Tuesday, January 3, 2017

GRI's great start to 2017!

With the start of a new year, I decided to clear the decks and make way for all the good things that are going to happen in 2017. In a year when BrexiTrump did nothing to advance a positive vision of a shared, collaborative, inclusive, optimistic path forward, anything that might indicate that the future will get a little brighter is worth supporting. One of those things is the appointment of a promising new Chief Executive at GRI. Tim Mohin, Corporate Responsibility veteran, author, former regulator, ex Intel, Apple and soon AMD CSR exec, former Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) Board Chairman, Tim has a passion that's easy to recognize - it's about making the world a better place. He also has a proven track record in sustainability reporting, a singularly relevant ingredient for anyone planning to take the helm in Amsterdam.

I met Tim in person, after years of mutual retweeting, in Berlin earlier this year at Humboldt University's 7th International Conference on Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility. We shared a stage together in a panel on CSR and Digitization. Tim talked about what being a CSR practitioner means in the age of digitization. Tim explained that, while there is a lot that companies do to be "less bad", especially in the supply chain, there are many ways that companies can create "more good", including through digital technology. One of the most important aspects of all of this is designing these activities right from the outset - good by design to deliver sustainability at scale.

I chatted with Tim just before the holidays. Here's how it went: 

GRI Chief Exec is going to mean a lot of changes for you, right?
Absolutely. New job, new city, new home. new issues - it's a lot to take in. Especially with the holidays just around the corner. I am very excited.

What drew you to this job?  
I have been working in the sustainability arena for more than 20 years with different companies, and 10 years in government before that. My experience with transparency as a tool for sustainability is a good one. There is a great deal of power in transparency - think of the old phrase: sunshine is the best disinfectant! When you look back at my career, I have worked on sustainability reporting for Intel, Apple and now AMD (AMD has 21 consecutive years of sustainability reporting, well before there was a GRI). I can tell you from first-hand experience, transparency works!  But, it has to be done right. That's what I am interested in with this role.

What does "transparency works" mean?
The point of transparency - publishing information - is to advance sustainability and advance performance. That has almost gotten lost in the debate we have been having about this standard or other. We should be able to answer the question: Has it helped? Some of that clarity has gotten lost and I would very much like to see it come back.

What does the new GRI tag-line, Empowering Sustainable Decisions, mean to you?
I do subscribe to the vision of empowering - it goes back to what I was saying before - by putting information out to the world, information found its way into the hands of investors and others. That information matters, and its users create the pressure or leverage on a company to improve. You can track trends and you can do comparisons with other companies in the sector. But ultimately, someone in the company has to take action. That sounds like empowering sustainable decisions to me.

Who reads reports? How are reports are being used to generate action?
I have written on this topic a few times, for example, one piece I published a few years ago was called: "Is your report a window or a mirror?" We often think reports are a window - everyone can look in. More often they are a mirror and often the main readership is employees. The very act of reporting holds up a mirror to what's happening in the company, asking the question: How are you doing? It creates an opportunity for employees to think about their performance and contributions. Corporations are just a bunch of people. My experience of reporting at companies for many years is that it creates opportunities. Suddenly people light up with the realization that their job can actually help people and the planet. Well, yes, it can. It’s true there are issues - I've been around a long enough to know that. These issues were outside the mainstream for a long time. Now they are more inside the mainstream and it is uplifting to see how you can get a very positive response from different people in different functions in organizations.

Role of GRI to date? 
I'll share my perspective as the incoming Chief Executive. To start with, if you are running CSR department, the first thing I would say is go look at GRI. For the past 17 years, GRI has defined what CSR means in a very real and practical sense. GRI has created a sort of road-map for CSR and sustainability. You could call it the "installed base" of sustainability information and standards. That has been incredibly valuable and GRI has established a powerful leadership position. The future, on the other hand, is still full of challenges. When GRI started out, sustainability reporting was new and novel - today, most of the Fortune500 are doing it and most are using GRI.  But there is some confusion, some fatigue, both on the data provider side and on the data consumer side. If you are the installed base of that market, the question is how do you respond to those challenges. That's what I hope to get into in January. As a long-time practitioner and reporter, I can see those problems quite clearly. 

Initial areas of focus? 
It's a bit early to say! But one thing I will say is that expansion into emerging markets is an important priority for the organization. I spent a lot of my career at Apple in China and other parts of Asia. That area of the world is just booming and presents some of the most egregious and challenging CSR issues I have ever seen. Looking at those issues coupled with extreme growth, one of the things I believe is that the role of CSR is very important and much of this stems from globalization. Some corporations are bigger than nation states in terms of annual revenues and their operations can have an effect in every corner of the globe. We need to harness that incredible economic activity towards good - then all of a sudden, you are not waiting for this or that jurisdiction, you have created a broad scope of sustainability action and that's what I want to see GRI do more of.  

Let's get personal......
Born in: The U.S., into a military family, so I moved around often and that includes 3 years in London (British accent now a little faded!)
Married: Happily

Kids: Two children, both married, my daughter, who has a beautiful little baby, is an attorney and my son just gained his PhD in Chemistry. They won't be joining us in Amsterdam but I hope they will come to visit.    

Top hobby: I am a cyclist. I have clocked up a lot of miles this year -  around 3,100, averaging 60 miles per week.
Fave movie: Captain Fantastic
Fave book: I am now re-reading several leadership books and I audio-read about 3- 4 books a month. I just finished Bruce Springsteen's autobiography, Born to Run and that's pretty good. I wouldn't say I have a favorite book but the leadership book I am reading now is one I would recommend to anyone. It's called It's Your Ship written by a former navy captain, and its message is essentially: take care of your people and they will do a great job for you. 
Fave music: I listen to Slacker, which doesn't work in Europe so I am going to switch to Spotify. I stream music constantly. I love the classic rock genre and also Indie style and jazz.

Fave ice cream: Rocky Road, of course.

Favorite GRI Performance indicator:  They are all good 😏

Last word from Tim: For me, all the positions I have selected in my career have been about making the world better. It's my cause and I want it to be my legacy. We often get mired in a lot of details and debates and argue about things, but ultimately we all want to move the world forward. It doesn't have to be a zero-sum game. I see my new role at GRI as a wonderful way to pursue my cause. 

And the last last word from me: 
I was inspired by my chat with Tim (as I have been from his writings and talks) and believe he will bring a new discipline to GRI. I am sure he is not a Slacker and though he might have a Rocky Road ahead, I expect he will make the GRI his Ship and end up being Captain Fantastic. I am looking forward to hearing more from Tim and supporting his progress in the new year. 

Wishing all the CSR-Reporting Blog readers an equally fantastic year ahead.... where the Rocky Roads are only the kind you eat.  


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 www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz 

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