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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