Saturday, May 29, 2010

The GRI Barmitzvah

The sold-out  biennial GRI 2010 conference with 1,200 attendees from 77 countries was certainly a highlight of the 2010 #CSR calendar and the GRI did an impressive job of bringing such a large crowd of people committed to sustainable business and a sustainable world together for discussion, reflection, presentation, exhibition, interview, debate, LOTS of sandwiches, tweets, awards and networking. The conference was an important landmark in the coming of age of sustainability, a sort of barmitzvah party, attended by the parents and grandparents of the GRI movement, infused with a kind of euphoric sense of achievement coupled with a knowledge that what happens next will be even more significant, propelling the GRI teenager into adolescence with several duties, obligations and  a vision of how to make a difference in the world.  There were several very clear overriding themes dominating the conference which could not possibly have gone unnoticed by any of the participants.

Integrated Reporting
From the opening of this conference, with the announcement that "GRI proposes that ESG reporting and financial reporting need to converge over the coming decade. GRI advocates that a standard for integrated reporting should be defined, tested and adopted by 2020. GRI is working with leading global organizations in financial markets, accounting, corporate responsibility, ESG reporting, and civil society to establish the International Integrated Reporting Committee. The committee’s purpose is to promote integrated reporting, and to facilitate and coordinate collaboration between key institutions to develop an integrated reporting standard" right through to Mervyn King's closing remarks with the announcement  that the Johannesburg stock exchange will require integrated reporting as a condition of listing, it was hard to hear the word reporting at this conference without its new prefix- integrated.

Sustainability as Climate Change
From the words of Mathis Wackernagel, President of the Global Footprint Network in the opening plenary "Humanity is running down the planet" to the words of Kumi Naidoo at the closing plenary "We have no planet B", the meaning of sustainability at the GRI conference was overridingly environmental sustainability and the effects of climate change, at the expense, I feel, of many other social, product, marketplace and supply chain impacts, though breakout sessions were diverse.   

Technology and data
The new ways of gathering, analysing and disseminating sustainability metrics and data via Bloomberg terminals and other technologically supported metrics analysis from firms such as CRD analytics, which is used as the basis for the Nasdaq OMX Global Sustainability Index, XBRL reporting language and taxonomies (note new sustainability upcoming buzzword)  and software for gathering sustainability data in companies such as that delivered by SAP or Credit360, were all prominently featured throughout this conference. Technology is up front as the key to developing transparency and integration of data for use, primarily by analysts and financial data experts, but also as a business decision making tool. Excel, apparently, is passe. 

The voluntary nature of CSR and sustainability efforts is giving way to greater pressure for regulation and legal requirements for sustainability disclosures. Apparently, voluntary is not achieving the scale and pace of change towards transparency that our planet needs. Governments, regulators and stock exchanges around the world will be urged to play a much greater role in driving companies to disclose, though little was said about the processes that will be needed to enforce such new regulation.

Partnerships for standardisation
The GRI has established many high level partnerships to ensure the reporting voice in moving towards greater alignment of the global direction of sustainability transparency - the UNCG partnership to strengthen collaboration, work with several other UN agencies, the OECD, NASDAQ and other exchanges, big NGO's such as Greenpeace, the big accounting companies, think tanks and more, the Integrated Reporting Committee etc. Partnerships for greater global alignment is clearly the way forward.  

How did Brazil end up with 6 out of a possible 6 awards in the Readers Choice Report Awards , sponsored by last time Award winner Petrobras, also Brazilian, was the question on everyone's lips at the end of the Awards Gala. What is Brazil doing that no one else is ? Clearly, a point of significant interest for all the other 59 countries whose reports were represented  in the Awards this year.

The impact of social media as a whole and in particular the use of the #griconference hashtag, encouraged in every session, and the high quality of tweets  flowing throughout the 3 days, including reactions and questions from those not attending, signalled the arrival of the GRI, previously only a moderate voice on social media, into the upper league of real-time microblogging and an ackowledgement that social media is where the voices of today are meeting and influencing. Social media cannot be ignored as a place to engage stakeholders.  

It seems that this conference heralded move of the GRI  into a new era. Beyond the Bar Mitzvah . The establishment of sustainability reporting and GRI leadership in this field has lent a certain power to the GRI which one senses was bolted into place, not without some dramatics, at this conference. The GRI is moving out of its idealist, start-up, optimistic, improve-the world platform towards a bolder positioning, aligned with where the money is, this time, not to simply to create a better world, but assuming a responsibility to save us all from disaster. From the carrot to the stick, to paraphrase the title of a report launched at the conference on Trends in Voluntary and Mandatory Approaches to Sustainability Reporting, the GRI has lost the infectious, youthful, pioneering enthusiasm of the early days and has moved to where the stakes are more serious, money talks and the currency is planet or no planet.  This may not be noticeable to the casual observer, but the shift is there. Perhaps this is not a bad thing. Perhaps this is the only way to create the mindset transformation that was so often pronounced "urgent" by the conference speakers. Perhaps, after all, the triple bottom line really is only one bottom line, as Henk de Bruin of Philips said in a session on integrated reporting. But perhaps, in moving forward, the risk is that the GRI loses sight of the cause and inevitably adopts the behaviours of  those big businesses  it seeks to change. Perhaps the risk is that, by focusing on financial stakeholders, as the key to all stakeholders, the resulting reality will  relegate non-financial stakeholders to the level of recipients of the hand-me-downs of big finance, whose voice is heard at low-volume unless they happen to have the charisma of Kumi Naidoo 

Alongside the massive and unequivocal success of the GRI Reporting Framework and the warm applause at the end of the conference, the GRI will have to be careful to ensure its roots are solid as it cultivates new directional offshoots. Let's look at reality:

Over 4,000 "sustainability" reports of sorts are issued annually. GRI say that around 1,300 of these are GRI reports - 30% -  though many others are "inspired" by the GRI framework. So whilst the GRI framework is the biggest single reporting framework in use today, the reality is that it is still not applied by the vast majority of reporters.

Sustainability reporting, whilst growing year on year and adopted by a majoirity of leading global businesses, the 5,000 or so businesses that report today  remain a drop in the ocean compared to the 82,000 transnational corporations operating worldwide (quoted in "Carrots and Sticks" mentioned above) and the significantly larger number of non-transnational corporations.   The reality is that reporting, regrettably, is nowhere near mainstream, even thought we might like to think it is.

The quality of GRI reports varies substantially from the outstanding indicator-by-indicator disclosure-by-disclosure reporters to those reporters whose use of the GRI framework is no more than abuse. "We are not policement" says Ernst Ligteringen. "The GRI does not police the quality of the reports."  But perhaps it is time for the GRI to make a fundamental assessment of how, and not only how much, the GRI report framework is applied - how companies are reporting on indicators, how many indicators, how Companies report what they claim to report, the consistency of application of the framework in so many ways. A comprehensive study such as this might reveal a pareto picture - that 20% of the reporters are delivering 80% of the quality, and that 80% of reporters are at best inadequately applying and at worst actively misusing the reporting framework. The reality is that overall, the quality of sustainability reporting using the GRI framework is inconsistent and often inadequate.

The level of integrated reporting remains low at 5% of reports issued and here again we see massive variance in approach and quality, ranging from the simple combination of two types of largely unconnected reports within one cover to the more holistic approach attempted by Novo Nordisk and others. The proclamation of integrated reporting as the ultimate goal is the start of a new path, representing, in my view, the evolution of financial reporting and not of sustainability reporting. The reality is that integrated reporting has hardly taken off, despite the strong drive to buzz it up.

The quality of assurance processes, once again, unpoliced and unchecked, remains as I termed it some time ago, a Wild West. The new AccountAbility standards are a mystery in their pedantic complexity and assurance statements beg more questions than they answer. The assurance market is controlled by the accounting companies, and by and large lacks the depth and scope of a process which can truly assure stakeholders on report integrity. Who assures the assurers ? The reality is, that with only 20-25% of all reports currently being assured, and many badly, the assurance process has not taken firm root.  

The success of the GRI must be viewed alongside these challenges, and as the new era of the GRI takes shape,  the GRI must be alert and remain true to its broader constituency. As integrated reporting takes off, the GRI must take care to establish a solid platform around quality sustainability reporting that attracts more than just the financiers. The GRI must take care to ensure the rhetoric is founded in reality.  The GRI must not let the euphoria of the barmitzvah party mask the responsibility the organization has to the extended family, who represent more than cash and climate change. As  transparency takes hold, the GRI must ensure that this is more than just carbon emission data on Bloomberg terminals, and as the GRI expands its influence, it must assume responsibility to align itself not only with those who count in Euros and Dollars, but also with those who count in principles and values.

Well done to the GRI for coming thus far, and for delivering an unmistakeably positive impact on sustainable business processes through reporting. Good luck to the GRI as it faces the challenges ahead. We should continue to be participative and supportive. And watchful.

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at

Monday, May 24, 2010

GRI Readers Choice Awards 2010

The winners of the GRI Readers Choice Awards 2010 will be announced this week, on Thursday evening. Awards are always exciting, frustrating, controversial, energizing, irritating and fascinating all at the same time. Six awards will be handed out for first place (not sure if there will be awards for runners up). The awards are:

  • The Engage Award will be given for the organization whose report receives the highest number of selections by management and staff.

  • The Civil Society Award will be given for the organization whose report receives the highest number of selections from  labor unions, public institutions , academics, concerned citizens, media etc.

  • The Value Chain Award will be given for the organization whose report receives the highest number of selections from suppliers, joint venture partners, distributors/advertisers, customers, consultants and auditors.

  • The Investor Award will be given for the organization whose report receives the highest number of selections from the asset owners, asset managers, research and ratings agencies, banking and financial media

  • The Readers' Choice Award - Best Overall  will be awarded to the report which received the highest overall number of points.

  • The Most Effective Report Award will be given for the report whose objectives match their readers' expectations. The reporting organizations were invited to fill out The GRI Reporters' Survey and to identify their main objectives in sustainability reporting. The award is given for the best match of these objectives with the reasons voters voted.
This is certainly a novel approach to a reporting awards process. I wonder how this approach takes into account, if at all, the relativity of aspects of the reporting companies such as size, number of times reported, type of business. A large global reporter such as Procter and Gamble versus a Brazilian energy company Coelba whose report, as far as I can tell, was published only in Spanish? How does a first time non-profit reporter such as Uniethos stack up against an IBM or a Starbucks?  How about those companies with great reach and a massive employee base such as Walmart who probably employs more people than all the other shortlisted companies added together versus the smaller players such as the Lottomattica Group which has less than 8,000 employees, a mere couple of "big boxes" ? And what about the heavy loading of Spanish-speaking companies in the shortlist? This process has not been without criticsm, as Antonio Vives notes in his interesting blog post which I struggled to read in Spanish - he shows that 40 of the top 103 shortlisted Companies are Brazilian!    There are also  11 Greek Companies in the list.  And BP of course is also on the shortlist. Oops. Would be very interesting if the BIG OIL SPILL wins an award.

It will be interesting to see how many actually voted in these awards, as the two voting rounds were, I have to say, a tad cumbersome, as was the voting process itself, twice. I wonder how many of the stakeholders who voted actually voted for reports other than those with whom they have a direct relationship with. I wonder what insights we will gain from the results. And of course, I wonder who will win. 

The shortlist, which is not so short, includes a very wide range of reporters from many countries, and companies at many different stages of their sustainability maturity and reporting experience. Take a look at the list (which I copy pasted from the GRI Conference programme brochure, is that allowed ?) 

3M • ABB Group • ABN AMRO BANCO REAL (Grupo Santander Brasil) • Adidas Group • AES Eletropaolo • Aetna • Alpha Bank • AmBev • American Express • Apple • Aracruz Celulose • ArcelorMittal Brasil • Arcor SAIC • AT&T • Athens International Airport • Banco Bradesco • Banco do Brasil • Banco Espírito Santo • Banco Galicia • BP • Bunge • Celulose Irani • Cemig - Companhia Energetica de Minas Gerais • Centro de Integracion Librey Solidario de Argentina (CILSA) • Coca-cola Company • Coca-Cola Enterprises • Coca-Cola Hellenic • Coelba • Companhia Paranaense de Energia - Copel • COSMOTE • CPFL Energia • CSN -Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional • Dell • DKV Seguros • EcoRodovias • EDP (Energias de Portugal) • EDP (Energias do Brasil) • Eletrobrás • Eletronorte • Exxon Mobil • Fiat Group • Ford • Frigoglass • Fundacao Bradesco • Fundación Emprendimientos Rurales Los Grobo • FURNAS Centrais Elétricas • Gas Natural BAN • Gas Natural Brasil • General Electric (GE) • Gerdau • Grupo Los Grobo Agropecuaria • Grupo MAPFRE Brasil • Hering • IBM • Indian Oil Corporation • Infosys Technologies • Instituto Ecoar para Cidadania • Intel Corp • INTERAMERICAN • Itaipu Binacional • Itaú Unibanco Banco Múltiplo • Itautec • ITC • Johnson & Johnson • Klabin • Larsen & Toubro (L&T) • Lottomatica Group • Manpower Argentina • McDonalds • Microsoft • National Bank of Greece • Natura Cosmeticos • Nestle • OTE • PEMEX • Pfizer Mexico • Piraeus Bank • Polymer Group, Inc. (PGI) • Procter & Gamble • Reliance Industries • Roche Brasil • Sadia • Starbucks • SulAmerica • Tata Motors • Tata Steel • Telefonica Argentina • Terna • TITAN • Tractebel Energia • U.S. Postal Service • UniEthos • Unilever • Unilever Brazil • Unimed-Rio • UnitedHealth Group • Usiminas • Vale • Vodafone Greece • Vodafone Group • Volkswagen Group • Votorantim Celulose e Papel • Walmart Brazil • Wal-Mart Stores • Wipro Limited

Well. Recognize any big names? If these reporting awards follow the reporting award trends we see in other award programs, more likely than not, the big names that we are used to seeing win awards will win again. So I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest ones I think will win in each category. These are NOT NECESSARILY the ones I think SHOULD win, or the ones I think are best. Just my predictions based on factors which have largely nothing to do with the reports themselves.

If I get 4 out of six winners, Chunky Monkey on me in Amsterdam after the awards announcement :-) If I get less than 4, I will treat MYSELF to an extra large scoop hahaha.

  • Engage: Telefonica Argentina  OR Banco Bradesco OR Coca Cola Enterprises
  • Civil society: Banco Spirto Santo OR Manpower Argentina OR UniEthos
  • Value Chain: Vodafone Group OR Ford OR Frigoglass
  • Investors: Procter and Gamble OR Volkswagen Group OR  ABN AMRO Banco Real
  • Best Overall: Natura cosmeticos OR Vodafone Greece OR Electrobras
  • Most Effective:  Tata Steel OR Gas Natural Brasil OR Nestle

Haha. Any thoughts ? What reports would you pick ?

 elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

CSR Reporting trends - 5 resources

Here are some (fairly) recent publications relating to trends in sustainability reporting for all you reporting geeks out there.

John Elkington on Sustainability Reporting on
John Elkington, in this brief video, says the biggest trend currently in sustainability reporting is moving from a period of Push in reporting to a  period of Pull in reporting where increasingly it is the users who draw on companies to understand performance expectations and targets. The Pull Era is goiung to be a real challenge for companies and also a huge  opportunity. In the past, John says, companies used to print a report once a year. Then, they used websites to make things more interactive. Now we are seeing the emergence of a 24/7 environment where companies can be challenged from all sorts of angles including from very major customers who have sustainable strategies and  asking to know what their suppliers are doing . Watch out for the new report called The Transparent Economy about to be launched at the GRI Conference in Amsterdam this week.

This interesting report is based on a survey of 43 companies in Belgium who reported in June 2009 and is interesting because it covers  many companies who we do not often hear about in the mainstream talk on CSR reporting. Key findings include While the majority of organisations publish a section on stakeholders and define their approach to stakeholder engagement, there are still too few that enter into a meaningful dialogue with stakeholders to define the materiality of their report and ask for specific feedback. Similarly, there is no systematic and comprehensive approach to key performance indicators (KPIs) and organisational aspects (how is CSR internally implemented? Who has the final responsibility for CSR?) are often forgotten. Finally, there are still too few organisations that make good use of new media, in particular their website. Most organisations simply upload their report as a PDF and miss the opportunity to provide more attractive and timely information. 

EcoStrategy's “Trends in Sustainability Reporting: A Close-Up Look at Bay Area Companies,” April 2010. This study analyzes how top companies in the San Francisco Bay area report on their sustainability efforts, and rates their performance based on 14 specific attributes including: materiality, stakeholder relevance, target setting / tracking, and completeness. Whilst it did not focus on the issue of sustainability reports alone, the presence of a sustainability report was obviously a key factor in how companies scored. However, of the top 200 Companies in the Bay area, 75% do not produce a sustainability report, though 59% of the large companies, with over $1 billion in revenues, do report. Other important disclosures include the Carbon Disclosure Project which is now a leading source for information regarding environmental performance.  You can read Kathleen Gilligan and KJ Janowski's summary of how to produce a top-notch report on . One of the interesting points made in the report is the first reason cited for Why companies report: Respond to Increasing Volume of Queries – Many companies have seen an increase in requests for environmental performance information from customers and from socially responsible investors. HP, for example, has seen a steady increase in the percentage of customer Requests for Proposal (RFPs) that ask for sustainability information. For them, reporting is now seen as a market access requirement. This certainly matches my experience with small and large companies alike.

I note that some of the best large-company reporters, not surprisingly, achieved the highest ranking - HP, Cisco and Intel.  These three have all issued reports for 2009. Autodesk and National Semiconductor scored best in the smaller Companies with revenues of below $2 billion. Autodesk produced a first report in 2007 whilst National Semi don't report. Yet. Haha.

I have read this excellent report in detail and recommend you also take a look. For a copy of the full report, the authors, Karen Janowski and Kathleen Gilligan, will be happy to send you a copy if you email them via their website.

This interesting presentation focuses on the growing interest of stakeholders in demanding sustainability disclosures, and not surprisingly maintains that companies are increasingly assessed against GRI disclusires, citing NASDAQ and Bloomberg as key players in this space. The presentation also refers to Integrated Reporting, which i am not (yet) a big fan of, and accounts for only 5% of reports issued, but nonetheless is a point in any  conversation about reporting trends. See my editorial on for more on this.

I covered this in a recent post but it is worth including here as well as it is probably the most authoratitive picture of what is happenning in Sustainability reporting around. I wont repeat all the details, though the fact that close to 20% of all reports issued are first-time reports show that reporting is still contiuing to advance.

And the winning trend is ................hah! You will have to wait for the Reporting Blog's summary of reporting trends to be issued after a significant inspirational helping of Chunky Monkey.

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Yes, CSR reporting is personal

This is a rather personal post. You see, I have two children, one of whom is a son who is adopted. He is one of the most wonderful kids you could ever hope to have. He was born in Moldova and we adopted him at the age of 11 months. He is now 8. Whenever I read CSR reports, and come across Companies who provide assistance for employees who adopt children, it always makes me stop and pause to think about the meaning of this contribution to people, society and life in general.  I see what giving a chance to a child means and I gain great joy, every day, from watching and being a part of that. So this post is a tribute to Companies who help people give a new life to children and create families, in this way. Here are just a few mentions I picked up in CSR reports:  

Verizon 2009: reimburses employes for expenses of up to  $10,000 for each child adopted.
Bristol Myers Squibb 2009: Employees receive one week of paid time off to adopt a child or assume foster care responsibility. The company also helps defray adoption costs.
GoLite 2009: Up to 6 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave during any 12-month period to eligible, covered employees for reasons including foster care of a child with the employee.
HP 2009: offer adoption and resources assistance.
Heinz 2009: Parents of newly adopted children receive up to three weeks of paid leave.
Intel 2009: offer “bonding leave,” an approved, unpaid leave for either parent to care for a newborn or adopted child, or a child placed with them through foster care.
Johnson and Johnson 2007: adoption assistance including paid leave and financial assistance.

In thinking about this post, I also noticed the adoption friendly workplace list which highlights those employers who support employees involved in adopting children. This is the work of a foundation started by the late Dave Thomas, himself adopted, and the founder of the Wendy's restaurant chain, now the Wendy's Arby's Group. This group, whilst I  couldnt find a CSR report, describes on their website their signature community programm : Wendy’s Wonderful Kids®an initiative that currently funds 120 experienced, full-time adoption recruiters at agencies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and two Canadian provinces. Since its inception in 2004, this ground-breaking effort has helped match more than 1,000 foster care children with families, and is on track to meet its goal of helping more than 10,000 children..... On any given day in North America, nearly 550,000 children are in the foster care system, and more than 150,000 of them are available for adoption, just waiting for the right family to find them.

This is just another reason I like CSR reports. Everyone has a personal connection to something that a Company does, even if it's a Company they have never had direct dealings with. Next time I pass a Wendy's, I will be sure to think positively about their founding father, and their support for children who need families (and families who need children). I might not ignore other aspects of their sustainability performance, being the critic that I am, but I will certainly be more predisposed to consider their business positively.

Everyone has a personal connection with something. CSR Reporting cannot take into account everyone's personal connection points, but a good report will more likely than not evoke such a personal connection with many. This is why reporters should seek to engage with stakeholders, to understand exactly where their report is creating some form of personal connection as this, I believe, is the essence of a route to engagement. 

Thanks for indulging me this personal reflection. Next post, back to report-bashing. haha. 

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Feedback makes CSR sustainable

This is the first of three posts about feedback to companies on their CSR performance and CSR reporting. Anyone who tracks my conversations around cyberspace will know that I talk a lot ( a LOT) about this. In fact, I think the GRI should include an indicator which specifically requests the number of individual pieces of feedback that companies get on their reports (currently clause 4.17 of the GRI framework refers only to the "key topics and concerns that have been raised through stakeholder engagement". For some companies, this might mean 3 stakeholders. For some companies, 3 is generous) . 

Feedback is  what makes CSR sustainable. The CSR Feedback Series will cover: (1) (this one) Report Reviews  (2) The way companies report about feedback (3) CSR Reporting and Employee Feedback. Stay tuned. Here's part 1:

I was delighted to notice in the Verizon CSR Report for 2009 the inclusion of a mention of my feedback in the form of an Expert Review of their 08 report published on Verizon noted the three external independent assessors who had reviewed their report: BSR, AccountAbility and Beyond Business, my consulting company. See a photo shot of the section in their report below:

This was particularly gratifying, not only to appear in such revered company as BSR and AA, but also because Verizon clearly reviewed my feedback and took it seriously. This, after all, is the way we influence companies to do better.

During the past 16 months or so, I have completed over 40 Report Reviews both for and for Ethical Corporation (which I started with the May 2010 magazine issue with my review of the Bacardi report). 

The most recent reviews were H&M 2009 report, which I called "Good substance, bad style"  (I reviewed their report also in 2008) and IMC2  2009 report, which I called "Charm with outcomes" , reflecting a certain increasing maturity of their reporting. ( I reviewed both prior reports).

Report reviews are my way of providing considered feedback to companies about their reporting. A good throrough read of a report, even a shorter one, and a careful assessment takes some hours to compile. All in all, I calculate that my investment in formal reviews accounts for about 2  working weeks per year. In addition,  I write this blog, of course, which offers a lot of feedback on many reports, without the detail of a full review. I also write directly to many companies, some of whom respond, and I fill in feedback forms where provided by companies. There is nothing that makes me happier than companies who ackowledge and use this feedback. (All this is voluntary, unpaid investment in providing feedback. I am not including  here the paid service I provide to companies for pre and post publication  reviews of their reporting). 

Many Companies take the initiative write to me or engage me in informal discussion about my report reviews. Mostly, they are grateful to receive feedback. Sometimes I may have been a little more critical than they deserve, though, more often than not, modestly, they tell me that I have identified the gaps or difficulties they themselves were aware of. This is nice, because it shows that reporting issues do show up in reports, no matter how companies try to gloss over certain issues (for, perhaps, understandable reasons). More importantly, companies who engage in feedback about their report show that they are proactive about engaging stakeholder views and are open to hear things that may help them improve their presentation of their sustainability performance, transparency and accessibility of their reporting. This, for me, is the ultimate objective, as I repeat: Feedback is what makes CSR sustainable. (I kinda like that sentence.)

That's it for Part 1. Part 2 just as soon as I can get to it. In the meantime, I will be reviewing the current Verizon report mentioned above. Though the fact that they mentioned my last review in their report will not buy them any traction, I will be just as mean and nasty as I usually am hahahahahahahhahahahaha

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at or tweet me at

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Is your CSR Report an Optical Illusion?

One thing I learnt very early on in life is that "Things are not always what they seem" . This brief phrase is the basis for suspending judgment about people and situations. It's the basis for an open mind, acceptance of others, and the ability to take a (more) balanced view about many situations. Optical illusions , as in the LEGO photo (above), taken from a post  called "crazy optical illisions that will blow your mind" reinforce the fact that what we see is not always the truth. Optical illusions, quoting the above post, are "visually percieved images that differ from objective reality" .

So it is, from time to time, with CSR Reports. Sometimes, what you see is a poor reflection of a great Company who just hasn't learnt to communicate effectively all the fabulous and important sustainability stuff they are doing. Sometimes, what you see is a report which would have you believe that a company is doing great sustainability stuff when in fact, they are not.

I often use the phrase "Things are not always what they seem" when I am reading CSR Reports. I try to look behind the words written on the page or the website and get into the heads of the people that wrote the report. What were they trying to achieve with this report? Who were they trying to speak to? What constraints did they have to contend with in the writing process? Why did they choose to include this piece of content in this way? What is it important for them to project? What did they not report on? What did they really mean ? Are they trying to create an optical illusion with their report or are they close to objective reality?

Of course, it is not easy to answer these questions and the bottom line is that we all have to make our own judgement about the degree of "objective reality" presented in any report. I am reminded of an excellent review of the British American Tobacco Report of 2008 , written by my highly skilled sustainability-consulting colleage Michelle Bernhart . Whilst Michelle is quite positive about the overall quality of the report, she ends up her review with the question: "While BAT asks the obvious question about whether tobacco can even be sustainable, it fails to ask the other one lingering in our minds: can we actually trust anything this industry says?"

To round off, my plea, as ever, if for us to retain a sense of perspective when we read CSR reports. Let us not believe they are absolute objective reality, that's almost an impossibility. They will always be a reflection of many different influences in any organization. Even though the data might be accurate, the selection of data to present might be based, in part, on the desire to create an optical illusion. Reports are an important (I believe, vital) window to the sustainability performance of a Company, but they are only one piece of that Company's reality. In reading reports, we need to be appreciative of what Companies are trying to tell us, but also critical of they way they present and what they present. We have to suspend our own judgement and read, as far as we can, between, behind, above and under the lines, with a glance to the left, right and reverse views. Clumsy presentation may hide outstanding performance. Slick reporting may mask inadequate performance. In both cases, we should try to give credit where it's due, and seek improvement by feeding back our perspectives to the reporting company. 

Anyway, one thing I am pleased about is that this morning's Chunky Monkey breakfast was certainly not an optical illusion (as can be corroborated by my waistline measurement).

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CSR Reporting Harmony

Earlier today, I read with interest the post from Nancy Mancilla and Alexandru Georgescu, two GRI certified training partners in the USA on Triple Pundit , entitled How Balanced are CSR Reports ?  As I read through the post, and the analysis of leading reports and how they "balance" the three categories of Economy, Social and Human Rights and Environment in their reporting, I noted that "Cisco and Qualcomm scored the best overall, while GAP and Symantec achieved poorer results than others" .  I fully agree with the authors that sustainability reporting should contain all elements of triple bottom line performance at least at a minimum common denominator level, as well as other aspects such as stakeholder engagement. This is important, as the authors, state, to ensure the report is a full representation of sustainability performance and not just a PR exercise. I wondered, though, if ranking the reports on the basis of balance of these factors, as though acheiving "balance" were a worthy objective is not a bit, well, unbalanced. It reminded me of a section I wrote for my forthcoming book on CSR and Human Resources (read about this on  where I wrote, in relation to the elusive aspiration to achieve work-life balance: 

"...what we are aiming for is harmony. Harmony between the different roles each of us chooses to perform in our lives, blending in with our work role in a way which energizes us to do and be all that we want. Given the predominant amount of time we spend at work, a stressful situation at work can have a singularly negative effect on everything else that we do in our lives.....We all need to consider each different facet of our lives and how things hang together. "  Harmony does not necessarily mean balance.

What is harmony in CSR Reporting ? It is not necessarily ticking off all the GRI Reporting framework indicators and achieving absolute symmetry in the content split in the report, though the reporting framework is a good guide to inclusiveness. It's more about assessing where the most material issues are for the business and stakeholders, and reflecting this, assigning the appropriate amount of detail and space to each topic according to its material relevance, complexity and degree of relvant company performance.The material issues addressed by Gap Inc and Cisco are entirely different, and the degree of attention of their sustainability programs in the business will differ by virtue of this. Equally, with a Company such as Gap Inc, supply chain issues may be far greater a priority than environmental issues at a given point in time, whilst with Cisco, technology topics may dominate their report. Clearly, as mentioned, a certain coverage of all bases is required to qualify as a sustainability report, but a balance of these could be a dangerous objective, encouraging the company to force-fit their report in areas which, perhaps justifiably, are not on their top-level radar. A harmonious report would reflect a good sustainabilty infrastructure accross the board, and strong performance in some areas. Sort of like the approach developed by Marcus Buckingham in Now Discover your Strengths which transformed the way we think about performance development. We cannot all be best at everything. Companies cannot be best at everything. Reports should reflect that. 

I am best at reporting and eating Chunky Monkey. Very balanced.   

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at  or contact elaine on

Monday, May 17, 2010

Who will be the FIRST to talk about YOUR CSR report?

Disclosure: This is a bit of a sales pitch for a new service related to reporting. I wanted to make you aware of a new offering by and 3BL Media, and myself. It's called the VideoReportAlert and as its sounds, building on the highly popular and effective ReportAlert sevice offered by, it uses the innovative and attractive format of video to announce your sustainability reports to stakeholders in a format they can easily absorb via one of the most extensive distribution networks available.

You see, one of the things about sustainability reports is that you have to work very hard to get people to take an interest in them. No matter how fascinating, fair, balanced, well written or well designed your report is, it's not the Taj Mahal , the Leaning Tower of Piza or Stonehenge. People will not flock in their droves to get a glimpse of it just because it exists. They will not suddenly decide to descend on your website, click on the tab that says Sustainability Report , if there is one, and spend hours reading it online. They will not analyse your sustainability KPI's before doing their weekly shopping, and they will not take your report to the beach to read as they bask in the sunshine. Your report is a non-issue for them. With the exception of a few professionals who are in the know, for most people, sustainability reporting just hasn’t hit the radar. Despite the fact that over 6,000 companies report on sustainability around the world, the reach of sustainability reports is still not exploited to its full potential. Say the words CSR report to anyone who's not associated with reporting professionally and you draw a blank. Before you can get people to engage around you report, you have to get them to know that it exists.

So, what do you do? You have written your report, you are really proud and quite exhausted. All that is needed is for people to NOTICE it.  Oooooops. Not happening. What next?

The question of "what next" is actually  something you should plan long before your report is published. What to do with a report after it is published is the most important question you can ask, early on in the process, before you even start to write. Missed that ? OK. Fine. Now you have published, you issue a press release. A proportion of your target audience will notice. You send a few hundred (thousand?) copies to stakeholders. Fine. More people take note. You advise all your Facebook and Twitter fans and shoot a message over to Linked in. Brilliant. You're getting there. Nevertheless, at the end of 2009, youTube was getting ONE BILLION HITS per day. Clearly, this is where people are (also) (mainly?) going in order to hear about new stuff, get informed and entertained. And there are many other video hosting sites around too. Why not take advantage of this and bring your report to where one billion stakeholders are hanging out every day? Present your report using this massive network of video channels. This will enhance exposure to your report tremendously and will not only inform but be more effective in encouraging more people than ever before to take a look. BUT. It takes time and effort to produce a video. You are dead beat just producing the report. You didnt plan for additional  expense of  producing more communications  materials. Here is where we come in. Let us do it for you. With this new service called VideoReportAlert,  we prepare for you a short video highlighting the key points and personal insights from your sustainability report in a lively way, and actively promote the video throughout our extensive networks. We can put this together within 7 days at a very reasonable price that won't be too much of an obstacle even for smaller companies. If you want to know more, ask me, or write to . Perhaps your VideoReportAlert could even go viral! But even if it doesn’t, you can be sure that it will enhance exposure for your report and the interest of a much wider range of stakeholders. Let us be the ones to start off the conversation about YOUR report.

In the meantime, see Paul Scott, CEO of talking about VideoReportAlert (VRA)

Also, you can take a look at the VRA we prepared using the HP Citizenship Report for 2009.

Finally, you can read more details of this service on the VideoReportAlert section of the Services page here.

See you on camera!

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. contact elaine at   or Visit our website at

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Does your CSR report suffer from Genericitis?

Genericitis: ge-ne-ri-cit-is  | n. | a common disease found in a large proportion of CSR and Sustainability  Reports which cause them to be boring and unreadable. Usually causes readers to skip over several chunks of content.

About 80% of all Sustainability Reports issued suffer from genericitis. For some, this is a chronic disease which recurs every time a report is published, for others it reduces in acuteness as the reporting companies gain experience and focus. Genericitis usually affects the parts of the report where the reporting companies have limited performance or data to disclose, due to the common perception in reporting that even if you have nothing to say, you have to fill the pages with something that might look impressive. The disease is in part caused by  zealous adherence to the GRI reporting framework, through trying to respond to all the management disclosure sections, but may also be reflective of the typical communication style within a particular company. Genericitis is sometimes called a crippling disease because it completely destroys the ability of the Company to leverage the report to stakeholders and engage them in meaningful discussion. Genericitis usually occurs in reports following the GRI framework at application level C , first reports, and very very very very long reports.

The main symptoms of Genericitis include long, meaningless, boring sentences which could be deleted without losing any of the relevant messages. In some cases, this extends to paragraphs, and in extreme cases, full pages. Usually these sentences are declarative, use positive phraseology and are designed to make the reader think that the Company is  serious about the subject referred to.

Diagnosing Genericitis is very easy. All that needs to be done is ask 10 people to read the report. If they dont make it to page 7, you know that genericitis has affected the report.  

There are several remedies for genericitis. The first and the easiest is to equip yourself with a good keyboard which has a delete button. Identify all the affected texts and use this delete button as often as neeeded. Read the report once through after this process, and if you still understand everything that is said, you have cured the report. However, the genericitis may recur in future reports unless you go to the root cause of the disease. The root cause can be  found in one of two sources: the first is inadequate company sustainability performance. If the company has not performed, the likelihood of genericitis occuring is high. Get your company to review their sustainability strategy and performance and make some changes. The second root cause is the people who write the report. Make sure they are competent writers and skilled communicators who understand the professional context and know how to create focused, succinct descriptions of your Company performance. Just because they work on sustainability doesn't mean they know how to communicate it best to a wide range of stakeholders. Use of copywriters is usually best avoided as they tend to have a different agenda, but prudent consultation with communications professionals could be an advantage. The best approach would be to use a professional sustainability reporter to write your report with the support of an inhouse team. (haha. plug!)

There are no drugs currently available for genericitis. The remedies mentioned above should assist in addressing the symptoms and in some cases, avoiding  relapses of this debilitating disease. However, reporters are advised to maintain a supply of anti-inflammatories (for swelling of the eyeballs during the proofreading phase), relaxants (for reducing the stress associated with reporting and internal politics) and antibiotics (to avoid being infected by carriers of genericitis).

Examples of genericitis (taken from 2010 published reports)

We recognize that a diverse work force gives us the best opportunity to succeed. The greater the variety of ages, cultures,backgrounds and skills brought to a project or task, the greater the likelihood the best possible decisions will be made. American Electric Power, 2010

The safety, health, and well-being of our people are of paramount importance to us and our stakeholders and are critical to our ability to conduct our business. We provide industry-leading safety programs to minimize hazards in the workplace and continually monitor our safety progress to ensure that our programs are working as effectively as possible. Cemex 2009

We continually canvass opinions from a number of key stakeholders, asking them for their view on the issues we should be addressing, our strategy, performance and stakeholder engagement work. The feedback we get helps us to refine our approach, and ensure that we are continually strengthening our stakeholder relations. ArcelorMittal 2009

Climate change remains a feature of the global political agenda and a major concern to many of our stakeholders. We believe it is prudent to reduce our carbon footprint by reducing our energy use, our waste to landfill and our travel. British American Tobacco 2009

Our strategy is directed toward aligning our business, environmental and social performance. We manage this strategy by setting explicit goals and objectives in all three areas and by holding ourselves accountable for meeting them. American Electric Power, 2010

This report is intended to provide information useful to our stakeholders, including our consumers, employees, customers, investors, business partners, community members, and governmental and nongovernmental organizations. Kelloggs 2009

Recommendation to avoid contracting genericitis
If you took all the reports suffering from genericitis and extracted the generic content, you would have several complete reports which any CEO could sign. In order to make your reports UNIQUELY RELEVANT to your business, interesting and original, and to give your report the best possible chance of serving as a platform for stakeholder interest and engagement, you must make sure that every single sentence adds meaningful value, is in line with your report theme and could not apply to any other company. Make best efforts NOT to appear in the Encylopedia Generica of Sustainability Reporting.

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at

Friday, May 14, 2010

Don't ditch CSR reports

Quick Quiz: Reporting and Communicating. What's the difference ?

Apparently there are quite a few people around who don't know that there is a difference between reporting and communicating. Apparently these people believe that a CSR report is a failure because it fails to attract a readership worthy of Jackie Collins, Agatha Christie and William Thackeray Shakespeare all rolled into one. Apparently, the fact that droves of consumers don't rush to seek out every single PDF sustainability report download on a company website indicates that the entire reporting movement is a total failure. Apparently, reporting has BECOME communications and it has FAILED. Why do I say this ? Well, this week, we saw two more "down with CSR reports" posts from two people whose knowledge, writings and experience I respect tremendously, but, nontheless, have fallen into the trap of, wrongly IMHO,  pointing an accusing finger at CSR reports as inadequate failings of the sustainability process. 

The first was Mallen Baker in his post entitled Why CSR Reporting is still ugly. Mallen writes that "CSR reports have become the equivalent of avant garde art. Experts queue up to declare it beautiful, whilst ordinary people stand in front of it slightly baffled wondering just what it is meant to be." In other words, he says that " reports don't work for ordinary stakeholders". He doesn't define what an "ordinary stakeholder" is .... an investor ? an employee ? a supplier ? a community activist ? an environmentalist? a human rights specialist ? a consumer ? a socially conscious consumer ? a professional CSR person? a manager? a Chairman of a Board ? a regulator ? Who on earth is an "ordinary" stakeholder ? And for whom exactly don't reports work ? Only 4,000 reports are issued every year  around the globe. The annual double digit growth of CSR reporting numbers is much stronger that the growth of any of the reporting Companies over the past 15 years. 20% of all reports issued each year are first reports from Companies getting transparency for the first time. More and more companies are following, as reported by Jennifer Hicks on Triple Pundit in which she claims that CSR Reporitng is gaining steam.  So much steam about something no one knows what it is meant to be ? Come on.

The second was Olivia Khalili in her post entited : Want consumers attention? Ditch the CSR report.  No doubt this sensationalist headline will attract many readers and retweeters, and maybe, many will look at it and think : "Yes, absolutely!". Apparently, these are also people who don't know the difference between reporting and communications. How does Olivia explain this attention-grabbing headline ?  "The contents of a CSR report almost never reach consumers’ eyes because they’re not visible on the company’s website and they aren’t relatable or engaging. Companies write CSR reports for their stakeholders, but few take the critical steps to engage consumers in their accomplishments (and shortcomings!). And so they leave tremendous value on the table........ Don’t write a report. Reports are read in the boardroom and the classroom, not by consumers and employees. Create something that celebrates what your company has done and gets stakeholders excited about the future challenges you’re set to tackle."   I suspect that not many Sustainability Reports are actually read in the Boardroom, frankly. Despite good governance practices which everyone talks about, Directors are still way off being fully engaged in sustainability dialogue. And why can't you issue a report AND get stakeholders excited about future challenges?

These posts are sensationalism and attention grabbing but they lack substance and, I believe, an understanding of the difference between reporting and reports and communications. Let's put this into perspective:

First, a report is the summary of all the material information about a company's sustainability information in one place. There is no other document in any business which serves this same purpose. If it's not complete, its not a report. If it's partly on a consumer label, partly on a website, partly in a round table discussion with employees, partly in a cause marketing campaign, partly on a supplier order form, it's not a report. It's  pieces of communication. A report is a document, whether printed, PDF'd or online, it's an integrative document which shows at a given point in time, where a  Company is on the sustainability journey. Not every stakeholder will be interested in every part of the report, but because it's a report, it must contain the complete scope of the content. If it does not, it is  impossible to gain a balanced view of the Company's performance - it may be abusing human rights in one part of the world, whist communicating happily on green innovations to consumers somewhere else. This is the point of reporting versus specific communications. Anyone who has an interest can see all aspects of a Company's impacts. It seems obvious that if the report is online, rather than just an Acrobat icon for download, it stands to attract more attention. However, not everyone has round the clock internet access (HP report in their 2009 Global Citizenship Report that only 20% of the world's population is currently online), and the ability to download to hard-disc and read a report during a flight to the GRI conference in Amsterdam, or whenever the connection is down, is big advantage.

Second, a report is the cumulation of a reporting process which is the thing that drives change in the business. The very need to report, the very need to publicly commit to targets, to transparency, to explaining the context and the impact of the Company's actions is a real tangible driver of decision making in the businesss. Talk to any SERIOUS reporter and you will find this to be true. Of course, if you talk to the PR-style reporters, the ones who fuel the blog posts such as those mentioned above, you will find that nothing happens between one report and the next, and that performance remains static. This is because they are not serious about sustainability, which is the first premise of reporting. You must have sustainability performance in the business before you can report about it. If you do, the reporting process, which involves many internal and external players, focuses the business and the decisions that need to be  made. My experience is that this works. Categorically and unequivocally.

Third, a report is a PLATFORM for communication, it is not the communcation process itself, and it is not the end of the process. It is the beginning of the process of stakeholder engagement. What do you engage stakeholders around ? Around your sustainability impacts and performance. How do stakeholders know what your sustainability performance looks like. They have a report they can read. But just hanging a report on your website and hoping that enlightened and enthusiastic consumers will race to download it at the earliest opportunity is like hoping that the Queen of England will start eating Chunky Monkey for breakfast.(Oops, maybe she does!) Aside from a few reporting freaks like me, NO-ONE will download your report unless you incentivise them to do so, by engaging their interest in what makes them tick. This means using the report as a PLATFORM for creating a conversation with different stakeholders. It means talioring your communications process by working with different stakeholder groups on parts of the report content that are relevant to them, in different ways and via different channels. Marcus Chung wrote a post about how he read a United Airlines CSR report as he was  on a flight and it was in the seat pocket. A banking client of mine puts copies of their report in their branches for people who are waiting in queues to read. Another client of mine who runs a cafe has a pamphlet on the tables next to the menu advising of the report and key messages. Everyone who orders a coffee gets Coffee and Report. How many Companies are bringing their reporting to their stakeholders ? CSR Reports is getting the message OUT. Communications is getting the message THROUGH. To get people interested in your reporting, you have to take the message to where they are, and do it in a compelling way. This may be as simple as putting your report in a place where your stakeholders will find it and will have time to read it, or it may require a little more effort, such as producing special product labels for consumer goods, sending out teazers, running a competition, setting up an Earthkeepers dialogue as the innovative Timberland does, polling your readers as Adidas does,  getting people to make a pledge as Marks and Spencer, Starbucks and others do. Establishing a presence for your report on Social Media. How many Companies have a CSR Report page on Facebook ?  This is engagement and communcation. You have to go where your stakeholders are. For more ideas, see my post called 27 ways to make your CSR report buzz. This kind of engagement can happen when a Company has got its sustainability story sorted out, which is significantly helped by the reporting process and the report.

My point is that reports, in and of themselves, are worthless. Like your new hybrid Mercedes if you never drive anywhere in it.  But, the fact that  companies are not doing what it takes to create the communications and the dialogue around the reports  is not a reason to say ditch reports. That's throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as my mom says. Instead of indulging in yellow journalism, and blasting the internet with headlines like reports are ugly and ditch them, I would like to see headlines that say "CSR reports are a basis for engagement", "CSR reporting should be more fully exploited by Companies" "We are not yet seeing the full potential of CSR Reporting" or even "CSR reports are fascinating". Why don't we see more conversation about what needs to be done to ensure that the investment in CSR reporting actually delivers? What are the naysayers doing to feed back their specific comments to Companies about how they could improve their reporting and what they, as ordinary stakeholders, are looking to see? Sigh. No answers. Apparently it is easier to moan and groan, rather than take a responsible approach to helping Companies report more accurately, more transparently, more succinctly, more engagingly. As I write, I notice a post by the Guardian on their blog, in which they ask readers "for help" in determining what  the Guardian should be reporting about this year. Nice.  Yes, I agree, reports need to get better. Yes, I agree that many are too long. Yes, I agree that following the GRI framwork in a mindless way delivers boring and stilted reports. Yes, I agree, that reporting must be more interactive, more real-time, more contextual, less self-flattering, more connected to the business reality.  But no, I do not agree that reporting is ugly, or that we should ditch reports or the reporting process. 

Rant over. Mallen thinks I take this too personally. Well, what's not personal in this world ? Of course, I have a vested interest as I make a  living (of sorts) from , in part, reporting. However,  I write based on  an absolute conviction that sustainability reporting serves an important purpose in driving sustainability and a positive contribution to business results.I have seen it. I hear reporting companies  confirm it. I believe my work in reporting  serves a valuable purpose, not just because of the reports themselves, but because of the transformation I witness in Companies that report.  

Finally, as I complete this post, I notice that the SAP 2009 sustainability Report is now online. The one referred to in the Ditch Reports post. Certainly looks interesting. An example of how more accessible reporting is evolving. More on that another time! But, where can I download it ? Hahaha.

elaine cohen is co-founder and co-CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The habit of winning

CERES - ACCA have done it again with the CERES-ACCA North American Sustainability Report Awards. for 2009 reports. By again, I don't mean just holding the Awards and picking the winners. I mean picking the SAME winners. Again. See my post of December 2009 in which I predicted Timberland in (joint) first place, Ford in (joint) second place and Seventh Gen in SME place. (Seventh Gen was a POC, as they were the only SME shortlisted) Timberland and Ford won in 2007,  Seventh Gen won in 2005 and 2008.

It seems that there is a certain inevitability about reporting awards, I suppose. As one who reads hundreds of reports (before breakfast) (more after breakfast) , it is very clear that certain reporters stand out from the crowd in one way or another.  The CERES-ACCA winners are well-deserved, not only for producing excellent reports, but for doing it time and time again, and more importantly, for doing the work that enables them to do the reports. Congrats to all!!

Having said that, awards are about encouragement of reporting and reporters. They are both recognition for a job well done, AND  a message to other reporters that their work is important and can also gain recognition. There are many many good reports out there than can win awards, so if all the top places are (albeit, one might say,  justifiably) gained by a handful of Companies who "got it" a long time ago, I wonder how we encourage others to continue to participate? There were some excellent other reports shortlisted such as  Intel, AEP, GE and more.

Perhaps there should be a category for Past Winners. Anyone who has won in any category in 3 prior years gets to be in a Best of the Past Winners category ? That might give due recognition to those who have shown themselves to be ahead of the pack, whilst clearing the floor for some new names on the leaderboard. A sort of creme de la creme award.

Just a thought. Hey, that's what blogs are for, right ? Maybe someone will run an award for the best csr reporting blog ?  hahaha

elaine cohen is the CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at  

17 facts from #CSR reports

One of the reasons that I find Sustainability Reporting so facinating is that I learn so much about so much. Aside from the individual company processes and performance data, reports are a wealth of information about just about anything. Most often, this is information is related to an aspect of the reporting Company's business but sometimes, it can be just anything at all.  A sort of trivia geek's paradise. A "must" for aspiring winners of "Who wants to be a millionaire". In fact, if you put all the 30,000 or so reports that have been published end-to-end, extracting all the useful pieces of information, you might end up with a compact edition of the Encyclopoedia Britannica. Here are 17 examples of  useful bits of trivia you can find in Sustainability Reports.

In 2010, International Data Corporation (ID C) estimates the world will create 988 exabytes of data—18 million times the amount of information in all the books ever written. HP, 2009

25% of the world’s population already lives under water stress (less than 1700 m3/person/year). Nestle 2009

If they are plugged in, computers still consume energy (standby power) when powered off. Nikon, 2009

Every year up to 500 million people are affected by malaria and over one million die from it, mostly young children in Africa. Glaxo Smith Kline 2009

As herd animals, hogs are most comfortable moving side by side in groups. Smithfield Foods, 2008

Solidified fat is one of the biggest causes of blocked sinks and can lead to blockages in our sewers. Wessex Water plc, 2009

In the late 1960s, it was anecdotally reported in the United States that postprandial discomforts such as numbness, general weakness and palpitations occurred after eating at Chinese restaurants.Ajinomoto, 2009

Automakers are moving toward lithium-ion batteries for next-generation HEVs and for PHEVs and BEVs. These batteries have greater energy density and are lighter in weight than nickel metal hydride batteries. Ford, 2009

An estimated 776 million adults—16% of the global adult population—lack basic literacy skills. HP, 2009

In 2007 the total losses sustained by the software industry as a direct result of software piracy were in excess of $40 billion worldwide.Symantec, 2008

It is predicted that global CO2emissions can be reduced by 11 million tons in 2010 and by 120 million tons in 2020 through the expanded use of solar cells. Asahi Glass 2009

Rotavirus, a severe diarrhoeal illness, is the second biggest killer of children under five years of age.Glaxo Smith Kline 2009

An estimated $1.2 trillion is wasted annually in the U.S. healthcare system, with redundant procedures and inefficient administration cited as two of the largest reasons HP, 2009

In Japanese, the word inochi has a deep reverberation and subtle nuances. It implies a universal perspective
and worldview. Ajinomoto, 2009

Half of secondary school science teachers in the UK have had no subject training within the past five years.Glaxo Smith Kline, 2009

Agriculture employs over one-third of the world’s working population and three-quarters of the world’s poor people live in rural areas. Nestle 2009

The human tongue can distinguish the five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. Ajinomoto, 2009. (errrr, umami ? hmm, not sure my tongue knows what that is...)

The next time you think that reading a sustainability report is just about reading a report, remember that, if you take the time to look beyond the cover, you will find that there is more to reports than meet the reports. It can be quite an enriching experience. Ha Ha. Well, moderately enriching. Oh, and watch this space,  I might just announce a competition in the near future on CSR Report Trivia , so get swotting. NO PRIZES for guessing what the prize will be. Ahem. OK, begins with C and rhymes with FUNKY.

elaine cohen is the CEO of Beyond Business, a leading social and environmental consulting and reporting firm. Visit our website at
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