Wednesday, August 14, 2019

10 ways not to attend the Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit

The first week of September is going to be #reportingmania week in Singapore, as the third annual Asia Sustainability Reporting Summit (ASRS) on 4th and 5th of the month promises to be the biggest and bestest yet. With 70 speakers from almost as many countries, it's going to be a packed two days of learning, inspiration and exchange. So here are 10 coping mechanisms just in case you cannot make it this year. 

1. Spend 30 minutes a day meditating, using the collage below of ASRS 2019 speakers as your inspiration - it won't help you predict what they might say, but it will make you realize what you are missing. If you start now, there will be just enough time to register before the start of the Summit.

2. Sign up for my pre-conference workshop. You will be compelled to continue the conversation for a further two days at the Summit. 

3. Order a three day supply of ice cream in a range of flavors. Only ice cream 🍦🍦🍦can take away the pain of not attending the most fun Summit on Sustainability Reporting in Asia. 

4. Sign up for the live-stream conference feed. Ooops. No live stream. You will just have to book your ticket. 

5. Gather your thoughts about whether sustainability reporting should be mandatory or self-regulated. This will be an illuminating debate in a panel session with 5 leading figures in the Sustainability Reporting world. While the session is taking place, you will be able to imagine yourself following the insights of these experienced practitioners and agreeing or questioning their thoughts.   

6. Plan a vacation in Singapore to coincide with the two days of the conference. Once you get to Singapore, you will be magnetically drawn to the Novotel Clarke Quay Hotel to register for the conference. Who needs vacations anyway? 

7. Take a look at the Summit Agenda and try to imagine yourself sitting at home or in the office while all this is taking place. Do you really think you can do it? Be kind to yourself and resolve this inner struggle by signing up without delay. 

8. Reconnect with #womenpower. 57% of the speakers at ASRS 2019 are women. This summit is a celebration of women's leadership in sustainability. If you are  a woman, man or individual of any gender, you will know that women's leadership is always INCLUSIVE. And that means inclusive of YOU. So sign up for the Summit and be included.  

9. Focus on the future. Think about your next sustainability report and how you will refresh your reporting, ensuring you are abreast of innovation, frameworks and new regulation in the region and globally. Think about how you might get a concentrated boost of energy, motivation and inspiration to fuel your next reporting cycle. Don't let your mind wander to the fascinating debates and insights that will take place at ASRS. Don't dwell on the time you will waste by not attending ASRS where you have everything under one roof over 48 hours. Got a plan? Think you can cope without attending the Summit? Feeling confident?  Great, but if not, you might want to send in your ASRS registration. Jus' sayin. 

10. Finally, if all the above doesn't work, you will probably need the Deep Detox solution. Book in at the Sustainability Reporting Detox Clinic for a two day intensive full body and mind detox, where the words sustainability and reporting are banned and people talk only about sunshine, beaches, Netflix, gourmet meals, ice cream flavors and places to visit when you retire. Any mention of anything connected to sustainability reporting sends you to solitary confinement for your entire stay with no internet, no phone, no connection to the outside world and no ice cream. Best to do this before the Summit starts, so that if it doesn't work, you still have time to register

For all of you for whom these coping mechanisms are not likely to work, see you in Singapore!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Owner/Manager of Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired Sustainability Strategy and Reporting firm having supported 100 client reports to date ; author of three books and several chapters on Sustainability Reporting and the Human Resources connection to CSR; frequent chair and speaker at sustainability events and judge in several sustainability awards programs each year. Contact me via Twitter , LinkedIn or via Beyond Business  

Monday, August 12, 2019

AIMing for Best in Class Reporting

I was recently asked by a client to prepare an overview of Best In Class Sustainability Reports. 

Now, I read, review and judge hundreds of sustainability reports each year, and also write several. I find reporting fascinating in all its forms, and there is no sustainability report that is not a source of insight, inspiration or interest for me. Sustainability reports are as diverse as the companies that publish them, and I find it hard to find an overall measure that represents Best in Class. In many of the awards programs in which I participate as a judge, the ultimate selection often becomes the report that achieved an aggregated highest score across a range of criteria - is that the definition of Best in Class? 

Best In Class is defined by the Business Dictionary is: The highest current performance level in an industry, used as a standard or benchmark to be equaled or exceeded.

But sustainability reports can be assessed across so many dimensions that it's not so simple to select a single report that can be used as a standard to be equaled or exceeded. Sustainability reporting is so unique and specific to each company that, while it is possible to compare use of selected reporting frameworks, or the scale of disclosure, or the length, or the colors of the design, creating a single Best in Class standard for reports is misleading. It's possible to compare certain types of disclosure across reports - such as how a company discloses carbon performance or employee engagement - so maybe it's possible to identify Best in Class reporting on certain topics. But overall Best in Class? Is Class every single sustainability report that's published? Or Best in Class for certain types of company, company size or industry sector?

The impossibility of the Best in Class assessment is why I prefer a threshold approach to evaluating the effectiveness of reporting. Framework-agnostic, metrics-agnostic and generally-agnostic, I use a simple model to the evaluate reports I come across every day. It's called the AIM Model. I developed this model for the publication of my annual list of the Top Ten  Sustainability Reports of the year in 2011. Either a report broadly meets the expectations for AIM reporting, or it doesn't. It's not about a score or a leader-board - it's about doing the job or not doing the job.

The AIM (Authenticity, Impacts, Materiality) Model goes like this:
Authenticity stands for: credible reporting that appears balanced and complete; it links reporting to purpose; it uses stakeholder voices to supplement internal narrative; it demonstrates consistency with prior reporting and shows evidence of long-term commitment with a strategy through targets and reported progress against targets; it includes a clear set of policies and positions on important topics and a CEO statement that you believe the CEO has actually read
Impacts stands for: How has the company made a difference, and how it measures that difference; not just a shopping list of activities; measurable outcomes; focused storytelling that supports describing impacts in specific cases.
Materiality stands for: clear materiality process that connects to the materiality topics identified and selected; description of the stakeholder interactions that have influenced the selection of material topics; contextual information that helps us understand the material topics and their relevance and explicit deep-dive reporting on the material topics selected.

Now, some reporters do a great job year after year in delivering reports that meet the AIM Model criteria - generally I know even before I look at the report that these companies will deliver reports that I will find inspiring. Here are three reporters that deserve a recurring 🎯 AIM Award 🎯 for their consistent reporting effectiveness. In random order. 

Marks and Spencer
Marks and Spencer plc is one of the strongest, most consistent, most comprehensive reporters that never fails to impress me with the scale of its programs and the meticulous nature of its planning, target setting and disclosing. The iconic Plan A (that has now become Plan A 2025) is a masterpiece of branding, engagement and evolution of leading sustainability practice. The 2019 Plan A Update is a fairly nuts and bolts 18-page document, no fancy design and no stories, but covers all the Plan A news in brief. Enough so that we know what M&S has been getting up to in the past year.

The prior Plan A Report for 2018 was a fuller update, more colorful (though not much more) and much more detailed.

It includes for example, as well as the individual updates against Plan A's 2025 pillars across all 100 commitments, details of how the company creates value and several pages with the governance structure for Plan A and named individuals responsible for each piece fitting into place. There are also commentaries from external stakeholders.

The Plan A overarching goals are all about Impacts - supporting customers in sustainable living, helping people live happier and healthier lives, transforming communities, science-based carbon targets and more - M&S's goals have been developed from the outside in, understanding global priorities and driving change through the business and its engagement with customers and communities.
The Material focus of Plan A is clearly described and the stakeholder input used to help define and assess material topics is explained. I find it a little odd that M&S does not publish the specific results of the materiality assessment, which they claim to have performed, in an overt way. Rather, the claim is that the most material topics, around 40 of the 100 commitments, are independently assured and a couple of asterisks denote these throughout the report. So, if you have an hour or so to spare, you can compile this list, though it's a little fidgety. Bottom line, however, it that Materiality is defined and there is a lot of supporting information as to how it was done.
And finally, Authenticity. I cannot imagine a company maintaining this scale, scope and pace of achievement and reporting year after year since the launch of Plan A in 2007 (was it that long ago?!) and reporting more generally on sustainability prior to that, without a large measure of Authenticity. Many elements support this including the transparent Plan A governance structure, the clear reporting on performance whether positive or less positive and the detailed methodology of selecting the Plan A components. Definitely worthy of an  🎯AIM Award 🎯

Kingfisher's reporting is bold, creative, inspiring, coherent and absolutely in line with the AIM model. I have been following Kingfisher's reporting over the years, and even selected Kingfisher's Net Positive 2012-2013 Report as one of my Top Ten CSR Reports of 2013. Kingfisher has the knack of distilling its sustainability vision, mission, program and performance into eye-level, easy-to-follow messages that get through to our minds and hearts. It's reporting for everyone: Kingfisher's 2018-2019 Sustainability Report shows meticulous transparency with on-point metrics across a range of targets alongside well-flowing narrative supported by big bold highlighter pages that anyone can understand.

In terms of Authenticity, Kingfisher publishes performance - successes and challenges - clearly against annual and long-term targets. An external commentary from a sustainability expert and a case study from the community build in external stakeholder voices. A seemingly genuine message from the CEO, Véronique Laury (Yes, it's a woman CEO. YAY!!) expresses both the positioning, the positives and the challenges of Kingfisher's sustainability journey: "In several areas our progress has been slower than we would have liked and challenges with our data systems mean we cannot report this year on two important KPIs relating to timber sourcing and sustainable home products. We know how important these issues are and we are addressing these challenges as a priority."   
Progress against 2018/2019 targets en route to 2050 are set out with clarity:

Kingfisher's entire sustainability strategy is about its overall Impact on the world. Like Marks and Spencer above, it's an outside-in strategy with four net-positive aspirations to 2050 that focus on how Kingfisher makes a difference in the way people live their lives. Kingfisher has guidelines for customers so they can make sustainable choices and measures the proportion of sales that these choices represent. 

Outside-in strategies tend to be closely aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. Kingfisher goes a step beyond most companies by aligning its Impacts with specific SDG targets.

As for Materiality, yes, that's in there too, supported by a description of the process used to create and revise this list annually, including a specific materiality assessment in 2018 on 25 raw materials used in Kingfisher's products, assessed for human rights and environmental practices, that will be integrated into the overall materiality assessment.

While this report does not follow the In Accordance level of GRI guidelines, an online GRI Content Index is provided.
The CSR Reporting Blog hereby grants an 🎯AIM Award🎯 to Kingfisher for consistently impressive and meaningful sustainability reporting.

Baoviet is one of the leading financial-insurance groups in Vietnam. As a judge in the annual Asia Sustainability Reporting Awards (ASRA), I have been reading Baoviet's reports each year for the past few years and have always been impressed with the way this company pulls its report together with diligence and scrupulous attention to detail. Always rather (too?) long (the 2018 report is 257 pages!), Baoviet presents its comprehensive GRI Standards-based disclosure in a logical and lucid way. As previous reports, Baoviet's 2018 Sustainability Report, Mastering Hi-tech to unlock Sustainable Future, also shows how Baoviet masters disclosure, and not just sustainable insurance.

The report is laid out using the GRI Standards framework, addressing the disclosures in order of the 100, 200, 300 and 400 Standards sets. This is not my personal favorite way of presenting content, but it's a very respectable way of reporting, and has some advantages in terms of easy navigation to each group of topic-connected disclosures. In the case of Baoviet, this is done quite neatly, with a symmetrical order to each page, following the GRI prescribed content for disclosure of Management Approach and associated data.

Wholly AIM, this report covers Authenticity, Impacts and Materiality exhaustively. A deep-dive into risks, opportunities and context supporting the selection of Material topics helps us understand the sustainability challenges of Baoviet.

A strategic approach aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals shows that Baoviet has invested Authentic thought into its planning and sustainable development direction.

Impacts are presented in a specific section describing "indirect economic impacts" (GRI's Standard 203) summarizing Baoviet's overarching contributions to a more sustainable society, with some case studies later on in the report in the section on community involvement (GRI 413).  Definitely deserving of an 🎯AIM Award 🎯, Baoviet could also do this with a shorter report! I'd recommend trimming some of the evergreen detail from this report in future, giving greater focus to the reporting year achievements.


So, coming back to my opening thought, would I consider these reports Best in Class?  The highest current performance level in an industry, used as a standard or benchmark to be equaled or exceeded?

I certainly consider these reports that I find inspiring and can learn from. It's possible they might win awards (and all of these companies have won sustainability reporting awards over the years) when pitched against a limited number of entrants in an awards program (and I admit to making these choices as a judge in different awards programs each year.) In the end, I circumvented the question my client posed to me by providing a selection of reporting elements from different companies and reports, a sort of pick'n'mix showing what can be done to achieve AIM reporting, and in some cases, with a little added creativity.  So I think my message here is about delivering the best report you can, wherever you are on your sustainability journey, targeting to meet the needs of your stakeholders.

If your report does this well, some may consider it to be Best in Class.
I'll probably say that it's worth an 🎯AIM Award🎯 !

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Owner/Manager of Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired Sustainability Strategy and Reporting firm having supported 100 client reports to date; author of three books and several chapters on Sustainability Reporting and the Human Resources connection to CSR; frequent chair and speaker at sustainability events and judge in several sustainability awards programs each year. Contact me via Twitter , LinkedIn or via Beyond Business  

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