Smarter, better, faster – but not longer
What do we mean by “smarter sustainability reporting”? This is what I hoped to find out in the fourth annual Smarter Sustainability Reporting conference in London.
Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are regarded as obvious considerations among today’s business enterprises. As it is, governments are lagging behind with legislation and regulation when it comes to transparent disclosure of a company’s impacts on the environment and the society, and we’re currently looking at corporate giants such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Marks & Spencer to lead the way towards more openness in doing business.
The biggest companies are of course under extensive pressure from investors, NGOs as well as consumers. The demands for CSR are higher than ever, meaning that companies are expected to report on all areas of their business openly and on time. However, the reporting process is becoming heavier by the day, and it seems an overwhelming task for different stakeholders to find relevant information in often more than hundred-page reports. Not to mention that most of the information published in a CSR report might be more than a year old. And this just won’t do in a world that’s lived by the quarters.
These topics, among others, were in the limelight last Tuesday, when some of the world’s leading sustainability reporting authorities gathered for a one-day conference in London. The day was built from four sessions, starting with taking a look at the current framework jungle to resolve whether the GRIs, <IR>s and CDPs are rivals or actually complementing each other (this was, unsurprisingly, undecided).
The second session had four very interesting speakers from corporations known to be top reporters, such as Sodexo, Royal Mail and BP. The most inspirational presentation from a report-maker’s perspective was given by Telekom Austria. In 2013, the company published its sustainability report in the form of a graphic novel to attract readers’ interest and make the topic more approachable. The data is all there, but the company’s key messages are easy to identify with a quick browse. Talk about out-of-the-box thinking!
In the third session a representative from Coca-Cola enterprises illustrated how the processes related to sustainability reporting might inspire new innovations that not only mitigate the company’s environmental impact but also generate savings. By taking a closer look at their carbon footprint, the company discovered that most of the impacts occur after the product leaves the factory. They then decided to put their efforts in making the package more sustainable through innovative technology, impacting on consumer’s behaviour regarding recycling, and switching to more energy-efficient cooling containers in stores. As a result, the carbon footprint was diminished by 25%, which is pretty impressive.
The fourth and final session focused on materiality – a topic that has again increased its significance since the publishing of the GRI G4 guidelines. Traditionally, companies’ reporting has resembled that of ticking off shopping list items, but finally the culture seems to be going in the direction of reporting what actually matters in the given business context. One of the speakers was a representative from Virgin Media, explaining their interactive approach to gathering information about what their stakeholders regarded material in terms of sustainability. They organised a customer-led Big Red Box campaign, and discovered, for example, that a huge concern for parents was to keep children safe online. These discoveries served as a basis for Virgin’s future actions, for example launching a Switched On Families programme to help parents manage their kids’ online behaviour.
All in all, the day was full of speakers who shared their inspiration and devotion towards sustainability and CSR issues, and demonstrated that it is possible to make a real difference by concentrating your efforts in the right target in the given context. And with a bit of imagination and creativity, it can also be an interesting read to your stakeholders!