Friday, October 30, 2009

Symantec and New Models of Social Responsibility

I am really looking forward to the upcoming Global Virtual Summit (November 5th and 9th , 2009) entitled New Models of Social Responsibility, presented by Communitelligence and Cisco.  The summit boasts a truly impressive line-up of speakers, including one of my heroes Jeffrey Swartz, CEO of Timberland.  As my Company,  BeyondBusiness ,  is one of the Media Sponsors for the summit,   I was privileged to have the opportunity to interview some of the speakers. In this first interview-post, i will share some insights from the impressive  Cecily Joseph, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Symantec Corporation Cecily will participate in a discussion entitled  "End of the glossy report ? The Future of Social Responsibility communication and reporting" , which as you may have guessed is a subject i am particularly interested in, fairly knowledgeable and even rather opinionated about. (opinionated? me ?) . Earlier this week, Cecily and I both participated in a 90 minute webinar with the International Advisory Group of the joint UNGC and UNIFEM initiative to develop and assimilate a new set of Women's Empowerment Principles (go girls!), so it was nice to interact again on my even more favourite subject, CSR reporting.

Symantec Corporation is probably most famous for its suite of products under the Norton brand name, and despite being no newcomer to the world of Internet Security, the company first reported in 2008, with a  Corporate Responsibility Report with the theme "Confidence in a connected world" covering FY08 (April 07 to March 08), a GRI self-declared B level report, which is also UNGC indexed. If there is anything you dont know about "decoding the cybercrime landscape",  "the hidden costs of piracy", or Green Data Centers,  this report is a good place to start. Another impressive element of Symantec performance and reporting is the commitment to advancing women in technology,  with 13 Women's Action Network Groups for personal and professional networking to assist women in advancing their careers, and partnerships with the Anita Borg Institute and Catalyst, amonst other things (though Symantec's 10-strong Board has only one woman, and the 18 strong Executive Team counts only  3 women - hopefully Symantec's efforts in this area will break through this infamous glass ceiling). Also, Symantec's community reporting indicates an impressive $16million in donated cash and products and over 20,000 employee volunteer hours. Symantec, a Fortune 500 Company, was founded in 1982, generates annual revenue of over $6 billion, employs over 17,500 people and declares its unique forcus to be eliminating  "risks to information, technology and processes independent of the device, platform, interaction or location."  So the role of CR Director in a business such as this is clearly relevant and significant. 

Cecily, who has been in her role since July 2005, and has led Symantec's reporting efforts,  says: " On a personal level, Corporate Responsibility means to me that we think in ways that are creative and innovative. We think differently to solve our problems and improve our businesses. Thinking differently means that we don't just focus internally but look at society as part of the equation.... I gain most satisfaction when we help to bring new ideas to the company that impact the business in a positive way, when we act as an early sensor to shifts and trends which other parts of the business are not as aware of yet, and when Symantec is recognized positively for something that CR has helped it accomplish."  What personal skills do you need to do Cecily's job (and make a success of it) ? "Leading through influence; ability to speak to all levels of the organization starting with the Board of Directors and the CEO; sense of humor; patience" though Cecily says "I don't always have enough of that". (which i suspect is probably a good thing!) .
Symantec and Cecily made the decision to become a first-time CR reporter in order to "engage stakeholders in the process of defining CR more clearly for Symantec". Indeed, the Symantec report is one of the few CR reports which describes a robust materiality process, conducted  with both internal stakeholders and a 5 member External Advisory Council. The report includes a materiality matrix.This yielded benefits, Cecily says: " We saw that engaging employees and external parties in the preparation of the report was critical and really expanded our scope - we will plan to do more of this on our next report."  Some key challenges in first time reporting were the budget unknowns ("we got to the end of the process and realized we had not allocated any money for design or printing of our executive summary") but perhaps more important was to "determine how we would measure success". Symantec defined its target readership for the report as "Employees, other CR professionals and  NGO's. Customers have become more engaged in our quarterly reporting-our CR Snapshots " The CR Snapshot is a great three pager with an key updates in between Symantec's two year reporting cycle. Finally, Cecily describes Symantec's key CR challenges in the next 3-5 years as: " .. defining responsible sourcing practices for the software industry, privacy and freedom of expression, diversity and gender equity as more than a nice to have but as a business imperative, continuing to build on practices of good governance in this current climate where the rules are evolving, helping to deliver education and awareness on digital literacy and the protection of rights online." Looks like Cecily has got her work cut out for her for the foreseeable future, but judging by progress made and reported in the 08 CR report, I remain optimistic.

Thanks to Cecily Joseph  for generously sharing insights, thanks to John Gerstner, visionary founder and president of Communitelligence, and thanks to YOU for signing up to the Global Virtual Summit on New Models of Social Responsibilty and showing your support for the practitioners who are making our business and our world a better place.

One thing i didnt quite work out - how do they get the Chunky Monkey to you in a Virtual Summit ... hmmmm ....

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:

Monday, October 26, 2009

A special kind of non-profit

I am dedicating this post to Beit Issie Shapiro. Beit Issie Shapiro is a non-profit organization based in Israel  that develops and provides services for children and adults with developmental disabilities. It has played a leading role in promoting the inclusion of people with special needs in society and advocates for better legal provisions for people with special needs.
The organization was founded in 1980 by Naomi Stuchiner, currently President of Beit Issie Shapiro, as a way to fulfil the dream of her late father to contribute the quality of life for people in Israel. Beit Issie Shapiro is currently managed by the CEO Jean Judes, the inspiring and forward-thinking leader of this organization which employes over 300 staff and and has a measurable impact on some 24,000 people, annually. 
I invite you to read about the wonderful work that is done by Beit Issie Shapiro, in caring for those with disabilities, in developing awareness, knowledge and best practices through care programmes, research, training and community outreach. I have a special admiration for the open and responsible culture fostered by Beit Issie Shapiro which i was privileged to experience at first hand though work i have done with the organization on the subject of ethics.

In this post, i wanted to express a particular sense of awe, after i participated in a Special Evening last week celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Beit Issie Shapiro. The organization funded a thank-you event for partners, donors, employees, friends and community members - one of the most special evenings I have attended in a long long while. The highlight of the event was the China Disabled People's Performing Arts Toupe (CDPPAT) and their incredible show "The Dream". . All the performers of this unique group are hearing, visually or physically impaired. The precision, talent, energy and style which which they performed are an example to us all.The performance was incredible - moving, so,so professional, and thoroughly inspirational.
More than the performance itself, I wanted to applaud Beit Issie Shapiro for staging this evening, for the benefit of the community. It is not often we see non-profits, who are so engaged in fundraising and solliciting donations to promote their cause, assign a portion of their funds and energies in generously providing a different kind of value to the community.

I just wanted to share that with all my readers.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at: 

How do you picture CSR ?

A client of mine said "Elaine, look at the Nikon 2009 CSR report! It it impressive or what ?" And when a client says that, you ain't got not choice but to look, right?  I looked at the report. In fact, i scanned the report quickly, in between bites of Chunky Monkey. The report  seems to be very comprehensive and packed with lots of  detail. Here follows the essence of my 58 second review. I always look for some key things (especially when the company has reported several times):
GRI Index: I took a look at Nikon GRI index  which shows that a number of key indicators are not reported, though the report is very full. It's probably a B level report. As this is their 8th reporting cycle, I wonder why they are not able to report key metrics more fully.
Assurance: It is not assured (brief stakeholder commentaries at the end do not count as assurance) so this reduces credibility in my view.
Materiality: There is no materiality index showing the most important issues – this is critical for an experienced reporter.
Stakeholder engagement: I couldn’t see ways in which Nikon engages stakeholders, reports specifically on their issues and responds to them in this report
The President or CEO statement : This is quite a good statement highlighting the things that are important to Nikon and providing a strategic perspective.
My bottom line after super-quick review: strong positive reporting, very high on detail, less high on focus.

However, this is not why i wrote this post. What I really wanted to draw attention to is something else i discovered on the Nikon website: the CSR Photo Story. The 10 photos in the CSR story were selected from  47,000 entries in the Nikon Photo Contest International 2006-2007,  from Australia, Brazil, Iran, Korea, Japan, Turkey and more.  This annual contest has been held since 1969 and draws photography from people of every background and age all over the world.

The narrative accompanying the CSR story starts like this:
When you were young, what kind of person did you wish to be?
Someone people trust? Someone creative? A kind person?  A strong person? Someone who pursues their dreams? You picture in your mind that person. So do we at Nikon when we picture the kind of Company we strive to be.
Nice, huh?

Nikon make imaging products - cameras and things. So what better a way to express their CSR than in the outputs of the way consumers use the products they create? Nikon expresses part of their role in society as contributing to a photographic culture by  "enhancing and enriching the enjoyment of photographs", and in addition to the annual photo contest, they engage in several activities to contibute to the community and the appreciation of visual art. I think this is a nice example of a company aligning its CSR activities with its business strategy and generating positive indirect impacts. The fact that i am  a lousy photographer and whatever i seem to do with a camera ends up looking like i snapped a collection of rainclouds is immaterial. I may not win the Nikon contest (unless they like rainclouds) but i do recommend you take a look at the CSR photo story.  And perhaps you might be inspired to take your photo of CSR.

I wondered what i would photograph if i were to photo CSR:
# my Siberian hamster, riding the hamster wheel (round and round, going nowhere)
# my 7 yr old son, practising basketball shots (one basket in 453 but still trying)
# my CSR report library (hundreds of unsustainable printed CSR reports)
# my laundry hanging on the line (sun-dried, but stained with bird-sh**t) 
# my pack of paracetamol (big pharma, generically removing unsustainable headaches)
# my cellphone (connecting me to an unsustainable world)
# a lettuce leaf (geez, gotta stick to that diet, fat people are unsustainable)
# a tub of Chunky Monkey (hah! you knew that was coming, right) ( saving the planet with indulgence)

Your suggestions ?

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:

Friday, October 23, 2009

CSR and your company's reputation

"Your reputation is created at and affected by every touch point of the organization. Reputation management means addressing your organizational reputation as a strategic issue. It requires a whole-of-business approach to genuine corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and a culture of thinking beyond quarterly financial reports."

One of the most amazing things about the blogosphere and the twitterverse is that you meet the most inspiring people. I have been fortunate to meet the author of the above words. She is Alex Harris (#ff), a reputation management professional with more than 20 years experience in the media industry. Alex authored the book Reputation at Risk, published by Masterstroke Group in June 2009. Alex is the author of the widely acclaimed blog, Reputation Report. The quote above is the start of the epilogue to 140 pages of rivetting perspectives about and examples of the way organizations mis-manage reputation, the risks and consequences of such actions, and insights into best practice. Reading Reputation at Risk will leave you in no doubt about the clear link between business success and effective reputation management, and the umbellical cord that connects reputation and csr practices and reporting.  Alex was born in Papua New Guinea and now lives in Australia, so this book has a healthy helping of Australian stories, and a style which brings the Alex's passionate temperament to life for the reader.  

Reputation at Risk provides a view of corporate governance and the lack thereof that caused the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), the role of  business schools , the risks to reputation from CGM (consumer generated media (no, i didn't know what that meant either), crisis management and more. There is a checklist of positive corporate responses to a crisis or a serious issue and some good advice: "Too often, companies assume the crises will occur in normal working hours when all the key executives and trained operatives will be available. They rarely do". Alex promotes CSR as a key element of business, contributing to public image and reputation. She advocates that CSR should be part of the DNA of the business as csr influences a business's abilty to attract and retain skilled staff, maintain effective customer relationships and shareholder satisfaction and more. What's more, Reputation at Risk speaks in favour of reporting - "The way companies communicate their CSR activities is just as important as the CSR itself".

I tend to think that Alex Harris's voice over the past 20 years has carried some weight, because in a previous analysis i conducted, Australia is the number five top country in the world for producing CSR and sustainability reports. So, Alex, keep telling it as you see it. My only negative about this book is that it doesn't come with a free tub of Chunky Monkey.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:

#CSR without EMBEDDING is like CHUNKY without MONKEY

One of the popular csr-speak terms you need to be familiar with these days is EMBED. says this means "to fix into a surrounding mass: to embed stones in cement". So if your Company is a mass of cement, your CSR program is the stones. Makes sense, right?  The concept of embedding CSR is not new. I suspect (I am guessing) that one of the first to use this term for CSR was AccountAbility in their first exposure draft of the AA1000 principles in 1999.  EMBEDDEDNESS was one of the principles related to management of the process on an ongoing basis :
" Embeddedness – or systems integration, concerns making the social and ethical accounting, auditing and reporting processes part of the organisation’s operations, systems and policy making, and not treated as a one-off exercise to produce a social and ethical report"  (they like long sentences at AccountAbility).
Many Companies who report on their CSR or Sustainability LOVE to use this great word EMBED. It expreses the fact that CSR is not just something you add on to your "real" business activities, but something that is part of the fabric of your business and integrated in all processes and practices. Most mature CSR reporters like to express the embeddedness of their CSR. Sounds kinda noble and professional, right?
The Stagecoach Group in their 2009 CSR report say: "We have a clear set of values which underpin our business and are firmly embedded in our Group’s culture." And thousands of reports offer variations on this theme. And my recent post on "When CSR reporting is a waste of paper"  provided an example of the problem of UN-EMBEDDEDNESS - ie what happens when you really haven't got this embed thing covered at all levels of your organization.

So this is why i was interested to read Ethical Corporation's latest research publication on How to embed Corporate Responsibility across different parts of your Company. This is a 100 page report published at end September 2009. It provides an analysis and case studies covering 5 organizational functions: Human Resources, Finance and Accounting, Communications, Procurement and Logistics and Operations. I will blog about each of these functional zoom-ins and the related embedding stuff one-by-one in the next few posts. (Disclosure: Ethical Corp kindly provided me with a complimentary copy so that i could read, learn and share - but, they didnt tell me what to say! - all views are my own) Ethical Corp's research data is "aggregated, analysed and triangulated".( I am glad its triangulated. Meant I got to learn the meaning of another long word.)The report is in two sections - first, an overall survey of the way CR is embedded, practiced and communicated in large corporations, and second, specific functional guides. And of course, there is a set of recommendations. I guess Ethical Corp wouldn't be too pleased if i revealed all their recommendations free of charge to the world, but i can't resist quoting the one which says: " Reporting Effectively: Producing a CR report ... remains a highly effective tool."

I will start my blog series with one of my favourite subjects: Human Resources.
CR minus HR = PR. (Wish i knew who said that!)
The Ethical Corp research covers how to embed C(S)R via the Human Resources function in order to achieve maximum productivity and staff morale, and refers to :
  • recruiting and training staff
  • maximising employee performance and competencies
  • managing a company's personal employee evaluation and appraisal system
  • building an ethical corporate culture and engaging employees.
I always say that CSR is about moving from accounting for "impacts on employees" to enhancing and accounting for the "impacts of employees" ie transforming the business perspective into one which ensures that every single internal and external touchpoint of employees in an organization leverages the CSR approach of the business.

The HR research uses input from CSR Managers  at Hewlett Packard, Boots, Novo Nordisk and BT, and case studies from Starbuck's and Campbell Soup regarding their HR-CR practices. Interesting reading, actually. The section ends up with a short checklist for HR Managers with the key learning points from the research. 

All the Companies quoted in this section are of course strong CSR reporters. 
HP's 2008 report (GRI B self-declared) doesn't actually use the word embed to describe their CR - perhaps this is because embedding is also associated with technology ( review steps for accessing the HP embedded web server (EWS), but their report covers quite a lot of detail of employee engagement in CR activities.
Alliance Boots 2008-2009 Report (not GRI indexed) say that embedding comes naturally: "As a pharmacy-led heath and beauty group, our corporate social responsibility principles are naturally embedded in the working practices of our people."
Novo Nordisk's 2008 (GRI A+ self-declared) integrated report  describes how strategies are revised after the management of CR issues has been fully embedded in the organisation so that they are fully integrated into business processes, as part of the way they determine materiality.
BT Group's 2009 (GRI A+) report talk about the  BT Sustainable Marketing Programme as part of their commitment to embedding the principles of sustainability into business as usual
Starbucks 2008 (GRI B+ self declared) Global Repsonsibility Report confirms that "being a responsible business is a commitment that is embedded in our culture. "
Campbell Soup Company's first 2008 (non-GRI) report talks about four "overarching themes" which are embedded in their mission statement.

So there you have it, people are embedding CSR, or trying to. At least they have adopted the politically correct csr-speak. Embedding is no small task and does require a level of maturity and organizational alignment which are not achieved overnight. And there is no doubt that a strong, professional and skilled Human Resources function can play a significant role. So if you aspire to have both the Chunky AND the Monkey, think about the way your HR function embeds YOUR csr program .

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at: 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

When CSR reporting is a waste of paper

CSR reports, aka Sustainability Reports, are supposed to be sustainable, right? That means no printed copies, right ? Wrong. Sustainability reports are business documents, and, like any other important business document,  it is ok to print them but. Print them but. This means that, as with any aspect of CSR and sustainability, we must exercise restraint and consideration of all stakeholders in how we do what we do. So in printing CSR reports, I might expect a Company to consider:
I confess. I like to see something in print. Gives me a feel for the Company. Allows me carry reports around and read them when i can. (Ask my hub about how many reports i take to bed with me!!) (well, on second thoughts, don't ask him). Perhaps this is hypocritical ? A sustainability consultant who likes to read printed reports? Perhaps but.

The but is that what really REALLY annoys me is unconsidered wasteful ways of sending CSR reports through the mail. I have mentioned this before in a different previous post, and now i will mention it again. (consistency is a virtue)

The following picture is of 9 one-side-printed separate pieces of paper that accompanied the delivery of the 2009 CR Report from .. and this time i will name names ... Deutsche Telekom. Delivered by DHL which is a Deutche Post Company.

Here's that consistency thing again: 9 separate one-side-printed pieces of paper. Why would you need 9 pieces of paper to go with the delivery of one slim report?

Deutsche Telekom's 2009 CSR report is  online and a 68 page PDF download. It is a well written report at GRI-checked  A+ reporting level. This is what DT have to say about saving paper:

(page 41) "Thanks to innovations such as “Paper, Pen & Phone,” customers can significantly reduce their own paper consumption and the resulting environmental pollution. The special pen developed by T-Systems records all the special characteristics of a signature via an integrated camera, thereby enabling digital identification and processing of documents signed by hand. Compared to the former archiving process, paper consumption is thus reduced by up to 50 percent, and costs are reduced by as much as around 70 percent. In order to exploit this savings potential in our own Group as well, we have launched “Paper, Pen & Phone” in around 800 Telekom Shops in Germany since February 2009."

And more (page46 ) "We succeeded in winning over almost one third of T-Home customers for our online billing. This helps us and our customers in contributing to environment protection by reducing paper consumption by over 1,500 tons".

But what about shipping CSR reports? What super innovations have been developed to ensure that paper consumption is reduced in this process?

Which brings me to another point: INDIRECT REPONSIBILITY .
It is possible that Deutche Telekom have no idea that DHL uses 9 separate one-side-printed pieces of paper for each report they deliver. Maybe this is standard DHL procedure. The kind of standard procedure that no-one ever thinks to question because that's just the way its done. But doesn't Deutsche Telekom have an indirect reponsibility for the actions of their suppliers engaged in providing products or services on their behalf?

Actually, in the DHL (Deutche Post AG)  2009 self-declared B+ report I couldn't find anything relating to paper consumption reduction, only references to sustainable paper sourcing. I couldn't find a figure for how many tons of paper consumption DHL or Deutsche Post have reduced in the reporting period. Maybe that's because they havent. However, a target area for Deutsche Post is " Mobilizing our employees: Raising awareness of climate protection and broader environmental issues, and enabling our employees to minimize our company’s environmental impact through their everyday actions." Like shipping CSR reports.

So who should we take issue with here ?
(1) DHL for using 9 pieces of paper
(2) Deutsche Telekom for letting them
(3) Me, for wanting to read the printed report in the first place ?  (hint: dont pick this option)
But the point of this post is that : i would expect that people in a company where CSR is truly embedded at all levels of the organization would pick this up.  I believe that employees at all levels  should recognize  environmental waste in  the system, assuming they had been made aware of its importance to the Company. 

These day-to-day almost-unnoticed actions can  be very important. They can also point to the degree to which each employee in any business takes personal responsibility for all aspects of the Company's CSR behaviour.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Greater CSR leadership needed in Israel

At the annual CSR conference in Israel this week, organisaed by Maala, the BSR affiliate in Israel, for the first time, an award was presented to Companies who had issued (or almost issued) more about the almost thing later.. CSR reports during the years 2007 to 2009. Actually, it's not surprising that this was the first set of awards, because the Israeli market has beed decidedly slow in uptake on the reporting front (see my previous post). It was back in 2005 when my partner, Liad Ortar, took the initiative to translate the GRI guidelines into Hebrew, making them accessible to the local market and starting a momentum for reporting in line with the global best practice. The awards were presented in order of GRI transparency levels. So, just for the record, I will run through them in that order here.

Bank Leumi published a GRI checked A+ report in 2009, covering years 2007-2008.Unfortunately, this is only in Hebrew so non-speako-the-lingo people won't get much from this, apart from the fantastic design using creations from an exhibition that Leumi sponsored for unknown artists. (Disclosure: My Company was the consultant on this report). Leumi is the largest banking group in Israel and was the first to report in 2006 with a GRI B level report (which we also worked on). 

Bank Hapoalim published a GRI checked A+ report in 2008, covering 2007. Again, this is only available in Hebrew. It is the first report of this, the second largest banking group in Israel. 

comme il faut published a GRI checked A level report in 2008, covering 2007. comme il faut is a privately owned SME with a strong CSR record and a strong reputation for responsible business practices. This was the first report for a fashion company, first for a private company, and a first  A level report in Israel . The report was published in Hebrew and in English (above link to English report). (Disclosure: We wrote this report). Aside from the high transparency for this small business, the design, as you might expect from a fashion company, is quite creative. 

Strauss Group published a GRI checked A level report in 2009, covering 2008. Strauss is an Israeli based globally active food and beverages Company. This is their second report, published both in Hebrew and English.

Partner Communications published a GRI checked level B report in 2008, covering 2007. Partner is a leading telecommunications player in Israel, and the owner of the Orange brand. As you might expect, this report is a little ... orange. Published in Hebrew and Enlgish.

DeltaGalil Industries published a GRI checked level B report in 2009, covering 2008. This first report was published in English only. Delta is a leading apparel manufacturer, specializing in underwear and casualwear, headquartered in Israel and supplying world markets.

Nesher Israel Cement Enterprises published a self declared GRI B level report in 2009, covering 2008. Nesher also reported in 2006 on environmental issues. The report is in Hebrew and not available for download (yet).

The Egged Bus Company published a self declared GRI C report in 2009, covering 2008. This is their third report, the last one being published in 2005. It is in Hebrew and not available for download (yet).

The Hannan Mor Group published a self declared GRI C level report in 2009, covering 2008-2009. This is a small traded construction company. This first report is in Hebrew and not available for download (yet). 

Intel published a local report in the spirit of GRI in 2009 covering 2008. This is a summary report , one document in Hebrew with some English and Arabic translated parts. The Intel local report falls within a local reporting framwork adopted by Intel around the world, and using the annual global report as a base. Intel is one of the two global Companies publishing local reports in our market, and this is their third such report.

Motorola Israel published a local report with a GRI index in 2008, covering 2007. This is a comprehensive report covering all CSR subjects, and the third by this local branch of the global Motorola. It was published in Hebrew and English. (Disclosure: I assured  this report)

Baran Group published a report in the spirit of the GRI in 2009, covering 2007. The report is in Hebrew and not indexed. It is a first report for this engineering Company.

Other Companies - Cellcom, the largest telecomms provider, Carmel Olefins, a polymer manufactuer and Rafael, a government-owned air defense Company, and Discount Bank, one of the four leading banks in Israel - all received awards on account of the fact that they have committed to publish before end October. Let's hope they do.

That makes 16. I think that's it. Hope i didnt forget anyone !Overall, 12 reports in 2 years .. maybe 16. Clear leadership shown by the banking sector, fashion , technology and telecomms in the wings. Some food, industrial, transportation and construction sector presence. Strong adoption of GRI as the reporting standard, but early days for a widespread approach to assurance. However, this is still  a drop in the ocean in terms of the size of the Israeli market, the level of global activity of Israeli Companies and the advanced approach to business in this country. We must continue to pust for stronger CSR leadership, accountability and transparency. If you do business with Israeli companies, demand to know what they are doing on CSR .....

What will 2010 bring ? More ? Less ? Same ?
There is no doubt that a certain momentum is in the air, and that those reporting feel the benefits in terms of internal processes and external recognition, but before you can report, you need to ensure your Company is behaving with a CSR mindset, and much of our work in the Israeli market is still about creating awareness and appreciation for CSR practices and supporting Companies in getting on board. There are, we know,  more en route, so we can be hopeful  (better not say optimistic) that 2011 awards for reports published in 2010 and 2011 may show a modest increase. I wonder if a free supply of  Chunky Monkey to all potential reporting Companies would help ?

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Opportunities for CSR reporting professionals

Yesterday, in Israel, at the annual CSR conference organized by Maala – Business for Social Responsibility (the BSR affiliate in Israel), awards were made to Companies that have produced CSR reports during 2007-2009 (including those who have committed to publish reports by end October 2009). The purpose of the award was to create awareness for reporting in a country where reporting has been slow off the mark and relatively slow in uptake.
17 awards were made. I will blog about these reports in my next post. In the meantime, I thought I would check out how Israel is doing in the league table of reporting.
The reports database allows a good review of numbers of reporting countries. It may not be 100% comprehensive, but I believe it hosts over 90% of all reports issued, so I am happy to use this data to review reporting output. In total, during this period, 8,663 reports were published – an average of around 2,900 reports per year.
I analyzed reports published in 175 countries (some of which I didn’t even know were countries) during the period 2007-2009:
  • 42% had NO businesses which reported on the Corporate Responsibility
  • 36% of countries published between 1 and 25 reports
  • 20% of countries published between 26 and 500 reports
  • 2% (4 countries) published over 500 reports each.
Of the 36% of countries who published between 1 and 25 reports, over 80% published between 1 and 5 reports during this 3 year period.
The  league table of reports published during 2007-2009 is as follows:
USA - 1042
UK - 1034
Japan - 817
Spain - 517
Australia - 484
Germany - 452
Italy - 418
Canada - 367
France - 364
Brazil - 276
The Netherlands - 264
South Africa - 229
Switzerland - 211
Sweden - 205
Finland - 174
Israel is number 53 in this list of 175 countries. (This is based on 8 reports shown on during this period).

I cross-checked the level reporting to size of the economy. I used the GDP per country based on GDP 2006 published by the Economist.
This shows a very different league table. The countries publishing the most reports per US$ Billion of GDP are: South Africa, Finland, Portugal, Chile, Australia and Switzerland, each of whom have published a report for every US$ 5 billion GDP or less in each of the three years between 2007 and 2009.
Here is the league table showing the rate of publication of reports relative to US$ Billion of GDP per year 2007-2009 (eg. South Africa published one report per US$ 3 billion GDP per year):
South Africa - 3
Finland - 4
The Netherlands-8

Only Australia is in the top 5 in both tables, showing a strong reporting ethos which correlates to the relative size of their economy. Well done Australian reporters!Saudi Arabia is the 23rd largest economy and has published no reports at all and Iran is the 31st largest economy and published only 1 report. Israel is the 42nd largest economy in the world based on the Economist figures, and number 35 in this league table of reports by $US billion GDP (one report for US$53 billion GDP. )
So why is all this important? (It’s not so important, really, but once I started thinking about it, I just had to check it out). Perhaps it shows that reporting leadership, as most other things, is relative and can be benchmarked. The world’s leading economies – US, Japan, Germany, China and Britain - produce large numbers of reports in absolute terms but not in relative terms to size of economy. Perhaps it shows that most of the world leading economies are on the reporting train, and that there is some awareness of responsible business practice in these countries, which should continue to develop. Perhaps it shows that the 74 countries who do not report at all are fertile ground for CSR consultants, assurers, report designers and printers. So if you are a CSR professional in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Macedonia, Malawi, Togo, Uzbekistan or Yemen…. seems like there is an opportunity for you out there!

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Wild West of CSR report assurance

Sustainability reporting assurance. It's called assurance because its purpose is to assure you that the report is (1) accurate and (2) relevant. Accurate meaning you told no lies and made no mistakes in your data (that extra zero on the end of your annual cash donations number, or that missing digit in your carbon footprint calculation). Relevant meaning you reported on the most important things (materiality) and you didn’t leave out things that might influence the way stakeholders make decisions (our product was contaminated due to poor machine cleaning processes and 183 people were food-poisoned) .
For any of you who have ever written a CR report, you will know that deciding what to include and what to leave out is probably the toughest part of the process. The assurer of a report looks for what's in there, and what's not, and how accurate what's in there is. (An excellent assurer would look for how accurate what's not in there is, but he would probably charge more for this). The theory goes that if your report is assured, it has a better chance of being credible, and enhancing the trust of your stakeholders in your reporting and in your company. statistics show that around 25% of all reports are externally assured. And if you really want to know the nitty gritties, you can view the report by issued in July 2008 called Assure View .You can read all about AccountAbility standards which set the framework for assurance at their website , and you can see what the GRI says about the criteria for good assurance.
Now that the formalities are over with, I guess the key point I would like to make in this post is that not many of the assurance statements I read actually assure me. Aside from all the fancy theory, what do I look for?

  • the DETAILED EVIDENCE that sufficient practical work has been done to delve into the guts of the reporting process and content in order to assess accuracy and relevance.
  • the NAME of the assurer or assuring team (not just a Company) who sign off on the statement
  • the CREDIBILITY of the assuring team – their prior experience or qualifications in assuring CSR reports
  • disclosure regarding the INDEPENDENCE of the assurer and the nature of the assurers relationship with the reporting company
  • the GOOD NEWS and the BAD NEWS (recommendations for improvement) relating to the reporting process and content
  • a CLEAR STATEMENT that the report has what I call integrity (a fair and balanced representation, in csr-speak).
I recently reviewed the State Street Bank report for and highlighted the assurance statement as outstanding. It addresses all my points above comprehensively, succinctly and left me feeling that a thorough job had been done.
I took a look at some 2009 reports to see how their assurance statements shape up. ( I do not name assurance providers – you can check out the reports if you want to see who they are – my intention is to focus on the work and not the workers) :

Barrick Gold Corporation, 2008 report : reporting level A+
An interesting statement, assuring two things: this mining company's adherence to the Sustainability Principles of International Council on Mining & Metals (ICMM) and adherence to the GRI framework. There is a very detailed list of activities the assurers performed and a longer list of points for improvement. The conclusion says that Barrick has aligned its sustainability policies to ICMM’s 10 Sustainable Development Principles and in all material respects, reported in accordance with the GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines (2006) - level A requirements and the associated GRI Mining and Metals Sector Supplement Pilot Version 1.0 (2005) as presented in the GRI Content Index. That's clear enough for me. Credibility added value: dix points.
Wartsila Annual Report 2008. reporting level A+
Wartsila is a power company operating power plants and providing power solutions.The assurance statement in this report is a turn-off. One page short, it barely describes the assurance process activities, though the two (yes, just two) interviews conducted with senior managers and 2 site visits are mentioned (Wartsila operates in 160 locations). This is one of those assurance statements that ends up with "Based on our work described above, nothing has come to our attention that causes us to believe that the Sustainability Information,based on the abovementioned criteria, is not fairly stated in all material respects." That really oozes decisiveness and builds credibility, right? I wouldn’t pay someone to make a statement like that. Credibility added value: zero points.
Trelleborg AB, Sweden, 2008 CSR report: reporting level B+
Trelleborg is an engineering group which develops products based on polymer tecnology. The Assurance statement in this report  is based on a limited review of about 6 performance indicators. Activities for this limited review are included. Two site visits were made, and the rest was discussions and reviews. The conclusion is the multiple negative one – "nothing has come to our attention that …".
Credibility added value: zero points

Athens International Airport, 2008 report :reporting level B+
Published in the form of an eBook (what a painful way to read a report)  (I downloaded it – 31 MB). This is a short but nice statement. It lists a fairly long number of assurance activities. It contains both a positive statement and a multi-negative statement. Positive: "the range of topics reported provide a fair and balanced representation…." and negative , relating to KPI's "nothing has come to our attention that causes us to believe. …".
Credibility added value: sept points

OHL Group.2008 report : reporting level A+
This is a Spanish holding group with a range of interests mainly around construction and real estate. The assurance statement is a scanned copy of a one-page letter, designed to be almost illegible. The activities are listed, but they are super-general – review of .. checking that … analysis of …testing on a sample basis … It's hard to get a real feel for what was actually done. I was encouraged to know that the "review procedures did not disclose any matter that would lead us to believe that the information furnished on the degree of progress on the Corporate Responsibility targets for 2008 is materially misstated". To put it another way, we didn’t find any major blunders in reporting against targets.
Credibility added value: deux points

Telefonica 2008 report:  reporting level A+
This report has a great assurance statement – the detail included in the activity list includes ONE HUNDRED interviews with Telefonica people and states the purpose of these interviews - and much more. This gives me confidence that the assurance assignment was undertaken with seriousness and professionalism. It ends up with that double-negative again – "no significant matters that would lead us to believe that it wasn’t "etc. … but there is a crispness and comprehensiveness about this statement that gives you confidence.
Credibility added value: neuf points.

So, you know what?

I think assurance needs to get its act together. If the assurers aren’t prepared to put their neck out and say "we believe this report is credible" then why pay them? If they aren't prepared to do the leg work and list it in detail, why bother? If their credibility added value is below dix points, when why let them loose in your organization?
There is no accepted template for an assurance statement. There are general guidelines but no checklist that all assurers adhere to. And no qualitative assessment of assurance statements. And the GRI barely pays attention to this, checking only the existence of an assurance statement, and not its quality, in order to assign the coveted + to any reporting level. I think the time has come to establish a framework  for the verification of CSR reports that includes prescriptive format and content, much like the GRI framework. The GRI should consider adding performance criteria relating to the quality of the assurance statement. And allocation of the coveted + should be a little more rigorous.

If assurance is to move up from its current 25%, it has to add more value.
The Wild West of assurance needs to stop.  

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:

Friday, October 2, 2009

When is a CSR report not a CSR report?

Barrick Gold Company is a large gold mining Company operating 26 mines over loads of continents. They report extensively on their Corporate Responsibility. What caught my attention about their reporting, though, is that, in addition to their annual GRI A+ corporate reporting since 2002, they also produce SITE reports. I don't know of many companies who produce CR reports by SITE. There are PDF download reports for each of 25 sites.

Their sites have some great names - Bulyanhulu, Tulawaka, Turquoise Ridge, Gold Mountain and more. (They sound more like Club Med locations than gold mines.) I downloaded Granny Smith site report (reminded me of eating green apples as a kid). It's a 5 pager about Granny's mine located 950 km north of Perth, Australia, staffed by Perth-dwellers who fly to and from the mine to get to their work. This brief report covers environmental responsibility, health and safety, and community involvement. Whilst the title - Reponsibility Report - sounds promising, it is really a profile of the mine with some policy and management approach statements about csr issues. Hard to describe this as a report. So i tried my luck with Plutonic , also an Australian mine, and what a surprise, same 5 pager with a couple of changes for local references. Well, i thought,  let switch continents - so i looked at North Mara mine in South Africa, in the Tanzania region and, well, you tell me .. how many pages ? Five. What headlines ? Ask Granny Smith. Any numbers? No. Looks to me that they have a full-time copy-paster at Barrick. I gave up on the remaining sites.

Whilst i applaud Barrick for their intention of injecting high local relevance into their CR reporting,  and they obviously did make some eforts to reflect local issues such as local community programs around each site, and biodiversity issues etc, i do believe we have to be careful when calling something a report when it is not a report. A little more effort and they could elevate this local reporting to include the carbon footprint of each mine, employee demographics in each mine, and community contribution and involvement in some more detail. Would this add value? Is it worth the effort? Hard to say, but the mining is a high risk business in terns of sustainability, and support of local communities and regulators is important. Perhaps this extra effort could pay off over the long term.

I thought (did you hear that clunking sound?)  about the implications of site level reporting on a wider scale. Actually, this is the essence of sustainability. Relevance and engagement with local stakeholders. I have blogged in the past about global versus local (country) reporting (localization) , finding global reports to be such high level that locals who are most impacted by global corporations are unable to connect. Also, as any global report must be built bottom up at some point- with data and stories from each operating location - i wonder if this is not a more efficient and effecitve approach to reporting?

Resources, resources, i hear you cry. Who has all the resources to develop a hundreds of local reports? If you leave out all the pyrotechnical design features and cut to the chase with a simple aesthetically written but not graphically mindblowing report, a local site report doesnt have to be such a major exaggeration in use of resources. It could probably even add value in terms of local accountability. And my bet is that site managers are producing oodles of operating reports anyway. As i write, i get this sense that my suggestion won't be all that popular.. but i kind of think that one day, this will be the future of reporting. In the meantime, I send a virtual tub of Chunky Monkey to Barrick site reporters.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:
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