Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dr Sustainability is back!

Dr. Sustainability has been rather busy of late, engaging with stakeholders, making materiality assessments, chairing conferences and generally enjoying life on the sustainability reporting circuit. She has once again agreed to share her perspectives in response to reader questions EXCLUSIVELY on the CSR Reporting blog. She knows that the CSR Reporting Blog is the longest running blog about reporting in the stratosphere and that it is always packed with quality insights. Good quality, bad quality, who cares, it's always quality.   

Dear Dr. Sustainability: After almost 20 years of reporting, we don't have too much left to say. We have already described our policies, approaches and initiatives. Of course, we can easily update the quantitative data, but all the rest is as it always has been. Should we now experiment with different topics to report? For example, the fact that we have organic ice cream in our dining room? Or that we have reversed our smoke-free policy in our corporate offices to ensure we get value for money from our fire detectors? Or should we simply republish our latest report with a different image on the front? 
Dear Reporter: It's true that a year happens very quickly and even if you really scrape the barrel, there is not always enough to say. However, simply republishing your last report is not a good idea. After all, you want to differentiate yourselves from your competitors, correct? (Think about it!). In my view, you could be proactive and create some content specially for your report. For example, you could rebuild your corporate head offices totally out of post-consumer recycled waste that you have collected from all your employees and local communities. This is actually a long-term win-win, because then, instead of throwing out your office waste, you can use it to construct another office.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I heard that GRI and SASB are to collaborate on reporting standards. All SASB sector standards are to be integrated into GRI Standards and then, eventually, there will no longer be a need for a two separate organizations. I heard they are going to merge and call themselves Global Sustainability Standards Reporting Accounting Board Initiative (GSSRABI) headquartered in Amsterdam. Do you think this will help improve the quality of reporting over the long term? 
Dear Optimist: I think that's just absolutely fantastic. It's true that we need more collaboration in the sustainability reporting space. Usually, when you hear the word "collaboration", it means endless dialogue that doesn't get anywhere. At least, in this case, bicycle sales in Europe will increase.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We are in the process of planning our next report and we have engaged two different consultants to help us prepare it. The problem is the consultants can't agree on anything and every time one of them advises us on something, the other gives the opposite advice. How can we resolve this?
Dear Moneybags: You have two options. Only pay the consultant whose advice you choose to accept. Or, better, hire a third consultant to mediate between the existing two and decide on your behalf what is most appropriate. You may end up with a consultant-speak techno-babble report, but at least you won't be caught in the middle of consultant-speak techno-babble arguments.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear GRI is collaborating with the UNGC and others to create a reporting platform for the SDGs. Do you like this approach? 
Dear Collaborator: Of course, this is a wonderful approach. Collaboration is a great thing. And another new reporting platform is exactly what everybody needs. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Now that GRI Standards are published, are you seeing sustainability reports of higher quality? 
Dear Auditor: Oh yes. In particular, I am seeing a lot of investment in the reporting principles. One day, there will be an investment in reporting practice. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: My boss told me that sustainability reporting is just a phase and that it will disappear within 3 years. Should I be looking for another job? 
Dear Pessimist: Well, as the office cleaner, I wouldn't have thought this change will affect you significantly.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that GRI and IIRC are collaborating to make integrated reporting relevant to all stakeholders. Do you think this will be groundbreaking? 
Dear Stakeholder: Groundbreaking is probably not a word I would use. Backbreaking is probably closer to the truth.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: Why is it that sustainability reports are always about people, planet and profit? What about animals? I love animals. Why does no-one write sustainability reports that consider the needs of dogs, cats, elephants, lizards, snakes and hippos?  
Dear Zookeeper: The animal world is essential to sustainable development and many reports refer to the impact of corporations on biodiversity, wildlife, endangered species and other non-human life-forms. The problem is that pictures of wild boars and dead snakes on the cover of sustainability reports have been known to cause nightmares for the children of employees, and, in 2016, fourteen children were diagnosed with Sustainability Report Anxiety Disorder, a sickness usually only found to affect reporting managers. UNICEF has now banned animals from sustainability reports. In future, only nice photos of children and sunshine can be on the cover of reports.   

Dear Dr. Sustainability: For our last materiality assessment, it took absolutely ages to place the dots on the matrix. Every time I thought I had the right place for every dot, one of our executives or stakeholder groups decided that it should move up a little, down a little or to the left or the right. And when one dot moved, I had to move all the others. We decided on our most material topics ages ago, but it has taken 3 years just to agree where the dots should be, and now it's time for a new materiality assessment. How can I avoid the same problem in our new process?
Dear Dotty: Fix your dots down with SuperGlue. If anyone complains, fix them down with SuperGlue as well.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that GRI is looking for new organizations to collaborate with. They have exhausted collaboration possibilities with all the other organizations in the sustainability reporting space and are looking for new ways to enhance their reach. I have a small business that makes edible keyboards and I was wondering if GRI might be prepared to collaborate with me. Edible self-regenerating keyboards are a new sustainable tool for the future of work. They are organic, calorie-controlled, free of colorings, additives, added sugar and GMO ingredients and they are perfectly functioning keyboards until eaten, and regenerate themselves immediately after consumption. Using these keyboards, sustainability report writers can write, copy-paste, revise, copy-paste, send to legal and revise for days on end without ever having to leave their desk. This will have immense benefits for the speed of reporting, the productivity of reporting managers and the reputation of the firm. Do you think GRI will be open to promoting the edible self-regenerating keyboard as an essential sustainability reporting tool alongside GRI Standards?
Dear Businessperson: The edible self-regenerating keyboard certainly sounds like a worthy innovation. In fact, thank you for the samples. I gave them to a report-writer and she has already eaten 16 and she hasn't even finished the About this Report chapter. As for GRI, they may be interested. You just have to make sure that the keyboard has quick keys for standard reporting phrases. For example:

  • CNTL+E: We are proud of all we have achieved but there is more to be done.
  • SHIFT+K: Even in a challenging economy, we have still upheld all our CSR values and continued to contribute to the community. 
  • SHIFT+P: As a customer-centric company, customers are at the center of all we do.
  • CNTL+Y: Employees are our greatest asset.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: My CEO is committed to compliance but he says beyond compliance is totally an own-goal. He will not listen to reason. So all we have to report in our annual sustainability report is how compliant we are. Is it worth publishing a report? 
Dear Optimist: Compliance is a wonderful thing and your stakeholders will be comforted to know that you are compliant. You can write a great report about being compliant. You can tell compliance stories and case studies. You can take photos of your executives being compliant. You can include compliance videos. You can talk about the meaning of compliance and how it affects your organization. You can talk about the incidences of non-compliance and how you addressed them. You can reflect on the nature of compliance and the need to build a compliance culture. You can identify compliance targets and report your progress against them. In fact, there is so much to say about compliance that you will have to be careful not to make your report too long. Of course, a compliance-only report is not everybody's dream report, but you have to do what you can where you are with what you have. And you get to keep your CEO happy. He will probably be so happy that he will reward you (with ice cream) for being compliant. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We finished our sustainability report ages ago, but it has taken so long for our legal counsel and senior managers to approve the report that I fear it is a little out of date. Is it worth publishing a report covering 2012 in 2017? 
Dear Optimist:  Ah yes, that is a big gap. Who can even remember where they were in 2012? However, as long as you have ticked all the boxes, nobody will mind. In fact, nobody will probably even notice.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We have a new Human Resources Director who doesn't want to listen to anything to do with sustainability. She says the role of HR Is to keep management happy and employees productive and within budget. She is not interested in diversity and inclusion, employee wellness, community involvement, green teams, living wage, work-life balance, sustainability-based bonuses, flexible working and open communications. She just wants to hire, fire and arrange company parties.
Dear Frustrated: Yes, this can be a problem with Human Resources Managers. They often can't see beyond the end of their nose. This is especially problematic if they have a very short nose. The only thing you can do in this case is try to undermine HR. Do a workaround. Convince your business managers to apply enlightened people policies and to actually talk to employees about sustainability. Eventually you will see a momentum building and employees will want to engage on matters that matter, and HR will have no choice than to respond. In the meantime, in your Sustainability Report, include statements like "our employees are our greatest asset", "our employees are our most important resource", "we are very employee-centric", and say that HR is driving a culture of caring and sharing.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I want to get our company listed on DJSI, as I see that many companies who are listed gain additional financial value and access to capital and generally deliver a better return for shareholders. How can I improve our position on DJSI? 
Dear Optimist: The best way to get listed on DJSI is to actually improve your corporate sustainability performance over a period of several years and systematically build your disclosure to meet the needs of the DJSI analysts. Of course, this may seem like rather a long and challenging process and it may not be worth your effort. If so, the alternative is to use the resources you would have invested in gaining DJSI listing for other purposes that will improve access to capital, such as bribing the bank manager, bribing the analysts or providing severance pay for your Chief Sustainability Officer.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We have had a lot of feedback from employees who have read our Sustainability Report but they say that it does not represent our company. In fact, they say it's nothing like our company. They don't recognize anything that's in there. How can we resolve this issue?
Dear Stranger: Tell them not to be so narrow-minded and to use their imagination. By definition, a Sustainability Report is full of dreams and wishes and an optimistic and rosy future. You employees should link to their higher selves, explore the realms of possibility, contemplate on a heavenly work-life and consider that the report is designed to create trust in the company. How can you create trust if you actually tell it like it is?

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We love all our stakeholders, but frankly, all this engagement stuff takes time. I would much rather gain stakeholder input without having to talk to them. What are the ways I can do this on a tight budget? 
Dear Introvert: Yes, I understand that stakeholders can be a big problem. Engaging with them is every reporter's nightmare. The best way to do this without getting involved in long and cumbersome processes is simply to attend as many conferences as you can and talk to as many people as you can. Networking is the new normal in stakeholder engagement. Record all your networking conversations and publish the highlights in your report. Not only will you have a wealth of insight, you will enjoy lots of free lunches.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We want to engage with stakeholders by holding a stakeholder round table but we don't have a round table. What should we do?
Dear Carpenter: You have two options. Get a round table (easy) or or don't engage with stakeholders (easier).

Dear Dr. Sustainability: How do you see the future of reporting?
Dear Futurist: If I could see the future, I would not be working in sustainability. I would be selling underground bunkers and oxygen masks.

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). 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 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

Monday, October 16, 2017

In the hot seat at GRI with Tim Mohin

After nine months at the helm of GRI, Tim Mohin is still, yes, still, enjoying his job and making waves in sustainability circles. An eternal optimist endowed with just about enough realism and an unshakeable vision of a future of sustainable development powered by corporate accountability and transparency, Tim has a lot to say. GRI is also 20 years old young, and though Tim Mohin has been leading it for a much shorter time, his experience as a practitioner and sustainability leader gives him the long perspective. 

What prompted me to pound Tim with a barrage of tough questions was an interview with Bob Eccles published in Forbes a couple of months back.  Tim is quoted as saying: "There is a narrative that has been running for a while now that portrays sustainability reporting organizations as in conflict with each other. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. I believe there is an increasing amount of harmonization in this space, whether it be GRI, or the UN Global Compact, SASB or the IIRC. Not only do we have longstanding partnerships with those organizations and others, but we are in fact all just after the same thing, which is sustainable development." 

I beg to differ. I do not see harmonization between any of these organizations and there are new frameworks and reporting approaches popping up all the time, whether in relation to specific sectors, regulation, stock exchange listings or other independent initiatives. Investment analysts use their own proprietary methodologies that are not based wholly on one framework or another. Longstanding partnerships with organizations in this space may look nice on paper, but in practice, they have yielded very little in terms of simplifying the way companies report. I am sure it sounds nice to talk of harmonization and partnership, but the reality is that it is not yet yielding tangible benefits. The proliferation of Linkage Documents that enable some sort of correlation between GRI Standards and other frameworks further clutters the landscape. 

One case in point is GRI's close collaboration with the UN Global Compact. Both organizations have been in dialogue forever and have signed more MOUs than Nobel has given out prizes. And yet, signatories to the UN Global Compact are still required to prepare a Communication on Progress in line with UNGC requirements at Advanced, Active or Learner level. In fact, the UNGC is very proud of its flagship reporting framework - as noted on its website. 

There is a 31 page document making the connection between GRI G4 Guidelines and the UNCG COP(s). This states clearly that reporters using GRI must still include content relating to UNGC core elements, even if those have not been deemed material for the organization and therefore not required by GRI Standards. Frankly, just reading this linkage document made me crave for paracetamol-flavored ice cream. If there were a true spirit of harmonization, I would expect the UNGC to declare the demise of the COP and require all large company signatories to deliver GRI-based in accordance reports and all SMEs to deliver reports covering a subset of GRI indicators. The perpetuation of different frameworks compounded by the need to understand the link between them is about as useful as an iPhone at a mindfulness retreat. There are many examples where unnecessary duplication of requirements adds nothing to sustainable development. It adds only bureaucracy, budget and salaries for people charged with promoting different frameworks. 

I asked Tim to explain his thinking about the positive extent of harmonization. 

"I am coming from twenty years of practitioner experience. I can say that a fractured landscape has created confusion and burden for corporations and we have to pay attention to that. We have to look at how to dig a layer deeper and appreciate that there are different tools for different uses. It is not a reason for companies to become confused. There is real harmonization work going on. When I say harmonization, I am talking about when standard-setters are asking the same question in annoyingly different ways. Right now, we have an aspiration to work with SASB to align such questions. There are over two thousand different disclosure standards out there. Currently we are in Phase One, mapping the overlap and looking at where we can align and simplify. This is work we are trying to get funded. I am certainly seeing a change in collaborative spirit at SASB. When I first got this job, I went on a listening tour. When I got to SASB, it felt like we were competitors. I took the opportunity to appeal to a shared aspiration which is our end-goal to improve how information is used to advance sustainable development. That's the reason I took this job."

And the new thinking on the Sustainable Development Goals? 

"My view is that work in industry sectors and work on the Sustainable Development Goals can merge together. When you look at a sector and what's material for that sector, and then overlay the SDGs, you can see there is a good degree of correlation. I am very keen to merge those streams of work."   

What about the work GRI is undertaking to advance reporting by SMEs? 

"I took a trip through Asia this summer and one of the things I noted was the explosion in stock market listing requirements. Many of the listed companies in that region are SMEs, and they are starting to come to us for help. This is a major driver of the expansion of SME reporting. We have been working with one of our major funders in a program to drive sustainability reporting through the supply chain. When large companies use their buying power, you can bring a lot of SMEs into the fold, so it's a program to bring buyer and supplier together. First, they define the material issues they really want from the SME. A digital tool has been developed to help them use the GRI Standards so that it is more simple, straightforward and requires fewer resources. We are conducting training in developing countries (Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa and Vietnam) where we have funding and there are more to come. The pilot program has a two-year time-frame before we can roll it out globally. We are excited about this and it clearly shows the difference that GRI brings - we are trying to affect the entire global economy by harnessing the forces of capitalism in the service of sustainable development." 

How would you summarize your thinking after nine months at GRI?

"I have never been happier. This is certainly one of the highlights of my career. It's a fantastic cause and a fantastic organization. My only frustration is that there are so many ideas and possibilities, more than we can act upon at any given time. I have had to prioritize and manage expectations and focus but it's working out quite well. Running a not-for-profit is like running a business - we now have nearly 100 people around the world." 

And the focus is? 

"We have four key areas that we are prioritizing at present and we have reorganized our structure to meet the needs. (1) improving the quality of sustainability reporting (2) providing preliminary reporting guidance on sustainability topics that are new to the corporate reporting field (3) increasing reporting among small and medium-sized enterprises (4) promoting harmonization in the corporate reporting landscape. We are actively working in all these areas."

Do think there is still an issue connecting reporting practice to actual sustainable development?

"There is more work to do in this area. We have gotten some funding recently to work with the investor community to define what is investor grade reporting and how GRI can make that happen. It's a big hill we have to climb."

And the next GRI Global Conference?

"Ah yes, we'll be making an announcement on that soon. Watch this space!"

So, lots of things bubbling at GRI, including the tarmac on the Road to Harmonization. Tim Mohin is very consistent and clear in his purpose and intentions - to advance sustainable development and improve the value of reporting as a tool to help us all do that. In the meantime, defragging and optimizing the reporting framework hard drives continues to be somewhat of an elusive goal.

And if all that is not enough for you, you can check out the recent GRI Podcast with Tim Mohin and hear him talk about GRI's 20th anniversary and other things reporting - including more on the subject of harmonization. 

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). 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 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

Monday, October 9, 2017

#ReportingMania and Girl Power

In his introductory comments, Rajesh Chhabara pointed out that 50% of the speakers at the 2017 Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit were women. Which OF COURSE explains why the summit was such a resounding success. Not counting myself as Chair of the Summit, and the formidable women whom I have referred to in prior posts

there were many other fabulous women who played an important role as speakers and delegates at this very special Summit. Here are just a few more, as we celebrate Girl Power and women's influence in sustainable development. 

"We have a century working in Vietnam so we need to continue to think of the long term and how to move forward. Integrated reporting needs integrated thinking - we wanted to give a panoramic picture of our company from the past, the present and the future. We also have a standalone sustainability report . In 2016, we were honored with Best Report in the 2016 Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards and just last month we were ranked 18 in the world for our sustainability report by the League of American Communications Professionals (LACP). We encourage other companies to have a standalone report. We use GRI standards which is wonderful because it is easy and the structure is very clear. All the images in the report are made by the children of the employees  - we had a painting competition among the children of employees and these are pictures of sustainability in our report. We don't want to go our sustainability journey alone so we integrate more and more people along the way - this time it is the young generation."

CLP is no stranger to reporting and their 2016 Sustainability Report is the Group's 15th and the Group has consistently received awards for its high quality reports. In 2016, the Sustainability Report is framed around the six capitals that is used by the integrated reporting model. It includes a materiality assessment, developed using a proprietary Boundary Scoping and Materiality Identification (BSMI) methodology. In fact, this is one of the few companies that discloses a structured and credible methodology for defining materiality. Jeanne moderated a fascinating session on the role of sustainability ratings, rankings and indices on Day One of the Summit.

"In the building sector, we all know that we have a very high environmental impact - 30% of GHG emissions - and we started the green building journey very early in Singapore. We have been reporting on sustainability since 2004 and I think we are at the forefront of other sectors in the area of reporting. You have to integrate the frameworks - the Paris Agreement, SDGs and others into your business strategy and operations. Reporting is more about articulating the deliverables, the performance, but the most important thing is truly integrating this into your business and adding value to your business and to the community and the environment. You must truly believe in it."  

CDL's latest report is an integrated report and includes targets to 2030 supporting nine SDGs.

"Investors are more interested in current and future performance and not the past. They want to know how you are going to achieve sustained growth. You have to stay focused in the areas that are relevant to your business. We use our dedicated website with an update every quarter on our strategic goals aligned with SDGs. Investors are increasingly looking at SDGs. Ten years ago, my CFO returned the sustainability report back to me, no-one wanted to look at it. Today, there is more interest. In fact, they don't even need to ask questions, investors look at your listing on DJSI or FTSE4Good and they can assess your company without even telling you. Therefore, we might as well proactively communicate how we future-proof our business .. with data to support our claims." 

"As an NGO we provide deep insight into sustainability issues. Sustainability reporting is not just for investors, it's for all your stakeholders including civil society. Assessing materiality without the right input can mean companies overlook possible risks. NGOs can help guide a company in defining what roadblocks are ahead. Investors are also becoming the target of civil society regarding whether they are aligning their portfolio with sustainable objectives. They are also under scrutiny. Your sustainability report becomes meaningful to show how you are staying on top of these issues and the resilience you display in a resource-constrained world. Good reporting requires good data and targets based on science. For example, we look at different sectors and ask how we can decarbonize the sector. This requires a scientific approach. Companies see that targets verified through scientific methodologies can make a difference to the way they understand their business and the way stakeholders assess them."  

"I think if we want to talk about what data investors are really looking for we have to look at how investors have evolved across Asia. When I started talking about sustainability about two years ago, it was very much about educating investor groups. The concept of ESG was mainly about screening and limiting the investment universe to make it a little bit more ethical, focusing on certain investments and excluding those that don't align with your values. This is still a large part of how investment is done here - especially with religious investors. But what we are also seeing is that, over time, investors are more aware about ESG issues facing companies, not because this is something they haven't paid attention to in the past but because there is more data available. More companies are transparent and this can be packaged into usable information for investors. Investors don't want to waste time thinking about issues that don't make a difference to their investor performance so reported information must be material and relevant to your investment sector."

Gwen introduced the new People Planet Play citizenship framework for Caesars Entertainment and described how the company has embedded this approach throughout the organization. The evolution of several programs over many years of activity necessitated a new way of pulling it all together to align the language, messages and culture internally for team members as well as externally for guests. And Caesars has many citizenship initiatives that are industry-leading and award-winning and leading sustainability practice - including science-based targets on emissions. You can read more in Caesars latest Citizenship Report here. (And also in a post I wrote about this report, which I worked on.)

"In our communities, being an operator of choice is literally a social license to operate so that partners, licensors and governments will choose to work with us if we are good corporate citizens and we meet or exceed the goals we committed to in terms of economic development which usually means education and other social services. Are we protecting vulnerable populations? Are we giving opportunities to local vendors? Are we, overall, contributing to the economy as we said we would? People Planet Play is the result of our simplifying and refreshing our strategy for the coming years."

And responding to my question: What's in a name? Why is People Planet Play important?

"If you talk about corporate social responsibility, people don't know what you mean.  If I can explain it to my kids and their classmates at school, I think it passes the test. People Planet Play enables this. It's about what we do for People, our employees and our communities. It is what we do for the Planet that we call home. And we want guests to have fun but be responsible as they do so. Simplifying the meaning in a non-industry language - how we speak to our friends and family - makes it easy to relate to so that everyone can understand."

Hang Lung Properties has been a multi-award winner of the Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards for two years running in different categories. This is largely due to the vision and efforts of Bella Chhoa, who start leading the reporting journey in 2012. Hang Lung's most recent report for 2016 can be found here.

As a judge in the Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards, I loved Hang Lung Properties' superbly creative report for 2014. (Included it in my Top Ten Reports of 2015.) Making sustainability fun is, in my view, a compelling way to engage and inspire. A fun report for me is evidence of a confident company that knows the true value of sustainability and has the freedom to try innovative approaches. If a company can report creatively, it can probably run its business creatively too. Hang Lung's 2014 Report is fairly iconic and the following year was equally attractive. It was interesting to hear the rationale from Bella Chhoa regarding the 2014 report and the new 2016 report which is less colorful although no less professional.

"We are getting better and better. I knew nothing about sustainability five years back so I started from a blank sheet.  Because I needed to understand, the first thing I thought was to make a report that everybody can understand. I was quite lucky in that I was responsible for the Legal function and the Human Resources function so I was in a position to make improvements. I dove into materiality assessment and learned every element. I also needed the cooperation of my colleagues. A good report needs substance. We also wanted to make it more engaging so we tried to think outside the box and make a fun report with cartoon characters. It was a bold approach. The second year we created a character for the report - based on a front line staff character to raise the pride for our front line employees. We want them to be inspired to give a better service. Now, I think we will go from a most interesting report to a more "boring" one in order to engage our investors. We try to create a very comprehensive report. It's an online version for our investors, but we can never forget the contribution of our employees, so we will have a supplement which will include 10 case studies of highlights that focus on people. If you want to do sustainability in the best way possible to meet your business model, you have to bring on board partners who don't understand sustainability at all. This is very clear from our discussions on materiality. In this years' materiality assessment, integrity takes first place."

Fabulous insights and contributions from the gals in Singapore. There were many more formidable women speaking and attending the Summit and I am just not able to mention them all, but I truly enjoyed meeting every one of them and was inspired by each. Thank you to all the women who created Girl Power at the 2017 Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit.

This is the last in my short series of #ReportingMania posts from the Summit in Singapore. I hope it has given you a sense of the productive and engaging platform it was for interchange of ideas, practices and debate. It certainly was fun! And right now, I am assuming that you are already ready to register for next year's Summit. You can join me in doing so.

NB: All photos from the conference courtesy of CSRWorks

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). 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 

Elaine will be chairing the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

#ReportingMania with GRI in SIngapore

This third post in the 2017 Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit #ReportingMania highlights presents two formidable GRI women: Christianna (Christy) Wood, Chair of GRI, and Aditi Haldar. GRI's South Asia Director.

Christy Wood. Photo courtesy of CSRWorks
Aditi Haldar. Photo courtesy of CSRWorks
Christy Wood gave an opening keynote and joined the panel discussion on sustainability reporting for competitive advantage. 

And although GRI is sounding very optimistic these days, it has been in somewhat of an existential crisis over the past few years as confusion with integrated reporting and the proliferation of alternative reporting frameworks, not to mention a leadership disaster with the departure of a CEO and his replacement with the much more credible Tim Mohin, have created rather a scuttle to re-position GRI as the Holy Grail of sustainability reporting and the key to our brighter future. 

Christy Wood didn't skirt around this core issue. (the red bits are my emphasis)

"GRI is the developer of the world's most widely used sustainability reporting standards. Business can be a force for good and can change the world for the better. We can no longer live in a world that can condone practices like polluting the environment, or children being forced to work instead of going to school or women earning less than men. In order to address these concerns, we must challenge ourselves and work to make sustainability reporting more effective as a tool for decision-making that helps create conditions for sustainable development."

"My background is investing with over thirty years investing institutional capital. I know that making a profit can and should go hand in hand with protecting the environment and creating a fair and inclusive global society. Savvy investors put their capital with companies that are actively managing a broad range of risks and opportunities.  And you can only get that perspective by using GRI Standards." 

"Sustainability reporting has grown in the past 20 years from a niche to a mainstream practice. 72% of all companies that report on sustainability use GRI Standards. Our standards are referenced in policies in over 50 countries. GRI is the world's most widely used and recognized sustainability reporting standards and other means of reporting standards that are out there must not be seen as a substitute. For example, I have often been asked whether is it better for companies to use sustainability reporting or integrated reporting. But this is a false choice. The contents of sustainability report and an integrated report are not competing. They are completely complementary. Robust sustainability metrics and multi-stakeholder approaches are a prerequisite for any kind of integrated reporting. Investors knows that when a company uses GRI Standards they are serious about improving their sustainability performance. Any company can use GRI standards. GRI does not tell companies what topics to report on - companies must choose for themselves. GRI reporting process calls on companies to conduct their own stakeholder engagement to decide what's important."

"GRI standards have been downloaded 30,000 times. The reason companies use the GRI framework is that they reap so many benefits from sustainability reporting. The reporting process provides the business with vital information that can help the company create value in the medium and long term. More and more investors are interested in this information which is why companies that report this information have better access to financial capital."

"After decades of leadership in this space, we feel it is our role to continue to facilitate the evolution of the future of reporting. The two main challenges we see are the quality and the usefulness of ESG data and the fragmentation in the market for corporate reporting.  The traditional 100-page PDF, full of information that is sometimes 18 months old has become the norm. These reports and the data within them are useful, but good reporting does more than just catalogue the past, it gives an indication of how the company can best position itself for future success. To do that companies must make their reporting more concise and more timely and more responsive to stakeholder concerns. Improvements to the GRI standards will help companies do a better job of providing decision-useful information. We also want to help companies do a better job of reporting on problem areas alongside successes. It is easy to praise oneself for doing something successfully, but our most persistent problems like climate change are the result of our collective failures. To address these issues, companies need to focus their report on areas they need to make the most improvements. On the second point about fragmentation in the market place over the last few years, more and more reporting methods have been developed. Many are to suit the needs of subsets of stakeholders, such as investors, people like myself. To reduce this confusion, GRI is working with almost all other organizations including the CDP, the IIRC and ISO, and we are also working with the UNGC on reporting to the SDG on an action platform. This represents a first step towards unified mechanism for comparable and effective SDG reporting by companies."

And something new: 

"In order to create the conditions for sustainable development, we need many more SMEs to report and start accounting for their sustainability impacts. One of our persistent challenges is explaining to SMEs why they should do sustainability reporting and lowering the access barriers for SMEs so they can join our movement. To address this, GRI is working with the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. GRI has developed a specific application for GRI standards for SMEs. We are currently piloting this program in select countries. We are educating the owners of these SMEs and teaching them to use the standards to disclose the information that their customers are demanding. In doing so, this helps SMEs remain in the value chain and ultimately will help them create more jobs and deliver prosperity. We hope this will revolutionize sustainability reporting for the entire world."

And in response to a question about integrated reporting:

"GRI is very supportive of IIRC and we were one of the founding funders. But let me appeal to basic common sense. The notion of integrated reporting is to integrate financial and non-financial data - carbon footprint, natural resources, employees and other sustainability information - if you don't have that information there is nothing to integrate into the financial. When you are integrating one thing with another you need both to begin. The thought that you can skip sustainability reporting is erroneous. You need them both. There is a lot of combined reporting out there. Taking a sustainability report and stapling to it a financial report - let me be clear - that is not integrated reporting. You first need to have the information to integrate." 

Aditi Haldar complemented Christy's comments and referred to the growth of sustainability reporting in the Asian region. "Asian businesses are unstoppable as the leaders of sustainability reporting. I know that they will lead the way to give the full story in the sustainability report and make change on the ground to drive accountability and trust."

I think there is a lot to be said for a little plain speaking in the reporting arena and I think the Chair of GRI is right to point out the different focus, purpose and constituencies of integrated and sustainability reporting. Integrated reporting may sound like everybody's answer to anybody's problems, but the fact is that it's still an unknown quantity on the investor landscape, and somewhat of an irritation on the sustainability landscape (though few will admit it). While integrated reporting is largely about (financial) value creation, sustainability reporting has always been and always should be about impacts on people's lives, and not about their bank balance. 
That's not to say that business and sustainability impacts are not part of the same whole. Of course, they are. But I have yet to see an integrated report that makes a clear linkage between financial results and sustainability priorities. In fact, the best example of this linkage I have seen is in Ajinomoto's 2017 Sustainability Data Book.  
(Pssst: Disclosure: I know Ajinomoto's reporting very well and provide feedback every year to the company). 
In 2017, Ajinomoto includes a section entitled:  

And this is what follows:

You might want to take a look at the actual report to study this more closely. It's a masterminded presentation of sustainability targets, quantified into sustainability impacts and translated into business plans required to support delivery of these targets and then translated into profit, ROE, EPS growth rate and sales. How much more integrated can you get? This is by far the most convincing integrated presentation of sustainable business than I have seen pretty much anywhere and I applaud Ajinomoto for this model.
But back to the themes that Christy Wood highlighted in her keynote address. I agree that we have to stop thinking of sustainability reports as simply words and numbers in a document you can print or download. Reporting is a process, it's empowering, engaging and, done well, it helps a business understand where and how it can improve its performance and impacts in areas of greatest significance for people, society and the environment. The report is the bit you can show around. What goes on in the business in order to populate and prepare a report is far more meaningful. 
I agree that the report is a tool to help decision-making. The lack of comfort every company experiences when considering the need to disclose on different aspects of the business or publishing results of publicly declared targets that were not achieved is a catalyst for emerging from the pajama party and starting to walk the talk. And that's often where companies have not yet truly realized the value of reporting. So many reporters breathe a sigh of relief when the report is (finally) (phew!) published. What they should be doing is saying: Let's leverage our report with our stakeholders to help take us to the next level of performance.  

In my view, in continuing to facilitate the evolution of reporting, GRI should continue to do what it does best. Helping define the scope, scale, topography and urgency of the disclosure landscape and providing guidance to companies on how to perform disclosure relevantly, meticulously and impeccably. GRI Standards form the best comprehensive sustainability reporting framework available today but they are far from finished. They are still not supporting comparability or balance or even a clear process for defining materiality. While they do excellent, they do not do perfect. Instead of worrying about the fact that the reporting landscape is being plagued by so many new reporting frameworks than GRI has resources to prepare "linkage documents" for, GRI should remain steadfast and confident about delivering its mission of understanding and navigating multi-stakeholder interests and translating those into universal standards for sustainability disclosure that are perfect for guiding strategy, making decisions and improving performance. Back to the core is what will bring GRI back to the future. 
There is certainly a lot to be said for #ReportingMania and a lot to say about #Reporting, and we were able to do that at the 2017 Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit. We also had the chance to sail the Singapore harbor and enjoy the evening sights and sounds of anything but reporting. 
With Christy Wood, GRI Chair, and Rajesh Chhabara, CEO of CSRWorks and Summit organizer and host

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). 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 

Elaine will be chairing the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

#ReportingMania: Owning the Space at StarHub

Another highlight for me of the 2017 Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit was listening to the keynote of Mr. Tan Tong Hai,  StarHub's CEO and Executive Director, and hearing from Jeannie Ong, StarHub's Chief Strategic Partnership Officer in the closing plenary panel.

Mr Tan Tong Hai. Photo courtesy of CSRWorks.
Jeannie Ong. Photo Courtesy of CSRWorks.

StarHub is Singapore's first fully integrated info-communications company offering mobile, Pay TV, broadband and enterprise services to millions of customers in Singapore region employing close to 3,000 people. StarHub was the 2016 Winner of Asia’s Best Sustainability Report within Annual Report at the Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards and also the 2015 Highly Commended Finalist of the Asia’s Best Community Reporting at the Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards.

StarHub integrates sustainability information in its annual report - check out the 2016 report here.  The sustainability information is a report within a report, 37 pages of GRI Standards Core option content, including, of course, a set of material priorities.

In his opening keynote, Tan Tong Hai shared his experience of being appointed CEO and being "taught" that the value of business was to deliver (financial) value for shareholders. But, it did not take him long to realize that this is no longer the full story. "Over the years, I think the role of business in society has changed. It's no longer just to create value for shareholders, it's now about creating value for stakeholders. Stakeholders include employees who you need to generate the wealth, customers who use your services and your business partners who help you in the whole supply chain, and also the regulatory framework and the society we live in. When I looked at our vision statement, it was rather technical, so we gathered our employees together to create a new vision statement - "Creating Happiness, Inspiring Change". Creating happiness first for our employees, and for our customers, partners and all citizens."

You will note that Tan Tong Hai first refers to employees. Those that know me and remember my book, "CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business", may be reminded of the point that CSR begins at home - with the first stakeholders of any business. Since that publication in 2010, I have heard very few CEOs put people first, and read very few Sustainability Reports that truly reflect a culture where employees are engaged, empowered and equal. Tan Tong Hai's reflections on his approach to business were a breath of fresh air in this respect. He chose to talk FIRST about employees as he has chosen to put them FIRST in his business. 

"I believe that you can't have happy employees if you don't have healthy employees. Health is wealth. We have generated a lot of health activities for employees and of course I participate in those too. How we create happiness by helping others is also important. We encourage our employees to help in society by helping disabled people to use information skills to prepare them for work in society. That is what we mean by happiness - getting employees involved, knowing that happiness is not only their own health but also helping others. That's one part of how we create value."

Tan Tong Hai also referred to the way StarHub creates value for customers - not only though the products and service offering StarHub sells, such as unlimited viewing - but also through the way StarHub pioneered in 2012, an inclusive and extensive electronic waste recycling program, providing receptacles for customers to send their electronic items for recycling. Since 2012, more than 150 tons of electronic waste have been handled in this way. "You can create value by helping customers to become more responsible and helping them dispose of electronic waste."

Jeannie Ong, StarHub's Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer, also referred to this program in the closing plenary panel session. The program is called RENEW (REcycling Nation’s Electronic Waste) and it is now an award-winning initiative aimed at encouraging the public to recycle their e-waste. In collaboration with logistics provider DHL and waste recycler TES-AMM, the RENEW program provides a public service free of charge to collect e-waste from the public (not just from StarHub's customers) through 325 collection bins (in 2016) in Singapore. 59 tons of e-waste were collected in 2016 alone.

Jeannie explained: "We were very honored to be ranked in Corporate Knights top 100 Sustainable Corporations for the last five years and the highest-ranking Singaporean company. We studied the criteria to understand why .. it has got a lot to do with, believe it or not, NOT your sustainability reporting, it is about how sustainable your business is. Reporting is just a tool - it is really how you are able to embed sustainability into your operations and performance that is key. I don't have a secret recipe, but I believe it's because in our approach, we try to own a space. For example, looking at environmental issues some years ago, I looked at our business - we are a technology company and a media company, and one issue that stood out was that we are the source of a lot of electronic waste. We sell devices, set-top boxes, modems, routers etc.. at home, people don't have good possibilities to dispose of electronic waste. When I looked at all this, I founded the electronic waste project six years ago. We decided to own that space. Till today, electronic waste is a space StarHub owns in Singapore. For your line of business, look at where you make an impact and own that space.  Own something that you uniquely have in your line of business and as you do that, it shows in your entire sustainability journey. It also helps you win awards 😀."

Solid advice from Jeannie supported by practical action and much success. Both Tan Tong Hai and Jeannie Ong talked about much more than I can repeat here, and shared fabulous insights, including perspectives on the Sustainable Development Goals, the future of work, the Internet of Things and the challenges of the reporting process. StarHub's contribution to the 2017 Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit was tremendous and earned much respect from attending delegates. 

I asked Tan Tong Hai if he would be open to being cloned about 5,000 times and placed strategically in corporations around the world. While he considers his response, we will have to be content with the enlightened leadership he shows at StarHub and learning from him and his team at conferences, and reading StarHub's annual sustainability report.

I will therefore leave the final word to Tan Tong Hai:

"As a service provider, we play a key role but we must also participate in the whole system with employees, customers and partners, and play a key role helping Singapore become a smart nation but also a responsible nation."

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). 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 

Elaine will be chairing the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018 

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