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

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