Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sustainability Reporting: It's all about Trust

What's a sustainability report worth if it doesn't contribute to building and maintaining trust? (Hint: nothing).

As I read many many many sustainability reports, I am confronted with platitudes, PR-speak and declarations of commitment which are completely divorced from the results that we see in the world, and the information that is provided in the very same reports. We are committed to advancing women. But women are not advancing. We are committed to environmental stewardship. But carbon emissions are increasing. We are committed to human rights. But our supply chain audits show that people are being abused. We are committed to transparency. But our communications contain everything but the stuff that people really want to know. We have followed the GRI Framework. But the fully reported indicators are nowhere to be found in the narrative or the multitude of other irrelevant numbers. The degree of credibility and trustworthiness of a large selection of sustainability reports is questionable, and it's up to more of us to take more of an interest and help more companies be more credible and drive more trust to create a more sustainable future.

To balance things up, however, I read some reports which do cause me to believe that a company is authentic, genuine in its sustainability efforts and reporting, and yes, by and large, trustworthy. Generally speaking, though, it is only after several annual sustainability reports that my trust is reinforced and becomes a basis for a change in my attitude toward a particular company. Many companies can deliver a first sustainability report. It's the consistent, year after year, reports, that demonstrate, first and foremost, advances in sustainability performance, and then transparent and accountable disclosure, that really create a firm basis for trust. This is the kind of trust we seek to have in corporations that impact our lives.  

Trust is at the core of the mission of Barbara Kimmel, who has invested enormous resources and built an entire network to advance the kind of trust we all seek, through the organization she founded: Trust Across America - Trust Around the World. Barbara Kimmel is an award-winning communications executive and former consultant to McKinsey who has run her own firm, Next Decade, Inc., a firm that has been unraveling and simplifying complex subjects for over twenty years. During this time she has published award-winning reference books; created media campaigns; publicized books, authors and businesses; and consulted to start-ups on building marketing and communications programs. In 2012 Barbara was named one of 25 Women Who are Changing the World by Good Business International.

Trust Across America - Trust Around the World has been publishing lists of trustworthy companies  and individuals who advance trust for some years. I was honored to be included in previous lists, and no less honored to be awarded a fabulous certificate as recognition of my inclusion in the 2014 list:


And just so you know what a set of brilliant other individuals whose company I am humbled to be in, take a look at this:

And while we are at it, if you didn't download the poster of 2014 weekly quotes about trust, for daily reminder and inspiration, you can do so here:

One more thing. Barbara Kimmel has edited a truly worth-reading book, all about trust, full of insights and advice with contributions from several trustworthy experts. The book, Trust, Inc., was published at the end of last year, and deserves to be at the top of the reading list for every corporate CEO and executive in any company anywhere. Check it out on 

I'll be writing a detailed review of Trust, Inc. on my CSR-Books blog sometime in the near future. 

So, back to sustainability reports... you have an opportunity to vote for the sustainability reports you believe deliver the most trustworthy accounts  of their sustainable business performance in the current CRRA '14 online reporting awards (see my last post). 

More than this, you have an opportunity, every time you are working on a sustainability report for your company, to consider the ways in which your reporting builds trust. For example, I am pleased to acknowledge the recent honor bestowed on my client, Novus International, by NAMA in its annual awards. In addition to an award for the best brand film, Novus received a "Merit award in the category of Company Publications – Annual Reports for the annual Sustainability Report. The Sustainability Report provides detailed information and examples of how the company works hand-in-hand with its stakeholders and network of business partners to improve and advance sustainability efforts." Novus International is a privately-owned company that has been reporting anually for five years on its sustainability performance. Recognition of this kind is an example of how consistent reporting contributes to building trust.

For report readers and users, you have an opportunity to engage with reporting companies to help them understand how their reports stack up on the trust continuum. Peter Firestein, in Trust, Inc. writes: "To earn trust, you must trust."  Companies that publish sustainability reports are also placing their trust in us, their stakeholders, that we will share a certain responsibility in advancing sustainability. This means telling them when we think they have got it wrong... or right. 

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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