Thursday, December 27, 2018

Target targets for 2019

Sustainability reporting used to be about activities and actions whereas today it is more about impacts and intentions. Substantiated intentions, that is, by which I mean T-A-R-G-E-T-S. Yes, that awful, threatening, potentially blood-pressure-raising concept of actually making a public commitment to making a difference. One of the things I find most frustrating about many sustainability reports is the extreme lengths companies go to in order to describe their mission, vision, what's important to them, what's important to stakeholders, what's important to the world and why it's ALL so important ("Sustainability is in our DNA" and "The world is about to end") .... but when it comes to saying what they plan to do about it: radio silence. Vague intentions, aspirations, declaratory blurb - it's all very nice but, well, no teeth. 

Andrew Wilson, expert advisor on sustainability, author of Green to Gold and The Big Pivot, has done leading-edge work in this area. He's even quite positive in his views of how targets have progressed and become embedded in the way most large companies report on sustainability. You can gain some comfort from his article from December 2017 here. He concludes that 94% of the largest 200 companies in the world include targets in their Sustainability Reports. 

You can check out Andrew's Pivot Goals database, containing 3,923 goals that have been publicly disclosed by (large) companies in their sustainability communications over the past few years (the database contains some duplication with both original goals and those that have been superseded or replaced). While this is apparent progress, it's by no means close to critical mass for all the thousands of companies that report on sustainability. Also, as you might expect, the distribution of targets is uneven - in the Pivot Goal database, for example, in the pharma sector, I counted 13 companies with targets, ranging from one company that has 62 targets and one that discloses just one target. 

Other aspects of target setting are coverage and quality. Coverage is the extent to which a company discloses targets for all material sustainability aspects versus targets that are limited to one area, say, environmental impacts which is the most popular. Quality is the extent to which targets are SMART. You know what SMART means. SMART is not: "Continue to improve our environmental impacts". Just sayin.  

Many of the reports I view and review are GRI-based and claim to be in accordance with GRI Standards at core or comprehensive level. Now, GRI has made reporting of goals and targets mandatory in the Management Approach Disclosures. Disclosure 103-2 requires (the organization SHALL report) disclosure of goals and targets. Well, sort of. The mandatory part is diluted by the addition of some small print: if the management approach includes that component.  

Additional guidance suggests including context, time-frame, reference to legislation if relevant and more. 

So, according to GRI, for GRI compliance, reporting of targets is mandatory if you have them. If you don't, no problem. Well, no problem is exactly how most reporters approach the Approach. It's so easy to say "we are committed to", "we place great importance upon", "we are passionate about" and all those other gloriously positive affirmations, but when it comes to the crunch, it's apparently more convenient to ignore the bits that bolt those commitments down in the organization and give stakeholders something to believe in. I believe disclosing targets should be a mandatory element of material topic reporting. Every single GRI Topic-specific Standard should include a requirement to disclose SMART targets - not IF they exist, but BECAUSE they should exist. And if they do not exist, conformance to GRI Standards should not either.

Some (random) examples of how companies commit in sustainability reports:

Arguably the best-of-the-best expression of public commitments and consistent reporting of progress is Marks and Spencer, whose Plan A, when it was created in 2007, immediately set M&S apart from the crowd with a bag of 100 commitments representing the most far-reaching and comprehensive set of targets by any company at that time (as far as I know).  Although Plan A's tagline was "Because there is no Plan B", Plan A has continued to reinvent itself and currently goes under the name of Plan A 2025. Behind the scenes of Plan A is a strong commitment to sustainable business, and business that positively impacts people and planet, and the pace has been maintained even at times when the company's financial results have been a bit wobbly. Marks  and Spencer's 2018 Plan A Report includes a detailed account of progress against all targets across the four Plan A pillars in a way reflects the M&S brand: quality, detail and tailored to meet a range of needs. 

Walmart's 2018 Sustainability Report includes a range of specific commitments at the start of its 230-page report. The targets are SMART enough and cover all areas of sustainability priorities - a comprehensive approach.

At the end of the report, Walmart discloses how it is doing against these commitments:

While it's possible to correlate progress reported to the commitments made upfront, it takes a little detective work to sort it all out as the language used is different in both cases. However, Walmart's (mostly) specific time-bound targets and progress statements are enough to quench my thirst for target-juice in this report. 

CVS Health also does a great job in its 2017 Corporate Social Responsibility Report with multi-year targets and reporting of progress in the reporting year. Across four pages, CVS demonstrates a mature view of its role in society with targets that reflect its impacts on society (help create a tobacco-free generation by acting to reduce youth smoking) as well as targeting improvements it its own operations. The targets are also in line with the material impacts CVS Health defines in its report. 

A super presentation of targets is from Sinyi Realty Group, one of Taiwan's leading real estate agencies in its 2017 Corporate Sustainability Report. For key strategic areas, the company sets long-range goals, medium term targets to 2025 and short-term targets for the coming year. Sinyi transparently reflects performance against the short-term targets set in the reporting year. No room for misinterpretation or detective work required here: it all hangs together very credibly.

Google's 2018 Environment Report includes a set of targets and progress made against these. It's a clear enough presentation and scoreboard markers give you a quick overview of progress. However, while this is totally fantastic, the targets are a mixed bag, for example, two of the targets are: set targets and others are either not time-bound or relevant for the single reported year - which in sustainability terms is no time at all. All targets relate to the direct environmental impacts of Google's own operations, for example, achieving zero net operational carbon emissions, which Google has impressively done for at least the past five years.

Of course, I couldn't write a post about targets without looking at Target Corporation. I mean, if your name is Target, you have to have targets, right? Well, Target doesn't disappoint, though, oddly enough, Target's targets are called goals 😂😂😂 But, whatever they are called, they are extensive and are presented across 7 pages in Target's 2018 Corporate Responsibility Report, followed by a couple of pages of upcoming goals (or targets) in areas not measured to date or not the subject of goals so far.  

There is no doubt in my mind that the inclusion of public commitments is both a way to reinforce trust with stakeholders and a tool to catalyze performance improvements. Several leading companies are doing this really well, and I tend to agree with the analysis above that more are doing so these days than in the past. However, the leading companies across the world represent only a small fraction of the entire population of reporting companies, and many (I might even say, most) of them do not even hint at targets or commitments.

So, let's be clear: If you want stakeholders to believe you are serious about sustainability, or whatever you call it in your organization, make SMART public commitments in key areas of impact and report your progress against these year on year. 

Of course, a great addition to any Sustainability Report would be the inclusion of a target to provide a lifetime supply of free ice cream to anyone who blogs about your targets on the CSR Reporting Blog. 

Happy Holiday Season and Happy 2019 to all CSR Reporting Blog readers!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Story of a Sustainability Superwoman

There are plenty of excellent reasons to attend the Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit on 2nd and 3rd October 2018. I won't list them all here.

Just take a look at the website and you'll be convinced. Instead, I'll tell you a story. 

Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Suyin. Suyin lived with her mother and father and seven younger siblings in a remote part of Asia, in a wooden hut, far from the hustle and bustle of the big cities and the stresses of daily living in modern times. Suyin and her family were a close-knit group, relying on each other for love, support and inspiration. They lived on the resources of the earth, fishing, hunting and farming, taking from the land only what they needed to survive without wasting any precious resources. It was a simple existence, but it was a good one. 

As Suyin advanced in age, she noticed with each passing year that life in their region was becoming tougher. Rainfall patterns were changing, water levels were dropping in nearby streams, the soil was not as fertile as it once was, local wildlife had ceased to thrive. Slowly, Suyin was perceiving that her land was refusing to provide for them. And when she was just 19, there was a major typhoon that shook their wooden hut to its foundations, barely leaving it standing.

Suyin was worried about the long-term survival of her family. She knew she had to do something. Amid tears of farewell, she left her family, promising to return. She travelled by foot without a cent to her name until she reached a major city and there, she begged for food and money. What she was given, she saved. And when she had saved enough money, she rented a small room, and took a job in a small store. She did well. She was intelligent, capable and thoughtful and soon enough, she had enough money to fund a place at university, as she knew that without education, she would not advance and be able to help her beloved family. 

After studying, she was fortunate to be offered a job in a large corporation, in the Sustainability Department. In that role, she campaigned to mitigate climate change and advance social programs that would help families living in remote areas. She became a true sustainability leader, speaking all around Asia on the need to save the land and prevent environmental degradation, as well as taking care of communities and their ability to survive and thrive. Many companies followed her lead and joined the sustainability movement to drive positive change for prosperity. During this time, Suyin returned frequently to visit her family, provide them with resources and help them overcome their challenges. For example, she purchased a small farmer irrigation kit from Netafim so that they could irrigate the couple of acres they farmed and gain greater yields of fruit and vegetables with less water. 

In 2018, a colleague nominated Suyin in the annual listing of exceptional female sustainability leaders in the region, Asia's Top Sustainability Superwomen, an initiative of CSR Works International. Suyin was overwhelmed. She had never received such recognition for doing only what she thought was right. But will Suyin's nomination be accepted? Will Suyin shine through? How many more Sustainability Superwomen have been nominated and who will gain recognition at the Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit?

You can discover if Suyin is included in this prestigious list of Sustainability Superwomen in October in Singapore, at the Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit. Even if you don't get to meet Suyin, you will be able to engage with a host of inspiring women sustainability leaders and experts who have driven the sustainability agenda in Asia with passion and overcome challenges to ensure their voice is heard and improve life for all of us.

Come to the summit and celebrate Sustainability Superwomen with all of us. Overall, there'll be more than 60 international speakers (not ALL of them are women, however!) who will cover every important aspect of sustainability reporting in depth. You will hear directly from top leaders from

• Agility
• Bangchak Corporation
• Baoviet Holdings
• Bombay Stock Exchange
• CapitaLand
• City Developments Limited (CDL)
• CLP Power
• CP Group
• DBS Bank
• EcoVadis
• Golden Agri-Resources
• Hang Lung Properties
• Intel
• International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC)
• John Swire & Sons
• JSW Group
• Kalbe Farma
• Maritime Ports Authority Singapore
• Microsoft
• RobecoSAM (DJSI)
• Schneider Electric
• Sime Darby
• Singtel
• SM Investments
• Suntory Food & Beverage
• Sustainability Accountability Standards Board (SASB)
• Tata Consultancy Services
• Union Bank of the Philippines
• Viego Eiris
and the list goes on

And of course, I will be there, co-chairing the summit with the man behind it all, Rajesh Chhabara.

Exciting debates and insights that will help you move the needle include:

Looking forward to a fun couple of days of learning, sharing, challenging and celebrating. Hope to see you there!

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 
Elaine will be co-chairing  the  second annual Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit 2018 in Singapore on 2/3 OCtober. Join me there!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Cosmetic materiality

This week, a Press Release announcing the publication of AS MADARA Cosmetics ESG Report for 2017 caught my eye for several reasons. (1) Madara is a Latvian company - not too many of those publish reports - the GRI Database lists just 5 reports in 2017/2018 from Latvia. (2) It's a FIRST report - and you know how much I 💗 first reports. (3) It highlighted a CEO pay ratio of 1.68:1 and (4) It follows the NASDAQ ESG Reporting Guidefor Nordic and Baltic Markets.

Now, as some of you may recall, I wrote about this guide a while back in a post entitled: Materiality: from meaningless to differentiating. The thing about materiality is that so many companies today use it as a box to tick rather than a considered strategic framework for sustainable development and reporting. The low-level thinking on materiality where people, society and the environment are material to every company has rendered materiality fairly meaningless as all companies, no matter what sectors, are driven to report on the same thing. Advanced materiality thinking is differentiating; it identifies those unique impacts where a company has the power to change lives and society for the better. So, a broadscale, unimaginative, limiting approach to materiality doesn't serve to advance sustainable development, it simply serves the purpose of transparency and accountability, albeit that is also a worthy and necessary purpose. I call this operational materiality, and it is reflected in the NASDAQ reporting indicators for all companies, all sectors, all sizes.

Thirty-three basic measures of the ESG performance of the business provide a positive overview of how a company performs from a sustainability standpoint. 

Madara Cosmetics is a woman-led Latvian-based natural cosmetics firm traded on NASDAQ. The Madara report uses this framework, responding to all NASDAQ indicators (most are labelled - five are not labelled but the disclosures are present). Thus, in a refreshingly clean and attractively designed 50-page report, Madara covers off the bases using a compact set of universal indicators in a coherent way. 

However, the brand has gone beyond a simple response to a set of measures. It tells a story.

And it takes a stand.

Part One of the report is an education on organic and/or natural ingredients and the different certifications and standards that govern claims that cosmetics companies make on their labels. While intuitively, anything labelled natural or organic sounds environmentally friendly and healthy, this may not always be the case. 

It is clear where Madara stands here. A new ISO Standard 16128 for natural beauty products permits petrochemical and GMO-based ingredients, according to Madara, and is in general an inadequate and inappropriate standard for natural cosmetic products. Madara also attacks new EU regulation governing claims that can be made on cosmetic products, commenting that the new regulation compromises the rights of consumers to information about products they use and the ability to prefer products that do not contain certain ingredients. This is getting a bit messy according to Madara and may encourage greenwashing rather than science-based true and accurate product labelling.

A bold move. In this first report, Madara has chosen to take a strong and well-articulated stand against market regulatory developments that influence how consumers perceive natural cosmetics and influence competition for natural and organic share. This is a good use of the Sustainability Report. It helps us get to know the company and what it stands for. It places the company operations in a market context that showcases how Madara positions its brand and stands out from the crowd. This is part of the brand identity and a clear element of the way Madara impacts lives. Had the company developed a differentiating set of materiality topics, "accurate natural product labelling" and "influencing regulation governing natural cosmetics for the benefit of consumers" might well have appeared on the list.  

What I am missing, however, are the rest of these broader impacts. After the regulatory and ingredient-type discussions, the report continues in three sections - environment, social and governance - using the NASDAQ guidelines as a (mainly chronological) basis to report. However, beyond product formulations, I am wondering how the company reaches and impacts the lives of consumers. "Deeper than skin" is the company motto. I would like to understand why Madara's products are so transformational for consumers and what a difference they really make. What consumer needs are Madara products responding to and how successful are they? These impacts are overlooked in this report. 

However, this first report is a good example of an activist company using reporting to amplify its message and differentiate itself while observing stakeholder expectations on transparency and disclosure. In fact, with a report such as this, you wonder - would using the GRI Standards have made any difference? Or would it have simply complicated the reporting process? 

I tend to think that identifying material impacts is a positive step and creates a clear focus that guides the reader. A materiality assessment, robustly developed and clearly presented is a good backbone for reporting and I would have appreciated this addition in the Madara report. On the other hand, there are interesting and important disclosures in the NASDAQ framework that I believe all companies should report, whether or not their materiality assessment picks them up (and we all know that processes for determining materiality are somewhat arbitrary in most cases). A GRI-compliant report would probably not have included these disclosures.

In my post of last year, then, I talked about operational and differentiating materiality. Those who read GRI's Annual Report for 2016-2017 will have noticed a similar presentation.

As you can see, this matrix is split into two parts: operational and mission effectiveness, which, coincidentally or otherwise (who knows!?) are pretty much how I was seeing it in August 2017, a little before the publication of the GRI Annual Report in May 2018. Operational issues are the ones GRI directly controls - transparency, advancing people, and partnerships. Mission effectiveness are the indirect impacts - the difference the organization makes in society as a result of its operational activities - driving better sustainability performance, reporting and harmonizing the sustainability landscape. The thing you notice about this is that the operational impacts could relate to any company. The mission effectiveness topics are differentiating and unique to GRI. 

(As an aside, not all indirect impacts are linked to mission effectiveness. An indirect impact of GRI, for example, might be job creation in the sustainability sector, as more reports means more reporters. But this is not the mission.)

I think we are at the point where we must elevate our approach to materiality so that it refers to real ways that companies affect our lives, and not just the things that companies do. We are lacking a robust process for determining materiality. Currently, each company individually defines the degree of stakeholder engagement required to define material topics and ranks the topics raised in unclear ways. The was the big fail of G4 (and now GRI Standards) when it first put materiality center-stage in 2013. It made materiality pivotal but did not provide the tools for companies to apply it adequately. If materiality is at the center of sustainability strategy and reporting, and not just a cosmetic addition, the process for defining the material topics should be more clearly prescribed and evidence-based.

Well done to Madara Cosmetics for reporting and for speaking out on issues that affect people's lives. Materiality or otherwise, this is an authentic and credible report. I give it three cones -  🍦🍦🍦 - including one for a first report. 

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 
Elaine will be co-chairing  the  
second annual Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit 2018 in Singapore on 2/3 OCtober. Join me there!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Back to the Future

And the CSR-Reporting Blog is back to the future🎇🎆🎈🎉🎊🍨🍨🍨. A future in which the CSR-Reporting Blog is back. 2018 has been marked by an uncharacteristic absence after almost a decade (10-year blog birthday coming up next month!). Apologies to those readers who have experienced withdrawal symptoms.... I hope you have kept up your ice cream intake despite  .. or because of ... the absence of posts from the most insightful and fun blog on CSR and Sustainability Reporting on the whole world wide web. (Modesty is exempt on this blog).

So what have I been up to since my last post way back in February? Here are a few highlights of my year so far, serving to demonstrate that, even though the CSR-Reporting Blog has been absent, I have not.

Reporting reporting reporting  
It's been an intensive year this year, again supporting clients around the world in delivering their sustainability reports and other communications. Overall, I have supported the writing and/or development of 10 reports this year, some of which will be published in the coming month(s), but all of which meant that I had a more intensive first half of the year than I might have imagined - basically sleepless - but also one of the most satisfying years at Beyond Business. Here are some of the reports I have worked on - more about these -  and the others that will publish soon - in future posts (now that we are Back to the Future).

Caesars Entertainment's ninth annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report for 2017-2018 under the theme of PEOPLE PLANET PLAY. This is the sixth report I have worked on for Caesars and each year, this company amazes me with its forward thinking, leading programs and multiple achievements. Each reporting cycle brings new challenges and but it's always fun! Caesars Entertainment Corporation is the world’s most diversified casino-entertainment provider with gaming, hospitality and entertainment offerings in several countries.

Nexeo Solutions' first Sustainability Report for 2017 is the result of an incredible journey of pulling together the different elements of sustainability practice for this global chemicals and plastics distributor and forming an overarching story about its global impacts on sustainable supply chains. This first GRI Standards-compliant report, supported by newly created corporate policy and position statements on key topics, was possible due to the dedication of the reporting team leaders as well as an entire company-wide effort.

ECI's Sustainability Report for 2017 is another fascinating chapter in the sustainability progress of an ELASTIC and sustainable future, as ECI helps us make the most of a 5G world. ECI®, a global provider of ELASTIC Network® solutions for service providers, critical infrastructures and data center operators, supports and delivers sustainable, innovative solutions and outstanding customer service, while operating responsibly and in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is ECI's seventh annual sustainability report and I have been privileged to work on all of them.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries 2017 Social Impact Report continues the story of Teva's global impact on healthcare and access to affordable medicines, together with new initiatives to contribute to healthy communities through safe medicines, collaboration, health initiatives and innovative research. Teva is a leading global pharmaceutical company and the world’s largest generic medicines producer, with a portfolio of more than 1,800 molecules for generic products in nearly every therapeutic area, as well as specialty medicines. Teva's report also presents six new corporate positions and policies covering charitable donations, human rights, diversity and inclusion, occupational health and safety, environment and antimicrobial resistance.

Liberty Global's 2017 Sustainability Report is another in the series of Empowering Positive Change through Technology and a masterpiece in compact, on-point and super interesting sustainability reporting. At just 20 pages with a separate downloadable GRI Content Index, Liberty Global once again is an example of relevant and focused sustainability communications as well as impressive performance. For those who don't know, Liberty Global is the world's largest international TV and broadband company.

Reporting Conferences and Events
February 27 saw the 2018 edition of the annual Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference in London, which I again chaired. Matt Mace of summed up his views about the conference here, discussing the merits of the standalone sustainability report in the context of greater integration of sustainability practice in the business. An interesting debate, of course, as integrated reporting, which has never claimed to replace sustainability reporting, is starting to quite enjoy the promise of doing so, and even SASB, who has never claimed to be global, is starting to lay the ground for its worldwide debut. "Sustainability issues don’t have borders, and neither should our standards" claims Matthew Welch, President of the SASB Foundation, paving the way for global SASB domination. But GRI is not perturbed. According to Tim Mohin, GRI's CEO sustainability reporting is the new normal and he is optimistic that GRI will be able to lead the harmonization and alignment of standards, including SASB, to move away from the current "alphabet soup" of disclosure requirements and "stop asking the same questions in annoyingly different ways". You can engage with Tim Mohin in Singapore on October 2 as he keynotes at the second annual Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit 2018 (#ReportingMania) which I will co-chair, alongside the incredible sustainability leader, Rajesh Chhabara.

Also in 2018, I was delighted to conduct a one-day Sustainability Reporting workshop in Tbilisi, Georgia. Organized by the Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia, led by the formidable Lela Khoperia, a dynamo driving the uptake of CSR in Georgia, the program was part of the Georgian Civil Society Sustainability Initiative (CSSIGE) and funded by the European Union and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Participants from 18 local companies and organizations joined the workshop and I had writer's cramp signing all the certificates at the end! This is incredibly important for this young country as it continues to establish its presence and deliver economic growth - to date, no Georgian companies have reported on sustainability but, if the eagerness and application of the attendees is anything to go by, we shall be seeing a flurry of reports from Georgia in the coming years!

The Georgian speakers among you can read about the workshop in a blog post by Marika Mchedlidze.

Reporting and Human Resources Management
In the early part of the year, I collaborated with old friends from the academic world to help develop a paper entitled: "Have labour practices and human rights disclosures enhanced corporate accountability? The case of the GRI framework." authored by Sepideh Parsa, Ian Roper , Michael Muller-Camen and Eva Szigetvari. Highlights of the research and discussion include:

- Companies over-claim adherence to GRI reporting guidelines while failing to report detailed information on their workforce.
- Companies fail to provide material information.
- Limited evidence of companies acknowledging impediments they encounter when reporting on their workforce.
- Companies pay more attention to their internal (as opposed to their external) workforce.
- GRI fails to achieve enhanced comparability, transparency and accountability goals.

Serious stuff indeed ... for those interested in the intersection between CSR and Human Resources Management (HRM), this is a must-read paper (assuming you have already read my book, CSR for HR, of course!). And continuing the HRM theme, I again worked alongside Professor Michael Muller-Camen and other accomplished academics to develop a chapter in a forthcoming book for publication in 2019, “Sustainable Human Resource Management: Strategies, Practices and Challenges”. The concepts and practice of Sustainable HRM and CSR-based people practices in organizations are still overlooked by all but the most enlightened Human Resources leadership; often HR functions are bypassed as companies pursue sustainability strategies and engage employees via different channels. This continues to be a missed opportunity for the HR function, and for society. My mantra in 2013 was "It is time for HR to wake up to CSR" and it's still pretty relevant today.

More awards 
I was please to author once again the Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards annual publication, Learn from Asia's Best, showcasing examples of winning reports and what made them stand out. Check it out for some really impressive reporting approaches, designs and content.

The fourth annual Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards 2018 is now open for entries through November 2018, and I am bracing myself to close the year by putting on my judging hat together with a team of accomplished reporting practitioners and experts. I will read and review every single entry (as I have done for the past two years).  Good job that I am a reporting geek! 

Also in the last quarter of 2018, I will be joining another formidable team of judges to select the 2019 Sustainability Leaders. The UK’s largest and most prestigious sustainability awards recognize excellence across the spectrum of green and sustainable business. Entries are open till mid-September so now's a good time to think about who stands out for you on the sustainability landscape across 20 categories. 

So that's the Back to the Future round-up for the CSR Reporting Blog. Hope to maintain the pace as we move into the final stages of 2018 .. and many more exciting things on the horizon in 2019.

Thanks for reading the CSR Reporting Blog!

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

Elaine will be cochairing  the  
second annual Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit 2018 in Singapore on 2/3 OCtober. Join me there!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A Compass for CSR

In 2017, there were 173 countries in the world that had a population of 500,000 people or more (CIA Factbook). Country number 174 is Brunei, with a population of 443,593. That means that, with a workforce of more than 550,000 colleagues, Compass Group would displace Brunei as the 174th largest country in the world by population, ahead of Iceland, Malta, Barbados and many more. 

Compass Group's people are dispersed across 50 countries and are engaged in the meaningful occupation of serving over 5.5 billion meals per year in over 55,000 client locations. If you assume an average employee will take one meal per day around 250 days per year, then Compass is providing sustenance and nutrition for more than 20 million people every day. Now, that's some responsibility. It's also somewhat of a challenge, because it's not just about keeping bellies full, it's about catering to different local tastes and food norms, managing the supply of locally sourced ingredients, planning and controlling a complex supply chain, ensuring food safety at every step of the chain and most significantly in my view, helping people to make relevant, healthy and nutritious food choices so that they can feel good, be well and make a productive contribution at work and in their families and communities. So much of the way our society functions is affected by what and how much people consume, that feeding 20 million people a day is no insignificant undertaking.   

Despite this complexity, Compass Group's approach to CSR - positive performance - is characterized by a certain simplicity.  For example, four key strategic KPIs are presented right at the start of Compass Group's 2016 CR Report.

Food safety, workplace safety, climate change impact and wellbeing and nutrition make sense as key areas of responsible and sustainable business practice for Compass. These are four among a set of seven material impacts (that also include compliance, supply chain integrity and employee retention) that Compass manages and tracks consistently across the global business. Together this framework makes their focus crystal clear, intuitively relevant and simply manageable.  

The CR Report is also simply consistent in its presentation. For each of the material focus areas, Compass describes its management approach, focus areas and key metrics. In each section there is also a case study of relevant practice, responding to a global challenge, the reason the topic is important to Compass and what Compass is doing about it. Each section is aligned to the relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals.  

A performance summary delivers results against 22 targets in each of these areas and describes progress made. All in all, an extremely neat, focused, compact and deceptively simple 31-page global report that does the job. 

If you live in the U.S. (where more than half of Compass’s workforce lives), or in the UK and Ireland (with 60,000 employees), you can look at country-specific reports that give local stakeholders a local menu and flavor (OK, pun intended).  

The architect of CR strategy, positive performance and disclosure is the impressive Nicki Crayfourd, Group Health, Safety and Environment Director of Compass Group PLC.   

Nicki will be joining me at the Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference in February in London (hint: did you book your place yet?  Contact me for a discount).  Nicki will join a fascinating morning panel discussing the connection between strategy and reporting frameworks. How do global sustainability priorities and reporting frameworks (SDG and GRI, to name two that you all know) define how you build your sustainability strategy and how you report? What comes first, the framework or the strategy? How do you connect all the dots? Seems to me that Nicki must have some pretty good points to make on this topic, given the way Compass reports. 

I decided not to wait until the conference to connect with Nicki. Here's a chance to get to know her ahead of the session. 

How has your career in sustainability developed?
Nicki: "My background is a little checkered, but hospitality has always been a common theme throughout my career. It is an amazing part of the business world to work in. I started in marketing originally, then moved to sales of in-store catering contracts to retailers. After a while, I joined a large food logistics company, where I was exposed to food safety, which I expanded to include nutrition and aspects of the healthy attributes of food. Later, I was asked to join our largest retail account, and it was a bit like being thrown in at the deep end with sales, supply chain, quality, marketing and managing the entire team. In this role, I set up a new focus for safety and sustainability. My company then actually merged with Compass and I was asked to take over the same role for the whole of the UK. Since then, after a spell of working in Europe, my role has continued to expand and for the past 5 years, I have had a global role covering workplace health and safety, environment for the Group, including leading the sustainability strategy development, reporting and supply chain integrity standards. It has been a great journey. I see it as proof that you can develop an idea based on passion, and together with a good business case, you can make things happen."

What has been the key to your success in embedding sustainability at a corporate level?
Nicki: "I think the fact that I had commercial experience and good knowledge of the business as a whole has been a big help. I believe that sustainability can be much more embedded in what the company is focused on anyway - not just a one-off exercise or additional project. I have tried to think about what else is already available in terms of insights through other channels. The idea is not to duplicate. There is not enough time to do things three or four times. Sustainability needs to draw from other activities in the business that are happening anyway, such as risk assessments, internal audit, legal activities, marketing and consumer programmes etc. We need to bring those into play, rather than always trying to create new things with the same people and groups."

With such a large number of employees in the Group, how to you engage everyone across the business?
Nicki: "We have policy and flexible frameworks that help communicate our expectations for the Group to the country teams. Distilling into a format that engages all the frontline employees is the remit of the country teams. We have a global leadership conference every three years, and this is critical in terms of key messaging, setting objectives and gaining alignment. It’s a good platform - countries take the key themes and then translate them into market plans based on local needs. I am quite dictatorial on requirements for data and this is a massive part of our journey. We require proof points and strong evidence of what we are doing based on consistent definitions and understanding across the business. We have invested in a portal with a third party to collect data from countries."

What's the need for local reporting in the UK and the U.S.?   
Nicki: "There are different topics that interest our customers, regulators and employees in different countries. In addition to our two biggest markets, I would like to expand our reporting to include more countries. I think it is important to have a connection to the local market through reporting, though it is true that sometimes I have to nag for stories. Our global report must serve a range of high level stakeholders and it does that well enough. We have also invested in our corporate website with better functionality and we plan to include updates during the year, mainly for ESG analysts, investors, clients and institutional shareholders and NGOs."

Smarter reporting. What does that mean? 
Nicki: "Smarter reporting means more transparency. Transparency is having the confidence to say what we have achieved but also that there are challenges we are facing and must still work on. There is naturally a certain tension when talking about challenges. The food sector in general is often targeted by the media in the UK and U.S., and sometimes the facts get confused by the media. This makes our sector less willing to be open beyond what's required. However, I feel we are making slow but certain progress."


It seems to me that there is always more to do, and there are always challenges to face. There is no perfect business. Sustainability, and the reporting bit, is a journey. However, it also seems to me that Nicki's process-oriented, focused and simple approach to embedding sustainability is a good recipe for more positive performance.

Join us at the edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference on February 27 and share your thoughts with Nicki, a large group of inspiring professionals and, err, me.

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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

Friday, February 2, 2018

Simplifying materiality

Less than a month to go to the always-exciting edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference on 27th February 2018 in London: this will be the eighth conference in the series and every year, we always benefit from new insights about what smarter sustainability reporting means and to whom, what's influencing reporting, how the best do it best and how we can all do it better. It's always an intensive day packed with updates, stories and tips from experts and practitioners. I am hoping you can join and if you haven't already signed up .... contact me for a discount code to for online registration. 

In the meantime, I was chatting with Stuart Poore, Canon's EMEA director of sustainability and government affairs. Stuart will be joining the conference to talk about materiality in a session on "Materiality Uncovered" where we will explore where you start with determining materiality, who you engage with, how you prioritize and how you align materiality with strategy. All riveting stuff, which so many companies regularly battle with. Overall, however, Stuart has some solid advice for all of us (based on his experience of materiality work over the years in some what he calls very elaborate and complex processes):

"As far as materiality is concerned, my experience is that there is great value in keeping things really simple. I have learnt that a healthy dose of common sense and pragmatism gets you a lot further, faster."

I couldn't agree more with that! I often stare at materiality matrices that are so densely populated with trillions of issues that I wonder what the exercise has actually been worth to companies. Materiality, by its nature, is not a mass market commodity that you buy in bulk: Ah yes, I will have 5,000 material issues for my next report, please! It's not even a prescribed set of issues that you crib off someone else's sustainability report or a SASB standard. It's should be a small set of considered impacts that are specific to your company and its operations and strategic in value. Addressing material impacts should deliver both business value and social value in a meaningful way. It's not simply doing business responsibly, which can apply to absolutely everything a business does. Defining materiality is actually not all that difficult. The sophisticated scoring and analysis systems created by some companies to deliver a set of dots on a grid is often so overkill that they probably have no time or resources left to do anything about the issues behind the dots. Keeping it simple and using everyone's collective common-sense sounds both rather obvious and also immensely refreshing.

Having said that, Canon's 2017 Sustainability Report takes simplicity to the other end of the spectrum, by stating two broad-brush sustainability material impacts that cluster together a number of issues.

Two all-encompassing issues is certainly a simple way of defining materiality but it could be any company, anywhere, anytime. So, it also makes common sense that materiality should be a little more company-specific. In fairness to Canon, a materiality matrix is provided specifically for environmental issues.

And the report narrative is very detailed on different social impacts that Canon addresses in its sustainability strategy. In fact, it's a fascinating report that covers issues from the use of high-definition IoT-connected network cameras to combat crime, to early detection of disease with advanced medical imaging and diagnostics, 3D vision equipment for robotics and nanoimprint technology used in semiconductors. This is a fascinating review of the technology-driven aspects of the way we live now and a glimpse into the future; enabling such advanced technology will of course influence the way we live, and probably even how long we live and how healthy we will be as we live. I often think the issue with materiality is that we try to put it into predefined boxes of things we can precisely count - emissions, waste, employee turnover. It's the things we have most difficulty counting - like the impact of medical imaging on people's lives - that are the most far-reaching. Canon clearly has its finger on the pulse of these very important directions that drive sustainable development.

Stuart Poore added: "Use your insights and intelligence. Don't over complicate it. Lead the debates as you perceive them rather than leaning too heavily on tool kits and methodologies and frameworks that various standards bodies publish. There is a place for those but trust your intuition and knowledge. Based on that philosophy, we have been through a process of listening to our various stakeholders and were able to define a set of priorities that the Board signed off on which enabled us to make some progress."

Stuart will share stories and examples of how the Canon methodology worked in practice and the challenges, debates and learning along the way. I am looking forward to hearing more. I hope you will join us on 27th February.

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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

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