Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sustainability Reporting: 25 words to watch in 2015

Everybody is doing trends. There is something about the turn of a year that makes people stop and gather up all the trends they can think of - maybe even anything they can think of, and call it trends - and then write an article about them. The question is: when does something start being a trend and stop being a wishlist? Some of the so-called trends we read about are actually things that have been happening and are well embedded in current practice, while some are so not trending that you begin to wonder what a trend actually is. A trend is, I think, something that is gaining in popularity to the point that we expect loads of people to subscribe. But the world of sustainability and reporting is so fragmented that it's hard to discern a movement. There are multiple movements and multiple agendas. That's why I don't tend to trend. Take a look at the following wishlist trends articles and see if you can spot any common ground.

Predicting trends is a bit like publishing rankings. Just as rankings tend to serve the rankers more than the ranked, so trend-articles tend to serve the writers rather than the readers. However, the debate is always valuable... so well done to all the 2015 CSR and sustainability trend-spotters - you have given us something to talk about for the next 12 months. Until it all starts again.

In the meantime, I decided to avoid trends and take a look at what to look at in 2015. What's on the radar. Things that might flourish, metamorphose or die in 2015, things that may change the game, the paradigm or the comfort zone, things that may improve the quality of life of destroy it. Here are 25 words that sustainability stakeholders should have on our radar in 2015. IMO. No science. No analysis. No prediction. Not in any special order of importance. Many are not new. Some are. Just words. For your radar.

Post 2015 Agenda:  2015 is the year where we stop and think. A year of planning - let's hope all the planning doesn't obscure all the action. And let's hope that what's being planned is what's going to work. Google brings up 370,000,000 results in .0.39 seconds for the search term "post-2015 agenda". That's a heckuvalot of planning.   

Paris: No, not the Eiffel Tower or even the French Open. It's COP21,where the target is to agree to limit planetary temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. And if you are not sure how to get to Paris, the WBCSD has created a roadmap specially for you

Climate-smart: In a world where just about everything turned green over the past few years, climate-smart is now PC for green. If you are merely green, you are old and boring. If you are climate-smart, you are new, fresh and exciting. And really really smart.

Human Rights: Human rights is hotting up to the point that it's now almost not ignorable. Protecting, respecting and remedying is now so on the agenda, that no sustainability report is complete without it. Material or not material. It's material. 

G4: The G4 uptake has developed rapidly with hundreds of reporters already making the transition well before the deadline of end 2015. But the coming year will continue to be a learning period for G4 reporters, many of whom have adopted the framework in name only. Game-changing G4 reports are still few and far between, but, I suppose, you have to get on the playing field before you can improve your game.
Stakeholder Engagement: An old fave. But one which cannot be done and dusted quite just yet. Meaningful stakeholder engagement still eludes many companies and many stakeholders are still sitting on the fence. Some may not even know they are stakeholders. Watchers of stakeholder engagement in the coming year might catch a glimpse of the beginnings of a more mature approach to  engagement, but only if they don't blink. 

Material Impacts: Buzz buzz buzz... materiality in 2015 will continue to hit the ceiling to the point that it becomes somewhat diluted. During 2015, watch out for materiality synonyms. But don't expect GRI, SASB, IIRC, CDP, UNGC and anyone else to actually agree on what it means. 

Externalities: Our savior. True cost accounting bares all and EP&L's are the new sustainability celebs. Get one or get near one. Accountants will love you. 

Ebola: Can you afford to ignore the ebola effect? Even the ALS ice-bucket challenge did not spread as quickly as the panic around ebola. Is Twitter to blame? Get ebola in your next Sustainability Report. It may go viral too. (No pun intended.) (Correction, pun intended.)  

Water Scarcity: Another not-new term, but one that is top of mind and not only for sea-turtles. Water scarcity is one of the planet's biggest threats, and while the scientists are arguing about the temperature of the planet, MBA students are peeing in the shower to save water. Water scarcity, coming to a city near you in 2015. Either companies will deal with it, or they'll move to another city, if they can find one.
Sector: Business sustainability is sectorized and that's that. The future of comparative performance in sustainability is by sector, not by country or by issue. Your company is a member of a sector. You may even have your own association. Benchmark yourself against your peers and get granular about what your sector is doing to make a difference. Keep track of the sector radar. 

Smart Cities: Safety, security, efficiency, creativity, control centers, congestion reduction, disaster relief, off-grid... all this and more in your local smart city. Smart reporting in smart cities. Smarten up your radar in preparation. 

Resource Scarcity: Yes, we know, we know. Everything is getting used up. Resource scarcity as a driver for sustainability is still a good hook. Deforestation and all that. As  part of a sustainability strategy, it does wonders for focusing the mind on alternative sources, technologies and operational cost reductions. It also gives you a great reason not to print your Sustainability Report. 
Child Labor: Check out the ILO pages on child labor and see if they don't make you squirm. Corporate supply chains must continue to adress this negative byproduct of our consumer economy. The fact that, today, ONLY 168 million children are trapped in child labor (down from 246 million) is no cause for joy but cause for deep reflection on what makes our corporations successful. This must always stay on our radar.
Whatsapp: How do you communicate with your reporting team? Or with your report readers? Not enough to create IOS or Android apps any more, or even tweets and Facebook posts. The conversations are moving to instant, real-time, simple, personal, direct and omnipresent. Whatsapping Sustainability Reports is now on the radar. 

The Internet of Things: Everything is wifi'd and connected in our new brave world. Is your Sustainability Report?
Radical Transparency: Since when did transparency become radical? The idea of everyone knowing everything is perhaps a little too much for most of us. I much prefer Relevant Transparency. Either way, watch out for everyone knowing everything before you do, and be careful of being overtaken by what it's possible to know. Most things that are radical never lead to much good. 
Rich Media: Bye Bye static advertising, hello rich media. See what Profoundry says about rich media. Watch out for Rich Media Sustainability Report banners on a website near you. 

Disruptive Technology: Follow the "relentless parade" of new technologies and discover the benefits and opportunities they can bring. Even better, invent one yourself.  

Circular Economy: The circular economy is not just about waste and recycling. It's about an entire new system design that utilizes resources in a way that prevents losses before they circle back and shoot us in the foot. The European Commission gets it, the World Economic Forum deplores the take-make-dispose business model and obsoletism is now becoming rather tiresome. Watch out for Sustainability Reporting getting more circular. 

Food Waste: The fact that so much food goes to waste before, during and after its journey along the food chain and into our stomachs or our garbage cans is one of the great crimes of our times. When food goes to waste, it's not only food. It's all the resources that were used to create, transport, distribute, prepare, market, package, merchandise and sell food. Plus all the extra ones required for its disposal as waste. The Food Waste Reduction Alliance, the FAO Save Food initiative, and  the numerous organizations focused on reducing food waste are moving in the right direction, but things are going slow. Maybe Seattle has got it right? No more food in trash. Maybe, in 2015, measures to combat food waste will be so material that every company will need to be part of the solution, not only those directly involved in the manufacture and supply of food. 
Framework: Reporting frameworks are breeding faster than rabbits. Keep your RSS feeds up to date in case you miss a new framework in 2015. Instead of harmonization, we have fragmentation. Instead of simplification, we have complication. Instead of consensus, we have the Framework Wars. What will change in 2015? The radar will reveal all. 

Anti-corruption: Has anti-corruption lost its edge? It seems so banal these days. I mean, we all know what it is and why it shouldn't be. But it is. And it is probably no less. That's why it stays on the radar. 

Women on Boards: The glass ceiling has not yet cracked and women are still disadvantaged and discriminated against throughout the entire corporate regime. Why is it still so challenging to identify and advance capable women, not just on Boards but throughout organizations? Maybe the radar in 2015 will offer some answers. 

Selfie: What's sustainability reporting if not a form of corporate selfie? Watch out for Sustainability Reports becoming more selfiecized. If Ellen de Generes can do it, so can you. 

Actually, I had about another 325 words to complete this list. Including of course ICE CREAM. But, in the interests of not boring - or frightening - everyone to death, I decided to stop at 25. After all, FOCUS is also one of those words that didn't make the list above. 

2015 here we come.....get your radar ready for a whole load of words....

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, 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 via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing YOUR Top Ten Report in 2015? Contact Elaine:   

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