s Sustainability Disclosure Database indicated some form of external assurance. While notable differences exist between countries and sectors, the global trend is toward increased assurance of sustainability reports." Personally, I think this is misleading. Many of the assurance statements I read do far from assure sustainability reports, at best they sort-of assure some of the (typically carbon emission and energy consumption) data. At worst, they raise more questions than they resolve. I think assurance is a big mess (ooops, maybe that's not very PC) and needs hoisting out of the current paradigm. Yes, I have some ideas, and will post on this as soon as I can. In the meantime, this report summarizes current assurance frameworks and includes a checklist of what to look for when you are engaging an assurance provider. It's a good reference document, although, why the GRI should publish such a document when the GRI's approach to assurance has been lukewarm lip service at best is rather a puzzle.

Sustainia 100
Sustainia, Denmark

"Sustainia is an innovation platform where companies, NGOs, foundations and thought leaders come together to support and work with a tangible approach to sustainability. Sustainia100 is an annual guide to 100 innovative solutions from around the world that presents readily available projects, initiatives and technologies at the forefront of sustainable transformation." The Sustainia 100 guide is an interesting overview of different creative approaches to different issues, ranging from harnessing solar power in innovative ways connected to women's empowerment in Africa to community computing for the benefit of humanitarian research to smart irrigation and aerodynamic trucking. If you are lacking inspiration in your business, or simply want to see how the age of sustainabilitinnovation (there's a word that confounds blogger's spellcheck function) is still alive and kicking, take a look at this report. There are surely some ideas that are applicable to your business.
Accountability and United Nations Global Compact
(Thanks to CSRInternational's Research Digest for alerting me to this one)

The report presents the Sustainability Commitment Growth Curve (SCGC) which forms a roadmap for turning commitments into measurable value creation.

From adoption to implementation to advancement, this roadmap gives sound guidance on how to turn good intentions into good practice. Many of the concepts and approaches are familiar, but they are ordered here in a coherent and accessible way, with a host of interesting examples of practice from companies around the world. The roadmap is aligned with the UNGC principles, and shows how different companies have used the UNGC framework to align resources, structures and programs to deliver value-creating outcomes. This is a good source of inspiration and ideas for companies wanting do deepen their strategic approach to sustainable business.

But that's not all:

And as I was compiling this list above, I came across this other list:
13 HOT RESEARCH REPORTS by Sustainable Brands, compiled by Dimitar Vlahov.
This contains some more fabulous stuff, really interesting reports, and there is absolutely no overlap with my list, so, just by adding this link, the CSR Reporting Blog offers you a double-scoop of resources for absolutely no additional charge. Come on, admit it, how many other sustainability reporting blogs are this good to their readers?

Show your appreciation by tweeting, retweeting, mtweeting, facebooking, googleplussing and signing up for the CSR Reporting Blog directly to your email. Oh, and a scoop or two of Chunky Monkey next time we meet wouldn't go a miss either.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via   or via my business website (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
Related Posts with Thumbnails