Monday, December 30, 2013

Why Sustainability Reporting is Good for Your Health

I've never been much of a one for exercise, although, for years, before my kids were born, I would go out walking for about an hour every morning around 6am. I love that time of the morning, when the city slowly starts to come alive. I would walk regularly, every day, week and weekends. There was a period I used to go with my husband to the gym about four times a week as well. Then, the kids came along - yep, you can blame them for everything, (including the fact that I never actually shed those XXX lbs gained during pregnancy so many years ago, hahah), and taking an hour to exercise early in the morning was no longer practical, as it was always my job to get the kids to their kindergartens, then schools, then high schools etc, make the sandwiches and sort out all the last minute stuff that needs to be sorted.

Then, in 2005, I started my own consulting business, and day and night and even weekends just blended into one another and every spare minute of my time just got consumed by my work and things associated with work. Of course, work is no longer work, it's life, and it's fun, when you are independent, doing the stuff you love doing. But a consequence of being gobbled up by work was that the hour before getting the kids out in the morning became screen-time, picking up emails from far corners of the world and ensuring I got up to date before the hecticness of the day set in. For a long while, I just didn't make time for any kind of exercise at all. And the elliptical we optimistically acquired rapidly became an interesting but useless piece of modern home decor.

At some point, I got into a routine of walking for an hour in the evening, together with my husband and son. That was fun, especially when we stopped for falafel on the way back. Haha. But then, in 2012, on one evening walk, I took a fall and broke my kneecap.

And for over a year, I was too scared to go out walking again in case I broke the other one. 

And that's where Sustainability Reporting comes in. 

In 2012-2013, I worked on the first Sustainability Report for GSK Latvia. As part of the community volunteering programs run by GSK in Latvia, there was a piece about helping elderly people in the community learn Nordic Walking.

I'll be honest, and confess that, while working on the report, I didn't really understand the attraction of Nordic Walking. I had never heard of it before. I did a quick web search and found a few video clips of people walking with poles, and it seemed to me rather unremarkable. Walking is walking. So what if you walk with a couple of sticks? How much healthier can that be? Why buy special poles just to walk?  

Now, you can see where I am heading. After breaking my leg, and being rather sensitive in general where knees are concerned (my other knee was operated on when I was 22 and it's never been quite right since), I suddenly remembered the Nordic Walking Poles I had written about in GSK Latvia's report. I bought myself a set, and lo and behold, I have become a Nordic Walker. And guess what. I now understand why Nordic Walking so much more invigorating than simply walking-walking. By moving with poles, you actually give your upper body a workout at the same time as your lower body, while reducing the stress on your spine and knees. I actually feel the benefit in my arms and shoulders, as well as my shins and thighs. I also feel much more stable and much more confident, even at quite a pace. I now really get it. And I have become Nordic Walking's number one fan. I still have to get myself into a routine where I can Nordic Walk every day, as work and family are still all-consuming, but I am starting to form a plan. 

And that, my friends, is why Sustainability Reporting is good for your health!

And here is a photo taken during this morning's Nordic Walk at 8:30am in Herzliya Park.

Oh and by the way, GSK Latvia's 2012 CSR Report is shortlisted in CRRA '14 online reporting awards in the Best First Time Report category.  As it is most definitely a report with a proven health benefit, I think it deserves your vote!

PS: Thanks to the great Veronica Scheubel who posted on Facebook her New Year Resolution to do more Nordic Walking, which inspired me to write this post!

Happy New Nordic Year everyone!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me at   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Top Ten CSR Reports of 2013

It wouldn't be year-end without a flurry of year-end posts, among them my pick for the Top Ten Reports. For previous selections, see posts covering the Top Tens in 2010, 2011 and 2012. My selection is always based on reports that cross my radar throughout the year, not a scientific or strict methodical evaluation of the report quality. However, as I have done for the past couple of years, I use the AIM MODEL to consider the reports that I found worthy of mention. It's always tough to restrict myself to ten reports. I browse, review, read and use hundreds of reports each year, and there is always something positive that can be said about every single report. Each report adds value in its own way, and each report is evidence of progress. Therefore, in mentioning a mere ten reports of the thousands that were published in 2013, I do reporting somewhat of an injustice. On the other hand, highlighting these ten reports and their unique elements may provide insights and inspiration for new reporters, or potentially better reporters. In any event, this is always a post I find both challenging and fun all at the same time. 

Here is a quick reminder of my AIM MODEL

Authenticity: I look for whether the company has reported in an honest way, using stakeholder voices to supplement performance data. Authenticity for me includes balance, accuracy and completeness. I look for targets and progress against stated targets. 
Materiality: I look for whether the company has clearly defined the most important issues for the company and its stakeholders and described the way in which those issues have been identified and prioritized. Reporting materiality should also include a certain amount of contextual information which can assist us in understanding the issues and why they are material. 
Impacts: I look for whether the company identified impacts rather than just presenting a shopping list of activities. This means discussing the outcomes of what was achieved. The outcomes are the achievement, not the activities. This is by far the most difficult thing for companies to address and very few, if any, do it well.

And, in alpha order by company name, my top-ten-pick:

GRI B, 43 pages

This is a well-written and nicely laid out second report from this agricultural equipment company, and it contains all the elements of an AIM Model report. There is a description of the company's value chain, and a nice materiality matrix, which shows not only the different issues but also the level of control that AGCO has in managing these impacts.

The report opens up with a Q&A in which the CEO gives a solid round-up of the issues that the company faces as a business, interlinked with the sustainability issues that are part of the company's approach. A clear set of multi-year sustainability goals and performance against these goals in the reporting year shows you that you are reading a report from a company that is serious about sustainability. The section on Food for Thought provides some context for the issues that are material for AGCO, and serves as a platform for the remaining elements of the report, which is structured around six core issues (food security, climate and energy, values and workplace, resource management, supply chain, community relations). Despite covering a lot of ground, this report is succinct and makes for both an informative and interesting read. 

GRI Undeclared, 66 pages, first time report

A report which boldly aspires to help create a "happy, empowered and sustainable life for everyone" in big red letters on the cover page cannot fail to catch my attention. The colorful, playful design of this report  reinforces the message and draws attention to the narrative.

It's a first report, so usually we cut a little slack as first reports are always backbreaking. However, Bharti Airtel doesn't need a lot of slack as it has done a great job. The Chairman and CEO each make a good case for sustainability in the mobile communications sector in India, and the company's materiality matrix focuses the issues the company must address in its sustainability program. Airtel presents its "Blueprint for Social Inclusion" in this report, which was developed after an investment of several "happy and energetic man-hours". The blueprint includes three pillars, each of which has both a vision and an action approach. A supplier eco-system chart helps understanding of the complex interfaces and partnerships needs to maintain sustainable operations, and the employee engagement section is a refreshing look at how this company supports and empowers employees. This is a well-constructed, well-written and well-designed delight of a report. Take a look. 

G4, 13 pages

Although not a corporate report, and not even the best example of a G4 report, the City of Warsaw managed to deliver the first G4 report in the world, and that's an achievement. Despite a little clumsiness and short-changing of some of the more complex disclosures, it's a breakthrough report. Municipalities have great power in the example they can set for sustainable business, and the policy frameworks they can promote. This report delivered an earnest attempt to describe the city's journey to a more sustainable level of impact, and hopefully, is an encouragement to more cities and governments around the world to adopt both sustainability AND transparency. 

GRI A+, 70 pages, second integrated report

Impahla has been in two of my last three Top Ten picks, and I never fail to be amazed and inspired by the quality of reporting consistently delivered by this small, privately-owned, forward-thinking award-winning sports apparel SME company, led by William Hughes, a modest Kenyan-born businessman profiled by Marc Gunther in 2010.  In this 2013 report, Impahla demonstrates business expansion, improved results at all levels, and, a feature of Impahla's reporting through the years, great respect for the Impahla workforce. Directors of Impahla are hands-on shareowners, and this is one of the factors attributed to driving the company's success. Total transparency of the company's balance sheet and customer relationships shows a maturity that is rare in privately owned companies. Material issues are clearly stated and discussed in plain language, and the report is an enlightening, informative and interesting read. The play between high-level disclosures and details of operational activities, for example, incentivizing employees to turn up on time, is well done in this report, helping you understand the broad picture while remembering that the magic is in the detail. If Impahla ever chooses to add another business line, Sustainability Report creation just may be it. Read this report and be inspired. 

GRI B, 109 pages

You don't expect banks to be particularly creative or appealing in their sustainability reporting, so this report from ING in Poland stands out as an especially attractive. The artwork in this report is spectacular. See the stakeholder map below:

There are also some fabulous works of modern polish art that illustrate the report.

This is the first standalone sustainability report produced by ING bank, and it's a thorough presentation of sustainability issues and performance. The report content is  structured in four main sections: clients, employees, community and environment, and while there is no specific materiality matrix, strategic priorities with goals to 2015 are presented, together with progress made in 2012 in all four areas. The nicely gender-balanced management board each presents a perspective:

Data is creatively presented, in a way which makes you want to take an interest.

Not GRI, 56 pages

Kingfisher's Net Positive approach has been widely publicized this past year and has gained quite a lot of attention in sustainability circles. It is indeed an impressive approach, branded and presented impressively. The Net Positive plan has four pillars and the report discusses these in detail, providing contextual background, actions, goals and targets through to, in most cases, 2020.

Use of infographics to describe the issue, what Kingfisher has done so far, and how the company will reach each goal is attractive, and shows a well thought-through strategy. 

In addition to the four Net Positive pillars, Kingfisher has set targets in three additional areas: employees, suppliers and partners and environment. Quantitative multi-year targets are established in all three areas and 2012 progress is recorded. 

The report is also a celebration of employees and employee contribution to sustainable goals.

With monthly Net Positive progress reports being submitted to the Group Board, according to the report, the chances of making significant headway appear to be high. Kingfisher's approach is described by CEO Ian Cheshire: "We don’t have all the answers for how we’ll reach our goals. We need to find different approaches and business models, and to collaborate both internally and externally. By asking ourselves ‘How can we have a Net Positive impact?’ we will find new answers and ideas that will change our business for the better." That's one of the interesting things about sustainability. Just asking the question makes room for a different type of answer. The Net Positive approach of Kingfisher has all the ingredients of a smart way forward: clarity, focus, branded promise, action-orientation and consistency of communication. This builds trust in the Kingfisher program and in its report. It's a great example of good strategy, well articulated.

GRI B, 56 pages 

A regular award winner and focused reporter, the M&S Plan A Report does not mince words. It cuts straight to the chase of its multi-year, multi-action, seven pillar progress report, delivering results and outcomes, with just enough supporting narrative to allow you to understand the numbers. The PDF is fairly stuffed with data, while the online report offers a wealth of additional information in areas you may with to know more about. For example, if you want to meet the farmers who grow the asparagus that you buy in M&S foodhalls, click here. The massive impact M&S has throughout its value chain - including recreating a part of the English language with shwopping (described here on and engaging millions of Brits who shwopped 3.8 million garments - is indisputable. From sustainable food supply, to sustainable retail outlets, traceability, store refrigeration, business travel, waste management, the M&S report is an example of what a determined retailer can do to advance sustainable business on many fronts. The consistency of reporting against Plan A over the years builds credibility and leadership in sustainability reporting. In 2013, M&S reports that Plan A generated its "biggest net benefit" to date, £135 million. If anyone thinks that being a responsible business is not worth the effort, then this is 135 million reasons to think again.

Not GRI, 70 pages

I couldn't not include this report this year, as an example of a great report from a company that produces a product that most of us wouldn't really associate with improving the quality of life and saving our planet. The spark plug. We all know what spark plugs do, sort of, and we have all probably been without the right one at the right time as some stage in our lives. However, I am not sure how many people realize just what a significant role they play! Spark plugs apparently have a right to their own Sustainability Report as do many other essential items of modern day life. The NGK Spark Plug company celebrates this modest little electronic component in a respectful and comprehensive way, presenting its 10 year plan to become a distinguished manufacturing company, highly profitable, progressive and emphasizing "personal assets". This demonstrates that CSR is relevant to any company and any product, even the ones we tend to take for granted. Any company who thinks the fact that their product is not Coca Cola, Vodafone, General Electric or any other Big Brand means that sustainability doesn't apply to them should read the NGK Spark Plug report. 

The PDF includes little yellow sticky note explanations of key terms - an afterthought maybe - but at least we know what they mean. There is also a glossary at the back of the report. 

An interesting feature of the report is the description of the portfolio and the relevance of spark plugs and other products in people's lives. You'd be surprised what this little things get into, as well as making car engines more efficient.

The report is dotted with "voices" - insights and perspectives from employees of the NGK Spark Plug company. It is always more credible to hear directly from company employees, rather than read long chunks of narrative. This gives spark plugs a face as well as a voice.

As is often the case in Asian reports, NGK includes a "Message from a Stakeholder". This is usually a positive commentary, and this is true of NGK's stakeholder commentary too. Even so, inclusion of external stakeholder comments is always a positive element in any report. NGK also includes responses to a feedback questionnaire from internal and external stakeholders about the prior report and the way the company has responded. A nice additional touch would be the number of responses received.  

GRI A+, 223 pages

PUMA had a tough year in 2012 with profit decline culminating in the departure of the CEO, Franz Koch. However, the pioneer of the Environmental Profit and Loss Account managed to deliver an upbeat report with great transparency in many areas. The absence of a statement about materiality in this report, despite the fact that the report assurance statement explicitly states that adherence to the materiality principle was assured, is rather irksome, but nonetheless, I feel that the work PUMA is doing and the clarity of its reporting is worth a Top Ten listing this year. The report is an integrated report, written for shareholders "and friends", covering the spectrum of sustainability-related themes and all financials, which is why, at 223 pages, it's still a manageable read if you do so selectively. For example, the People@Puma Section is a good discussion or organizational development and people empowerment, and the PUMA.Safe Humanity Section covering the outsourced supply chain operations is a strong review of related issues. The PUMA.Peace section is an inspiring look at the way PUMA uses its business strengths to promote a more peaceful world.  

Not GRI, Integrated Report, 122 pages

I blogged about this report recently, and it continues to stick in my mind as a report which delivers clarity, authenticity, material focus and reporting of outcomes. In fact, it's an excellent example of the AIM Model.  The graphics are well delivered, supporting the narrative, and the theme of the report, "Imagine", is rather uplifting. The materiality disclosures are well described, including explanations of why the issues are important, what the Crown Estate is doing about them, and where performance metrics and additional narrative can be found in the report. 

NB As usual, to be fair, I did not include reports that I have worked on or from other clients or affiliate or parent companies. If I were to do that, I wouldn't have room for any other reports ha-ha. But it also shows you how magnanimous we are on the CSR Reporting Blog :)) Gotta give 'n take a little in life, right?  

Happy Reporting in 2014, everyone! Here's to the next Top Ten.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me at   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Getting the most out of Sustainability Report Interviews

As a Sustainability Reporting Consultant, one of the regular, most fascinating features of our role is the gathering of information within a company about advances in sustainability performance. This often requires interviewing many individuals, mainly executives and managers. Sometimes this is challenging, as many people in many organizations don't quite understand why they have been selected for a "Sustainability Report Interview" or what their role has to do with sustainability. Often they are just doing their job, and the connection between their day-to-day and sustainability is not explicit. Others are ready for the conversation, which is often an annual event, and even look forward to it. Some even do a little preparation!

As we work with several companies working with different reporting cycles, I find that that I am part of such conversations almost all the time as a regular feature of my job. I find that it's also one of the most useful parts of our job, as far as the organization is concerned, although they might not realize it.

In an ideal world, where Sustainable Business Strategy is articulated, implemented, communicated and part of the way of life in any company, you would expect that everyone would know their connection to the sustainability agenda and why it's important. The reality is that, even in companies where sustainability is just about as embedded as you can get, people still have trouble seeing linking their their roles to the organization's overall positive impacts. The Sustainability Report Interview is one tool among several that can help reinforce and refresh sustainability thinking and drive action in the organization.

There are several reasons that these conversations are always important. The Sustainability Report Interview is an Art Form rather than just another plain ole conversation. It takes a certain knowledge and skill to perform a Sustainability Report Interview well and get the most out of a short conversation.

The Sustainability Report Interview has several objectives, and becomes a powerful (and fascinating) part of the reporting process. It can make a big contribution to advancing sustainability awareness, understanding and practice in any company, including smaller companies. We always try to interview as wide as possible a range of individuals in any company, in order to gather and cross-validate information and ensure we have a rounded understanding of performance, activities and issues. This is the nuts and bolts of sustainability reporting. It is often overlooked as a value-adding element in the sustainability reporting process.

The key things we try to do in Sustainability Report Interviews are:

Gather Insights and Information: This is the clear, stated objective of any Sustainability Report Interview. We aim to gather insights and information about sustainability performance in the course of the reporting year, within the scope of the interviewee's role and responsibilities. The idea is to distill the precise contribution to improving social and environmental impacts, or even activity which impacted less positively, from a range of information about the interviewee's role and performance. At this point we do not restrict ourselves to specific information that we think may be relevant to the sustainability Report, but aim to gain deep understanding of what was done and why and an appreciation of the context in which such activities were progressed. We look for performance, stories, case studies and future plans and targets.

Identify Sustainability Practice: The very process of the interview causes the interviewee to think about her or his role through a sustainability lens. If you ask most managers in most organizations outright what have they done to advance sustainability, they don't come up with very much. At best, they may start talking about some volunteer activity or other. By asking them about their business activities, a skilled sustainability report interviewer can identify those areas which are relevant from a sustainability standpoint. For example, a Logistics Manager might say that she restructured routing processes to improve delivery efficiency. She is happy to have saved costs while maintaining customer service. When we ask about the environmental impact, she may know the fuel savings which were needed to calculate the cost benefit, but she has probably not thought of the greenhouse gas emissions impact of logistics efficiency improvement. The minute we ask about this, and try to identify environmental metrics for this approach,  advising that  a saving of, say, 1,000 gallons of fuel is equivalent in GHG emission terms to planting and growing over 220 seedlings for ten years, a light-bulb (LED, of course) suddenly illuminates the imagination of the Logistics Manager. The next logistics efficiency project she undertakes will measure both cost and environmental benefit. Suddenly the Logistics Manager has become a Sustainability Manager as well.

Identify More Information Sources: Sometimes, it takes a while to get to the right person who can provide detailed information. Often, you start with more senior people and have them identify highlights or areas for further investigation. They will generate a list of people to talk to within the organization. In other cases, there may be clues about possible external stakeholders that may be able to make an important contribution to the report. A manager might say: "We led a great project last year. We hired an external consultant to help us." Or possibly: "We partnered with a trade association or non-profit organization to complete this." As the credibility of reporting is often enhanced with the inclusion of external stakeholder voices, the interview is a good source of potential additional experts who can provide content to enrich the report.

Increase Sustainability Awareness: A more subtle role of the Sustainability Report Interview is to help increase awareness of sustainability and its business value. In some cases, organizations may not have a declared sustainability strategy, and may not have communicated sustainability widely within the organization. Many managers may be performing sustainably without even realizing it and often, do not associate their positive activities with a higher purpose of sustainability. They may even think there is something wrong with claiming to be sustainable when all they really wanted to be was efficient. Often, people might say, apologetically: "We saved energy for cost reasons, not for sustainability reasons." This is a great opportunity for the interviewer to explain the link between operational efficiency and sustainable business, and reinforce to the interviewee that, whatever it's called, positive social and environmental impact may be the (additional) result of their actions. This connects interviewees to a higher purpose.

Empower the Sustainability Leader: In many organizations the CSO or Sustainability Leader or CSR Reporting Manager, or whatever she's called, participates in the interviews. This is a great opportunity for the interviewer to help the Sustainability Leader build understanding, awareness and relationships. Often, the Sustainability Report Interview might be the first time the Sustainability Leader has actually had a conversation with certain managers in the organization. Often, the Sustainability Leader comes away from such conversations having learned something new. This empowers the Sustainability Leader with new information and new contacts which help her drive the sustainability agenda. It also ensures that skills are developed within the organization and not condemned to oblivion in a file of an external consultant.

Reward Commitment and Action: A Sustainability Report Interview is an unofficial way to recognize those who are doing good work in sustainability. Although it is not the role of the external consultant to do this, in practice, reinforcement that a manager's work is meaningful and even report-worthy is a helpful bonus that the consultant can bring.  The fact that we show an interest, want to know more, ask about challenges, successes and outcomes, as well as the possibility that the manager's story might get published, is a massive motivating factor. In some cases, people want to tell their story so that it can help others. We give them a stage to do so. This is invaluable in helping create and embed a culture of sustainability.

Support Internal Communications: You'd be surprised, or maybe you wouldn't, especially in large organizations, how some managers don't know what the organization is doing or even what their colleagues are doing. Many managers don't read the company sustainability report (evidence of a shortfall in internal communications programs?) and many are surprised to hear for the first time that the company they work for actually does a whole lot more to advance social and environmental benefits than adding zeros to a profit statement. Knowing this engenders pride in the company and pride in themselves. The process of engaging in conversation with a wide range of managers in an organization makes sure they are getting the message. In the course of an interview, you don't just listen, you share, you update, you tell people why sustainability is important. After a good Sustainability Report Interview, both interviewer and interviewee know more about the organization and its sustainable practices. The process is an effective way to open up communication channels and get more people on the same page.

Having established herewith that Sustainability Report Interviews are a fabulous tool, not just for reporting, but to advance sustainability, organization development, communications,, engagement and motivation, not all of them are a piece of cake. In conducting interviews, the interviewer needs to be skilled in handling a wide range of reactions to the interview summons.

Let's discern TEN types:

The Let's-Get-This-Over-With Type: 
Characterized by: Politically-correct manager, maybe senior, not particularly interested in sharing, has a big team of people who can tell us what we want to know, has a hard stop in 15 minutes.
Making the most of it: Thank the manager, state up front it will only take 15 minutes. Cut to the chase, extract the headlines, and note the additional people s/he recommends talking to first. Then ask the manager where s/he feels the biggest business contribution was from her or his department in the last year. That will earn you at least another ten minutes and provide clues for sustainability activities.

The What-Am-I-Doing-Here Type: 
Characterized by: Totally disinterested manager, really doesn't understand how her or his role is connected to sustainability, doesn't understand what all the fuss is about, but was urged to cooperate by The Boss. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager, say it won't take too much of her/his time. Ask first about business achievements in the past year. Look for sustainability themes in the business achievements, and probe further in those areas. If there's nothing, let it go and move on.

The Talk-To-Someone-Else Type:
Characterized by: Manager understands and supports the sustainability agenda, but is simply not the right person to talk to. Sustainability projects are more related to the work of other colleagues. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager and ask, anyway, what the manager has achieved in the past year and what benefits this has brought to the company. Then continue as for the What-Am-I-doing-Here-Type above.

The New-Kid -On-The-Block Type:
Characterized by: New manager, recently joined, never participated in a Sustainability Report Interview before. Happy to provide data and information but is not familiar with sustainability and doesn’t know if s/he will be able to help. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager and wish her or him good luck in his/her new role. Explain about the Sustainability Reporting process, why it's important and offer some highlights from the last report. Explain why the new manager's role is important for sustainability.

The We-Donated-$500-To-Charity Type:
Characterized by: Manager who still believes CSR is about charity, and is very very proud of the $500 donation s/he made last month with her or his department. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager and confirm that a $500 is a fabulous donation. Then ask the manager to tell you what her/his biggest achievements at work have been during the past year.

The Glad-You're-Interested Type:
Characterized by: Interested manager, but not quite sure how her/his role fits with sustainability, s/he is just doing what s/he knows best in the interests of the business. Very glad that someone is taking an interest. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager. Take an interest in specific projects mentioned. Explain how they are relevant to sustainability. Create the connection between sustainability and the manager's role.

The Ready-and-Waiting Type:
Characterized by: Manager happy to engage, hasn't prepared anything in particular, but knows the drill and is quite willing to have the conversation and be helpful. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager,  ask about key objectives, goals, targets and achievements in the past year. Ask about what didn't work so well. Confirm the relevance of this manager's activities to the sustainability agenda.

The I've-Done-My-Homework Type:
Characterized by: Prepared manager, been there, done that, knows the drill, knows what you will ask, has done homework and prepared a list of activities and events in anticipation of the call. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager. Lap it up.

The Help-Me-Focus Type
Characterized by: Manager who is excited to share but simply can't focus on what you are asking. Shares great detail about helping a local sports club build a new clubhouse but fails to address sustainability issues in the core business. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager. Listen to the story. Compliment the manager. Then ask about her or his work activities. See the Ready and Waiting Interview.

The Enjoyed-Our-Talk Type:
Characterized by: Interested manager, does best to explain everything about progress made in sustainability projects and enjoys doing so. Confirms that s/he enjoyed the conversation. 
Making the most of it: Thank the manager. Lap it up.

If your reporting process does not include Sustainability Report Interviews, something's amiss. If you are not getting the MOST out of these interviews, you should reevaluate how you they are conducted. If at the end of the interview process, you have not enriched the organization while gaining relevant information (both good news and less good news), you need to think it through. It's a large investment in time and money, it should work.

Some of the most rewarding outcomes of Sustainability Report Interviews for me are when people say:

  • I am glad you are interested in what I do
  • I really enjoyed the conversation
  • I learned something new
  • That's given me an idea, I am going to follow up. 
When there are a lot of these reactions, I know we are going to be able to help deliver a great Sustainability Report!

So, here's to 2014, the Year of the Sustainability Report Interview!
Happy 2014!

PS: Maybe I should post next about what NOT to ask in a Sustainability Report Interview. I could probably write TWO posts about that. HAHA.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me at   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Santa's 2013 G4 Sustainability Report

This year, Santa has published a G4-based Sustainability Report, in accordance with G4 comprehensive level. This follows a long tradition of sustainability reporting by Santa. Check out Santa's prior reports:

Santa's First Integrated Financial and CSR Report 2012
Santa's 1,747th 2011 Annual CSR Report  
Santa's 1,746th 2010 Annual CSR Report   
Santa's 1,745th 2009 Annual CSR Report

As usual, Santa always sends me an early copy of her annual sustainability disclosure, as she knows that the #CSR Reporting Blog is the most widely read blog anywhere that focuses on sustainability reporting. Knowing that featuring on the #CSR Reporting Blog is a privilege reserved for few reports, Santa always makes it worth our while by collecting all the toys that were not distributed to the world's children and sending them along to us on Boxing Day as a gift. This coming Boxing day, the #CSR Reporting Blog has decided not to accept these toys, but to donate them to bloggers everywhere, in return for a small postage fee. If you are a blogger, and would like to receive your free toy on Boxing Day, please make a bank transfer NOW to the #CSR Reporting Blog in the amount of $4,995. As soon as we confirm this amount has reached our account, we will dispatch your free toy. 

This year, Santa remains at the forefront of Sustainability Reporting. Last year, Santa's forefront was an Integrated Report, the first one to come out of Lapland, and the only Laplandish Integrated Report to include an Environmental Profit and Loss Balance Sheet whose bottom line was positive, meaning that the environment actually owes Santa a whole lot of money. This positive balance was due to the fact that elves multiplied carbon emission reductions achieved in Lapland by 196, the number of countries in the world, because Santa mentions all these countries in the Integrated Report as target destinations for toys delivered to kids. This exponentially increased Santa's carbon emission reductions and is perfectly credible, using methodology similar to the way the number of sustainability disclosures in Angola is calculated. In the meantime, Santa is trying to figure out how to actually get this money back from the environment, and, if all else fails, may have to ask PUMA to cough up the cash as they owe the environment around EURO 145 million based on their 2010 results. Santa's first Integrated Report for 2012 was helpful to the wider business community as it proved that the phrase "integrated reporting" is actually an oxymoron. This should go down in history as a massive benefit for humanity. It sort of equates integrated reporting to discovering that there is life on Mars. 

As Santa likes to demonstrate leadership, advanced-thinking, clear focus, sharp analytical skills, strategic visionary orientation, exceptional interpretive powers and amazing persistence, tenacity and staying power, she decided that this year's report should be written in accordance with G4. The only problem was working out what to call it. Santa consulted SOAP's CSR Report Name Generator and came up with some relevant options:

However, Santa felt that these report titles have been over-used, and decided to generate her own report title. So here it is:

Santa's 2012 G4 Sustainability Report

Chairwoman, President, CEO, CFO, and General Counsel Opening Message

As 2013 draws to a close, our work begins. With a core mission of making kids happier, while increasing the long-term sustainability and short-term profits of toy manufacturers around the world, Santa Claus Inc. is getting ready to make this Christmas the most memorable ever. With the digital divide creating gaps between those who have and those who want to have, we are giving priority to those who are disempowered by the digital divide. All they need to do is drop Santa an email, or use Santa's new IOS7 App, and tell us how the digital divide is limiting their ability to connect with the world at large and VOD at home. We will email back with the Santa Guide to Bridging the Digital Divide. This is a short 300 page manual, in two parts, which is very easy to understand, providing good advice on how to hack hot spots and divert satellite dishes.

Business-wise in 2013, Santa Claus Inc. delivered record profit levels, mainly because we achieved a higher degree of vertical disintegration, outsourcing not only our toy manufacture but also our testing procedures. In previous years, toy testing has been a major drain on our resources and over 18,000 elves were engaged in playing with all the toys we distribute to the world's children, to ensure they are safe and function in the way intended. To do this, the elves had to play with the toys in prolonged intensive sessions in which they had great fun but which usually ended up with the toys breaking or parts dropping off, or in some cases, elves choking to death. This meant that our pass-rate for acceptable toys was extremely low. In order to reduce our expenses and increase our toy pass-rate, we have transferred responsibility for toy-testing to our outsourced toy manufacturers, who are obliged to confirm toy integrity before shipping. We believe this has been an extremely positive change as our toy pass rate is now more than 100%.

Material Issues 
In line with G4 guidelines, this year, for the first time ever, we conducted a materiality analysis. We followed a process of stakeholder engagement with internal and external stakeholders, including consultation with the global sustainability guru, John Elfington, an expert in sustainable elf matters, and Jo Elfino, editor of a sustainable business newspaper for elves in the UK. 

We identified our key stakeholders as:

  1. Me, Santa Claus
  2. Children
  3. Parents
  4. Employees (elves and reindeer)
  5. The Government of Lapland
  6. Our Bank Manager 
  7. Environmental Activists
  8. Elf Trade Unions
  9. Toy Manufacturers
  10. Toy Testers
  11. Sleigh Manufacturers
  12. Reindeer Feed Suppliers
  13. Wrapping Paper Suppliers
  14. Chimney Sweeps
  15. Santa Defense Fund Management
  16. Santa Retirement Fund Management
  17. Santa Benefits Committee
  18. Santa Protection Agency
  19. Santa Well-being Organization
  20. Santa Earn-More-Money Campaign.
Given such a long list of stakeholders we were not able to complete our stakeholder engagement program in time for our Sustainability Report and have therefore assumed we know what most people think. This assumption resulted in a comprehensive and balanced set of most material issues, which we prioritized to deliver a list of 6 main issues that our report focuses on. These are our most material issues:
  1. Improving (Urgently) Santa Compensation and Well-being
  2. Advancing Santa Recognition around the World
  3. Busting the Santa Disbelievers Movement
  4. Ensuring the Ongoing Viability of the Chimney Sweep Profession
  5. Increasing the Longevity of Elves and Reindeer
  6. Ensuring Children do not Express Dissatisfaction with Toys Received
Our new Santa Sustainability Strategy for 2050 will address these material issues and ensure we maintain our license to operate and deliver a positive net contribution for humanity including generations to come and tremendous shareholder return. 

We submitted our report to GRI for the Materiality Matters Application Level Check, but were told that the GRI team is so completely underwhelmed with the number of companies submitting their reports for the check that they are considering revising the check to a "Materiality Matters As Well" Check, reverting to confirming that reporters have simply ticked the right boxes. As we await their conclusions, we take comfort in the fact that we can now declare our report as meeting the "in accordance" requirements and no-one will tell us anything to the contrary.   

New Shared Value Services
This year, in addition to distributing toys for children around the world, we decided that Santa should become more inclusive and we therefore started marketing a Santa Adult Toy range. This includes adult toys not typically suitable for anyone under the age of 37, and no, I won't go into details. Suffice it to say that the elves toy testing team was very sorry when adult toy testing was outsourced. However, this has posed a bit of a problem. Some of the adults have the same names as their children, and in a few cases, shipments were delivered to the wrong recipient. We are currently facing litigation for damages relating to a 5 year old boy who went into shock after an inflatable life-size doll exploded in his face, and a 6 year old girl who locked herself in a pair of handcuffs and was prevented from joining Christmas dinner festivities with her family.

In 2013, in order to get closer to our stakeholders, we opened up our Santa Claus Visitor Center here in Lapland. We are now offering round-trip packages from wherever you are in the world, accompanied by travel emission offsets so that you can take your trip with a clear environmental conscience. We intended that income from offsets would support the development of renewable electricity from combustion of reindeer antlers. Unfortunately, de-antlering all our reindeer proved problematic, and we already ruined 43 chain-saws in the process. Therefore we moved to plan B, which involves cloning Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, so that we can use all those reindeer red noses to provide lighting for all our operations. As reindeer have not yet been cloned, we feel this is a fabulous example of pioneering shared value sustainability progress, and we look forward to welcoming you to our Santa Claus Visitor Lit-by-Reindeer-Noses Center sometime in 2014. Aside from knowing your visit is carbon-neutral, you will also be able to chart the history of Santa Claus using our new android app, examine reindeer droppings through the ages, see elf fashion through the centuries, taste nutritional low-salt home-made probiotic reindeer-flavor yogurt, and read all Santa's previous Sustainability Reports. While the Visitor Center targets a population with a mental age of below 15, we also welcome politicians, CEOs and government officials.   

Reindeer Rights
Last year we had three complaints from the Global Reindeer Rights Protection Association (GRRPA) claiming that we are not paying our reindeer a living wage. We responded that we pay them a wage and they are living, and therefore didn't understand the problem. In order to deflect further complaints, we entered into a collaborative relationship with the GRRPA as they address the issue of reindeer trafficking. Trafficking affects some thousands of young reindeer, who are enticed from their families at an early age with the promise of well-paying jobs delivering toys in Hollywood and Bollywood. Once in the clutches of the reindeer traffickers, they are starved, drugged, abused, stripped of all reindeer dignity and forced to give reindeer rides for toddlers in shopping malls located anywhere but Hollywood and Bollywood, after which they end up as reindeer soup in high-end restaurants. By comparison, our 23-hour work day during the 12 days of Christmas is an attractive proposition. Our collaboration with the GRRPA includes a full employee communications kit and a compilation of visually disturbing videos of dignitaries eating reindeer parts at ceremonious dinners. These communication kits are designed to help all reindeer in Santa's employ realize that they actually have an easy life and that additional requests for protection of their rights will be met with disdain. In 2013, this worked and zero complaints were submitted to the GPPRA.

Elf Empowerment
As part of our ongoing investment in elf personal and professional growth, we created a special Elf Leadership And Talent Exceptional Development (ELATED) program which includes a 360 degree assessment of elf talent, capabilities, competencies and professional and personal relationships. Over 14,000 elves have already taken the ELATED program, participating in 5 residential workshops, meetings, online support and personal coaching from a senior elf mentor. Of the 14,000 elves who took the program, 3 were found to have some leadership and talent, and as soon as they realized this, they left the company to find better-paying jobs. We have therefore decided to replace this program with a new one, called the Developing Exceptional Forward-thinking Leadership And Talented Elves (DEFLATE) which focuses on helping elves continue to do the things elves do badly. This will increase our elf retention rate and save costs, while ensuring that all kids around the world receive at least one gift at Christmas time, even if it is the wrong one and arrives in more pieces than intended. 

Ethical Supply Chain
I was very distraught this year by the fire in the Rana Plaza operation in Bangladesh. It was a major tragedy to see so many people lose their lives due to unsafe working conditions. As a result, I personally visited all our toy manufacturing facilities in Bangladesh and asked them to ensure that all workers wear safety goggles and white overalls. Safety procedures may not have improved but at least the workers look good. Further, we considered joining major apparel manufacturers in signing the new Accord on Fire and Building Safety on Bangladesh until we realized this entailed a payment of $500,000 per year. At this point, we decided that outsourced facility safety is not a material issue for Santa Claus Inc. and deleted it from our list. 

Bad News
Survey results published by in 2013 demonstrated that report readers find reports more credible if they contain bad news. I have been wracking my brain to try to come up with some bad news for this report. Santa Claus Inc. makes such a positive impact on the world and we do everything so perfectly, that bad news is just not in our lexicon, and even if it were, why on earth would I risk tarnishing our reputation so that the four people who read our report each year will find it more credible? These four people are my parents and my two daughters, and they believe anything they read anyway. 

However, as we are leaders in our field, and leaders must be responsive to stakeholder needs, here is some bad news. In 2012, we had a minor injury in our logistics operations when a fork lift truck driver elf backed into a wall. The elf sprained his right wrist on impact. He did not lose working hours and carried on driving the truck without his right wrist. The wall did not collapse and the fork-lift truck continued to operate. Nevertheless, we treated this safety incident very seriously and ran a series of elf discussions to highlight the necessity of not placing walls on fork-lift truck routes. We mapped the location of all our walls, and decided to relocate 27 walls to other positions outside the building. The bad news is that after we removed the walls, the roof collapsed, killing 32 elves and injuring another 346.  

Vote for Santa 
Even though our last report was not shortlisted in the online CRRA '14 global reporting awards, I take great interest in these online awards which advance reporting and help us learn from reporting best practice around the world. It is important to ensure that reporting remains a value adding exercise and continues to support an entire industry of specialists, as well as providing material for the CSR Reporting Blog, which so generously gives exposure to Santa's annual Sustainability Report. However, I am fairly certain that the fact that the Santa Claus Inc. 2012 report was not shortlisted is an oversight. Therefore, I suggest you vote for Santa Claus Inc.'s report anyway. Just delete the name of one of the other reports and manually add in the Santa report. We have made it our objective to achieve number one place in all reporting categories, and you can help. Please make this reporting year an even more memorable one for Santa. Double gifts for your kids in 2014 if you vote. Voting is open through January. 

Thank you for taking an interest in the Santa Claus 2012 G4 Sustainability Report. To read the entire 734 page report, please make sure you have a 100mbs broadband connection, about fourteen hours to spare and a supply of sedatives, and download it from our website. We will be happy to receive your feedback, as long as it's positive. 

In the meantime....

We Wish You and Everyone in the World a Happy Holiday Season and a Happy New Year. 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me at   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
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