Saturday, March 31, 2012

A rare free gift from the CSR Reporting Blog

Did you know that the CSR Reporting Blog also comes in convenient, offline, searchable, hyperlinked, downloadable PDF's, and what's more, at NO CHARGE to blog readers and blog non-readers all over the globe?

Here is a FREE! (wow) download of all entries and comments in 2011 (and a little of 2012) in the

The 2011 ebook is 276 pages short. Don't read them all at once. Unless you are a real reporting geek. Or you need an excuse to eat even more ice-cream.

And just in case you were wondering, yes, the blog was available in ebook form in 2009 - 2010. Click here to download the first CSR Reporting Blog ebook  (442 pages).

And now, back to blogging.....

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, March 30, 2012

A bank with a mission. RBS goes sustainable.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is a bank with a mission. Rehabilitate its reputation and manage itself sustainably. Following the failure of the bank in 2008/2009 and a 70% government buyout, harsh public criticism about executive pay and controversies over pension arrangements, sailing has not been all that plain for RBS in recent years. Philip Hampton , the RBS Group Chairman has gone on record as saying: "We are committed to being a sustainable bank in every sense of the word." Many companies have shown that they can be at low points in terms of reputation (Nike, Gap Inc. and yes, even Walmart), and through consistent, applied, systematic change to the core business approach, responsiveness to stakeholders and embedding of a new culture, can reinstate themselves as (more) trustworthy sustainability leaders. RBS is committing itself to this effort and doing what it takes with a long-term perspective.

The Bank's turnaround is based on a new 2013 vision which includes leadership in transparency and requires deep embedding of sustainability principles and communications. This is showcased in the RBS Sustainability Report for 2010RBS Group's five sustainability themes are:
  • Fair Banking
  • Supporting Enterprise
  • Employee Engagement
  • Safety and Security
  • Citizenship and Environmental Sustainability
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat to Duncan Young, Head of Reporting and Engagement at the RBS Group.  Duncan is responsible for overseeing all sustainability communications, including the annual Sustainability Report and 'impact' reports. The 'Engagement' aspect of his role includes ongoing stakeholder relations with NGO's, media, politicians and investors and more. Duncan will speak on "Fully Engaging your Stakeholders through Strategic Communication" at the Smart Sustainability Reporting Conference on 15th May, in London, which I will be chairing.

Duncan Young comes from a background in journalism - until June of last year, when he took up his current role, he was the Deputy Editor of News at the BBC Scotland. Naturally, I couldn't resist asking Duncan how he had made this transition - RBS has been a Bank that the media love to hate, and now he finds himself telling the RBS story in a way which is designed to reverse that reality. I asked Duncan if this has presented a conflict for him, at a personal level. Duncan said: "Anyone working within a corporation has to recognize how the business is able to speak about difficult issues in public. Part of the journey is becoming more open and transparent - this doesn't mean we are always able to be as open and transparent as the press would like us to be. When we come to define sustainability within RBS, we often talk about anything that can damage our reputation. As a journalist, I can recognize this. I can spot things which are coming down the line. It puts me in a good position to take that conversation to the business. This is a good thing and turns a potential conflict into an advantage".

Is Sustainability Reporting doing the job? Is it helping to get the message out and improve reputation and engender trust in RBS? After all, banks, including RBS, as still what you might call, reputationally-challenged :). Duncan believes  that reporting has a bigger role to play than ever before and that this is important not only for investors but also for the people in the street. "Reporting is a demonstration of why we can be trusted. Increasingly messages from sustainability reporting are finding their way into our mainstream messaging and reporting. Sustainability is becoming more mainstream as communications collateral in the business." So is it time for Integrated Reporting? Not yet, thinks Duncan. "I don't think the Annual Report will ever be able to tell the whole story. The Integrated Report won't be the end of the road for Sustainability Reporting." "Ah yes", murmured the CSR-Reporting Blogger, "I tend to agree."

On the subject of "Smart" sustainability reporting, Duncan says: "I think historically we have concentrated on the one annual reporting splurge and hoped that it would satisfy our stakeholders. Smart reporting should meet the needs of all stakeholders and includes impact reporting, social media, engagement programs, all developed in a clever way using segmentation. Something we did this year is to design our report as an online experience but not a printed document, improving the general experience, interactivity. It can be updated rather than remaining as a static report. We had previously produced a report called "Our Financing of the Energy Sector" - this was our first outing into segmentation. The report discussed our relationships with the energy companies, the technologies they are using and their impacts. Much of this gets distorted in the media debate. We found that it was a very worthwhile exercise to focus on this and produce a report defining the position of RBS in relation to energy financing."

The reporting process has power. Duncan told me: "Any time there is a process in a large corporate that demands data and evidence before decisions are made, that process has power. Each year we go to the business and ask questions. If there is no improvement, that instantly creates internal pressure and gives visibility to the sustainability agenda within the company. It puts pressure on people to do better. No-one wants to not make progress. This is what our team has found at RBS." Duncan's team is himself and three others, responsible, among other things, for the reporting cycle and its outputs. This cycle tends to last from November through to around April each year. As we are now heading into April, watch for the RBS 2011 report, coming soon to a website near you.

In the meantime, if you are in or around London on May 15th, come to the conference and feel free to ask Duncan Young all the questions I didn't have time to ask!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Community giving: Motorola Solutions Foundation reveals all

Last week, it was my pleasure to facilitate a fascinating meeting at Motorola Solutions Israel in honor of the visit of Matthew (Matt) Blakely, the enthusiastic Director of the Motorola Solutions Foundation. Founded in 1953, the Motorola Solutions Foundation focuses its funding on public safety, disaster relief, employee programs and education, especially science, technology, engineering and math programming. In 2010, the Motorola Solutions Foundation invested $18.4 million in strategic community programs around the world, which was supplemented by an additional $7.1 million in employee giving and other cash and product donations. The largest chunk of this total amount - $13.9 million - went to support educational programs. The assets of the Foundation are over $70 million. You can check out the Foundation's activities on their Facebook page.
Matt getting ready to talk to a group of CSR Managers and NGO's
In his talk to a selection of CSR Managers from local industry and some NGO leaders, Matt emphasized:

The Focus on STEM Education: (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) This makes sense for Motorola, because, "as a company of scientists, we feel it's important to support the next generation".  This is particularly important for women, and other underrepresented groups in technology careers, so that they can gain exposure to the possibilities of developing a science-based career and gain tools to pursue such opportunities. 

The Focus on Public Safety: Motorola Solutions makes the radio technologies and communications equipment that government entities and fire departments use, as well as  logistics and large retail companies. These are communications devices, which are typically rugged and durable  for use in a range of challenging applications such as coastguard organizations, federal law enforcement and more. Because of this, the connection to support public safety and support for the families of fallen first responders is a natural link and focus of outreach for the Motorola Solutions Foundation. In addition, the Foundation often works together with customers and partners on volunteer activities. Supporting the work of the Red Cross, for example, is a key part of Motorola Solutions efforts.

Supporting Local Communities: "We want to make sure our impact is felt at local level". Local involvement in community causes is very important to Motorola Solutions employees and a range of activities are progressed around the world. Part of this is by way of cash donations from both the Motorola Solutions Foundation and employees, but many of these programs are about personal volunteering and engagement.

Long Term relationships: The Motorola Solutions Foundation likes to maintain long-term relationships with the causes it supports and 72 percent of the beneficiary organizations are ones which have been connected with Motorola in previous years. However, grants are made on an annual basis, to prevent complacency in the annual allocation process and to "refresh the partnership" - each year,  requesting organizations are asked to submit a new grant request  and reaffirm progress made so far and new objectives. This provides the opportunity to review, discuss and ensure that allocations are made for the right reasons.

The Stability of the Foundation: Because the Motorola Solutions Foundation funds its annual budget from assets, there is a high degree of stability from year to year. The total amount of funds allocated is not subject to short-term pressures, market downturns or changes in management.

The Measurement of impact: Prior to approving grants to any local cause, the Motorola Solutions Foundation examines the effectiveness of its social activity and the nature of the impact the organization has in society. For example, there are several programs in which improved school attendance and performance has been documented as a result of Motorola Solutions Foundation-supported programs and interventions.

It was very interesting to hear from someone whose job is to give away over $20 million per year. It was more interesting to hear the very careful, strategic, impact-focused approach. It may be easy to give away money, but it is far less easy to ensure that the money is used effectively to create positive social outcomes. Aimee Schutzman, the CSR Manager of  Motorola Solutions in Israel, and a highly-experienced local CSR leader, who hosted the meeting, was on hand to give local examples of how the Motorola Solutions Foundation supports programs in this country.

Aimee Schutzman - the Motorola Solutions Israel CSR Champion

Following Matt's talk and discussion with other local companies, three NGO's presented their activity:

Time to Know: This is a fabulous initiative that provides a breakthrough solution for one-to-one computing classrooms. Teachers use Time to Know's interactive comprehensive curriculum and digital teaching platform to manage all classroom activities and deliver a personalized curriculum to every student with significantly enhanced learning outcomes. This is a tremendous futuristic, almost surreal, type of classroom environment which is incredible to observe. Apparently the future is already here. Check this out:

Lior Boker Foundation (Hebrew website only) :  Lior Boker was a firefighter who heroically lost his life during a beyond-the-call-of-duty attempt to rescue victims of the Carmel Fire which raged in Israel's Carmel Mountains, killing many and displacing hundreds of families. Lior's widow, Nava Boker, established a Foundation in her late husband's name to help support firefighting activities - train firefighters, support firefighting rescue services and encourage and train volunteers. An inspiring example of bravely turning adversity into the opportunity to help others in the name of one who gave his life to do so.
Project Wadi Attir seeks to develop and demonstrate a model for sustainable, community-based organic farming, adapted to a desert environment. It is designed to combine Bedouin aspirations, values and experience in desert agriculture, with sustainability principles and cutting edge green technologies, including renewable energy production, resource recycling and arid land stewardship. It is intended to showcase a breakthrough approach to environmentally sound sustainable development, which could impact the Middle East region as well as other parts of the world. Check it out - and be inspired - here:

Anyway back to strategic philanthropy. In my opening remarks at the meeting, I mentioned four purposes of corporate community investment:

Uno: To meet a community need by leveraging the resources and capabilities of business in a way which complements and augments work done in other sectors.
Due: To demonstrate good corporate citizenship – which gives reputational value.
Tre: To provide a benefit for the organization - in terms of supporting a team-culture, service-orientation and exposing employees to new challenges which build their skills.
Quattro: To provide a personal benefit for employees – the feeling of giving to the community is genuinely appreciated at a personal level.

Unfortunately, though, in Israel, the concern with the first purpose tends to be subordinate to the other three. That means, companies are more concerned with seen to be being good and making their employees happy than they are with using their precious resources to contribute to truly long term systemic change that enriches communities and the quality of life for all.  The short-termism of community involvement and the lack of any real measurement of the effectiveness – the outcomes - of community involvement are two things that characterize the way things work in here. In fact, that's the big difference between involvement and investment.

Investment is about strategic philanthropy – creating collaborative partnerships and working to bring about deeply-felt impact over time to meet defined needs in society. It's about creating – and calculating – a social return on this investment, not only an economic return for the business. Internal organizational benefits are also important but they need to be combined carefully with social needs in order to find the optimum mix.

In Israel, community involvement is generally short-term, employee-focused and outcomes are not measured. Companies record total giving and volunteer hours, but rarely much more, with a few exceptions. 

The Maala Ranking for 2011, which included 85 (mainly publicly traded) companies, reported a total community contribution of  $144 million – with around $1.5 million being the average per company – less than 1% of pre-tax profit (compared to 1 – 3% average in more CSR-developed countries). 10% of these companies gave over $ 2.5 million per year – in fact, two organizations alone contributed over $18 million in total . Around 50 companies contribute less than half a million dollars. 87% of these companies encourage employee volunteering with an average 20% of employee participation.

This compares with median total giving in a survey in the US of 184 leading companies where the median total giving was $22.10 million  in 2010. 81% of companies reported have a corporate foundation.

Corporate foundations in Israel are not popular. There are very few. One of the main reasons is the amount of money that corporations are investing in communities is relatively low, partly due to the size of the local market and partly due to other corporate and cultural considerations. Perhaps one of these considerations is the long-term commitment that is required before you establish a foundation. In the 2011 ranking (covering 2010 data), for example, when the economy declined, Israeli companies contributed over 40% less than in 2010, and the lowest they have contributed for four years on average (according to the Maala Ranking) . In the U.S, in 2010, where economic conditions were no better, corporate charitable giving rose by 10.6%.

All in all, a very worthwhile opportunity to listen, share, think and discuss matters related to corporate community involvement, investment, giving and volunteering. Kudos to Matt Blakely, Aimee Schutzman and the Motorola Solutions Foundation.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

SGS: Sustainability Report Cone Award

Following my first  Ice Cream Cone Award, Intuit, which, since publication, has caused an increase in corporate ice-cream consumption by 24% (and mine by 38%), I am pleased to make another Cone Award to SGS for the Company's Corporate Sustainability Report 2011.

(All ice cream cone images are sourced from: Ice Cream Cone ClipArt ) (Almost good enough to eat!)

About the Company
Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, SGS is an inspection, verification, testing and certification company with more than 70,000 employees and  a network of more than 1,350 offices and laboratories around the world. Established in 1878, SGS started by offering agricultural inspection services to grain traders in Europe. During the mid 20th century, SGS diversified into inspection, testing, certification and verification services across a variety of sectors, including industrial, minerals and oil, gas and chemicals among others. SGS is listed on  the SIX Swiss Exchange and has revenues of $5.2 billion.

About the Report
Third Corporate Sustainability Report. Conforms to B+ of  the GRI Guidelines as checked by the GRI. Assured by a third party auditor. PDF 84 pages. Separate GRI Index downloadable from the report website.

Ice Cream Cones Awarded

SGS has specific, quantified, timely and published goals through to 2014. Thirteen goals in the areas of Professional Excellence, Environment, People and Community which make it clear what SGS commits to achieving. This is not to be underestimated. Reducing carbon intensity by people and by revenue by 10%, reducing turnover (to below 14%) and sickness absence rate (to below 1.5%) and more, may not be breaking the sound-barrier in terms of stretch, but, as I learnt long ago, "80% of something is better than 100% of nothing". A nice, double cone for SGS for making their targets measurable and transparent.

Good practice for SGS on reporting stakeholder feedback. 1,319 stakeholders responded to a survey about the prior SGS report and in the current report, SGS summarizes the feedback that was  provided. This is a qualitative summary - it might have been nice to see quantitative data, and it is not clear how stakeholders were asked to respond in the survey. SGS also does not disclose the relative mix of stakeholders which provided feedback - 1,319 is made up of employees, customers, contractors, investors, NGO's and others. However, soliciting stakeholder feedback, and disclosing results, even in a rather filtered way, demonstrates a process of recognition for and understanding of the significance of stakeholder engagement.

I like the way that SGS describe their different services offering. While this might be thinly veiled marketing content, SGS offers compact contextual information about why each area of activity is important and contributes to sustainable agriculture, global trade, transportation, biodiversity and more. It's an interesting summary of many of today's global sustainability issues and opportunities, flavored with short stories about how SGS's work is making a difference, for example, through operation of a fleet of mobile laboratories for testing of ballast water, which can disrupt marine ecosystems (did you know that ?), or pioneering work to calculate the carbon footprint associated with farming scallops throughout their entire lifecycle for a Chinese fishery, or a new Battery Test House and E-Mobility Competence Centre in Munich, Germany where we for developing and testing safe electric, hybrid and fuel cell cars.

I wondered whether to award a Cone or deward a Cone for the SGS Risk Matrix (see below). On the one hand, key risks are transparently defined and areas of risks are referenced and explained within the Sustainability Report. On the other hand, I would have like to have known a little more about how this risk matrix was developed, and to what extent it includes stakeholder input. On balance, I settled for awarding rather than dewarding. Remember ? I promised I would try to be magnanimous.

With almost 48% of SGS's revenue being spent on employee wages and benefits, and 8,000 new people being recruited in the last year alone, getting the best out of SGS people and engaging them in sustainability is absolutely compelling. SGS present one of the best overall programs for embedding sustainability at all levels of the organization that I have seen in Sustainability Reports over the years. Ranging from sustainability workshops resulting in commitments to targets, e-learning sustainability programs, learning and development programs, to performance reviews etc, SGS demonstrates CSR for HR in a mature way.

Ice Cream Cones Dewarded

This is a marginal deward. SGS have done something very good. Following a risk assessment, road safety was identified as a number one risk and in India, SGS Launched a country-wide road safety initiative which includes mandatory reporting, distribution of road helmets and reflective jackets etc. So why the deward? I would like to see SGS reporting road safety results and also adopting a global road safety policy. This is one of my pet subjects to track - the impacts of road un-safety are massive and represent a real sustainability issue whichever way you look at it (as I wrote in a post on CSRWire a while ago). So, good progress by SGS, but hoping for more.

Gender diversity is not transparently reported by SGS - almost to the point that it generates a suspicion that performance is really quite poor. 34.4% of the total SGS workforce is female, but while SGS reports that more female employees were promoted to manager level - SGS does not report how many. Instead, SGS reports against an odd indicator called the "equal opportunity ratio"  - apparently the relative ratio of female managers to total female employees versus the ratio of male managers to male employees. Sorry, I don't get it. What I would like to know from SGS is how many women managers are in the business in total. Diverting to the SGS Website, I see that this company is led by an all-male 8-strong Board of Directors, and an Operations Council of senior executives with 25 members, 4 of whom are women (16%). I almost gave another deward for this, but I decided to continue to be magnanimous and stay with one cone down only.

The GRI Index is a separate download. I always find this irritating. I use the GRI Index to navigate sustainability reports. Having it separate from the PDF document is tiresome for me - meaning I have to bounce around between documents to get to information. If a company is producing an 84-page PDF, another couple of pages to integrate the GRI Index doesn't seem to me to be so much of a stretch.

Overall Net Ice Cream Cone Award
Five minus three makes two net cones for SGS. Half a cone each for the women senior execs. Ha-Ha. Overall, an impressive report, nicely laid out, demonstrating good basic commitment. With a little stretch, there will be some ice-cream for the SGS men next year, too!

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How big is your brain-print?

Yogesh Chauhan is Chairman of the Corporate Responsibility Group and BBC Chief Adviser Corporate Responsibility. He is slowly but surely transforming the CSR landscape at the BBC. We recently had the opportunity to chat about our expectations of the upcoming Smart Sustainability Reporting Conference on May 15th in London. Yogesh will be leading a session called: Moving towards the report of the future - creating engaging, dynamic and accessible content and distributing through segmented data sets. Sounds intriguing - the report of the future - segmented data sets - engaging, dynamic - not the sort of language most people currently associate with sustainability reports. Therefore, being rather a delayed-gratification-challenged person, I couldn't wait to ask him about what all this means. I found Yogesh very open and willing to share his views. But I am not going to tell you specifically about segmented data sets. You can hear more about that at the conference.

What I will share are some of the other things we talked about.

For example, how Yogesh sees his role: "The fundamental task I have is to challenge the organization in a positive and constructive way. I need to personally to be ahead of the game and identify what the challenges are likely to look like in the future." The BBC employs 23,000 people around the world, so this is no small undertaking.

For another example, how do you influence brain-print? Brain-print is to the media is what ice-cream-print is to Elaine (me), or what foot-print is to a corporation's environmental impacts. Brain-print is the sector jargon which refers to the impact of the media on the way people think. According to Yogesh, in terms of CSR, the "most substantive impact of  the media is its influence in how people make sense of the world around them and how they are informed by the media". The BBC approach, according to Yogesh, goes like this:
"What guide us are the BBC core editorial values – these are sacrosanct – they have been around much longer than I have and will stay around - impartiality, fairness and integrity are core to all that we do. We cannot afford to side with a particular viewpoint. The debate about climate change is very interesting and there is massive external scrutiny on how we report about climate change: some say the BBC is highly responsible in the way it reports, others say we are too cautious, other say we give too much time to the skeptics. But when you have critics on both sides, you tend to know that you have reported impartially and provided the right balance of content. "

The BBC's overall Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Program goes under the heading of Outreach, and includes the BBC's approach to journalism, promoting learning, education, creativity and cultural excellence, engaging with local communities, managing environmental sustainability, supporting charitable causes and maintaining a responsible workplace. When Yogesh Chauhan introduced Sustainability Reporting at the BBC some years ago, it was like "pushing an open door". The BBC acknowledged the role it needed to play as a Big Media Company. Since then, the BBC has been reporting, and experimenting with reporting.

Currently, the BBC produces an annual Corporate Responsibility Performance Report which  in 2011 was a mere 24 pages long, the center piece of which is the way the BBC upholds its Public Purposes. It's rather like a storybook, with accounts of how the BBC Outreach has advanced citizenship with the BBC News School Report project in which 11-14 year olds are encouraged to produce their own news reports and BBC Learning Works which maximizes learning content linked to BBC programmes. Other themes include promoting culture with the Proms Plus Intro series for families to get to know the experience of classical music and the BBC World Class project that helps schools in the UK develop a twinning partnership with schools around the world.

In addition, the BBC has started to publish quarterly newsletter supplements which provide a focused update on a specific aspect of CSR activities. The latest update, from January 2012, zooms in on Diversity at the BBC in all of its facets, providing an in-depth look the BBC workforce, procurement activities and community outreach and supplemented by a BBC Diversity website. This reflects the experimental aspect of reporting for the BBC - drilling down holistically and more comprehensively than in a single Sustainability Report which covers all issues, four times a year. This reflects a desire of the BBC to experiment with different ways of reporting and viewing the reporting process as one of evolution rather than a static one-model template. In many ways, it's the best of both worlds- a full annual report with more frequent subject-specific updates to keep stakeholders interested and engaged. It also perhaps reflects the view of the BBC that the GRI framework (which the BBC reporting does not formally align with, though the BBC is supporting the development of the Media Sector Supplement) is more of a procedural approach to reporting, which is rather different from the way the BBC (and Yogesh) want to use the report, which is to generate interest, not just information.

Yogesh made the point,  that as a publicly-funded broadcaster, the BBC has an absolute commitment to disclosure. "The BBC is subject to freedom of information legislation. Anyone can ask us any question about how we run our business. We reveal everything - salaries, travel expenses, Board meeting minutes – there is lots of information available. Above and beyond our Sustainability Reporting, every single response we have ever given is available on the website. We get the most wonderful and weird questions thrown at us. Therefore, as an organization we are probably one of the most transparent. The challenge for us is not what to put in the public domain but how we present in a digestible form – what, if anything, to leave out rather than how much to put in."

By the way, the BBC participates in the MediaCSR Forum, which I discovered while browsing the BBC CSR site. If you haven't seen it - take a look. It's a wealth of information about what's happening in the Media and CSR, and why.

I am looking forward to hearing more from Yogesh on 15th May. Hope you will stop by.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Intuit: Sustainability Report Cone Award

As we are now almost three months into 2012, I decided to take a look at who's been publishing what (Sustainability Reports  of course - I wasn't searching for the latest true crime bestsellers - though some might not notice the difference).

This starts a series of posts  based on a random pick of Sustainability Reports published in 2012 and some insights about what I found valuable and what I, IMHO, found less valuable.

For some, reading about Sustainability Reports may be rather boring (that's me being responsive to stakeholder concerns). So here's a good tip. It's always best to read the CSR Reporting Blog with ice-cream. This makes every Sustainability Report just a little more palatable. Therefore, for everything I like about the report, I will award One Ice Cream Cone. For things I like less, I take away One Ice Cream Cone. For really bad reports, that leaves more ice-cream for me! However, I will try to be magnanimous. Sometimes I will award a Cone for the quality of the reporting, sometimes for the sustainability activity which is reported. You will have to guess which is which.

(All ice cream cone images are sourced from: Ice Cream Cone ClipArt - the Go-To-Place if you are feeling depressed or suicidal). (The different sizes of the cone pictures are not indicative of anything other than the fact that it's awkward for non-techies like me to size all the pictures equally - blame the pixels.)

Intuit 2011 Corporate Sustainability Report

About the Company:
Intuit is a provider of business and financial management solutions for small and mid-sized businesses; financial institutions, including banks and credit unions; consumers and accounting professionals. HQ in California. Traded on NASDAQ. $4 billion revenue. 8,000 employees.

About the report:
First report. PDF - 16 pages. Not conforming to the GRI Framework. Not externally assured.

Ice Cream Cones Awarded:
This is a great starter report with a very meaningful 16 pages. It's written in eye-level, user-friendly language which is accessible for non-seasoned report readers. The design is simple, pleasant and doesn't give you a headache. The Sustainability Report website makes content accessible online.

One aspect of user-friendliness is the Equivalent To explanations. For key data, Intuit facilitates visualization of environmental achievements through comparisons to things that we can  see in our mind's eye as we read the report. For example, "Intuit’s supply chain accounted for 21 percent of our carbon footprint in 2008. It produced 5,500 tons of waste that year - the equivalent of 1,600 dumpsters."  "During a three-month period in 2011, Intuit removed 21 tons of e-waste from the solid waste stream... that’s roughly equivalent to 138 refrigerators!" Can't you just see 138 refrigerators stacked up outside your office?

Intuit tracks indirect impacts which are enabled through the use of Intuit products. Use of Intuit software enables Intuit customers to reduce paper and energy consumption. Intuit reports on the total paper saved by customers in this way, with a target to help customers cut paper use by 1 billion sheets annually, resulting in the avoidance of 12,000 MtCO2e of GHG emissions and equivalent to saving 400 acres of forestland in the United States. (see that Equivalent To thing again?). This is a great approach - focusing not on what Intuit does, but on the result of what Intuit does - this is what's important when considering sustainability impacts.

I give a Cone to Intuit for telling it like it is. Here is what the company says about Water Management. "We’re attempting to collect Intuit’s water usage data. We’ve made some progress, but before we can report the data we need to collect more and confirm its accuracy." It is often a dilemma for first-time reporters to go public without the data or stay under the radar. The force of a public commitment to doing more next time deserves recognition.

 Another Cone for Intuit's Green Team reported activity. The company has Green Teams at more than 15 locations and describes a enthusiastic activity ranging from engaging 4,000 Intuit employees in Earth Day activities, WasteWatch waste reduction program, Live Green Sweepstakes using the internal social network to make employees aware of a sustainable lifestyle with the chance to win a Vespa, Freecycle@work program to encourage recycling and reuse of "stuff" and a Green Your Business Forum, encouraging small business owners to engage to get Green Tips and advice.

Ice Cream Cones dewarded:

I miss some form of index - while I prefer the GRI Index, any other Index would do. Indexing report contents makes it so much easier to find specific information.

I miss some evidence of stakeholder engagement and a materiality analysis. The fact that Intuit sets out key goal areas and future targets does not necessarily mean that these are the most material issues for the company for all stakeholders. For example, Intuit reports, as mentioned above, on resource consumption avoidance at customers. This does not feature as an area of focus for future goals, but I suspect it is a core material issue.

The report does not contain any information about governance or the way sustainability is managed at this company. The introductory message is written by the CFO and not the CEO. I wonder why? Was the CEO on vacation at the time this report was written? Or did the CEO opt out of Sustainability? Or does the CFO have a particular passion for the subject? Whatever the reason, I have an expectation that the most senior person in the organization will have ownership for sustainability (and reporting) and make a public comment in the Sustainability Report so that everyone is clear about where s/he stands. The CFO, of course, can always add more.

Overall Net Ice-Cream Cone Status:
Two cones for Intuit. But that's ok. They can share them around.

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via on Twitter or via my business website (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

15 ways to say Sustainability Report Data Management

How do you define "data" in the context of Sustainability Reporting?  Here are 15 synonyms for Sustainability Report Data Management:

  1. Headache
  2. Migraine
  3. Marathon
  4. Boring
  5. Painful
  6. Tiresome
  7. Impossible
  8. Geez
  9. Never
  10. Endless
  11. Struggle
  12. Mismatch
  13. Error
  14. Exasperation
  15. Depression
Get the picture? No-one, but no-one, has an easy time getting the data together for a Sustainability Report.

Arguably, the single most-underestimated challenge in writing Sustainability Reports is compiling  the quantitative data  and presenting it in a way which is transparent, clear, logical and understandable by a range of stakeholders. Reporting companies face many questions as they go through the reporting cycle:
  • What quantitative data to include?
  • What processes are used to collect the data?
  • What's the cut-off point and how do you ensure that all data is aligned with that?
  • How do you start to measure what is not already measured?
  • Who should be responsible for the data collection?
  • Is Excel good enough or do we need an IT platform?
  • How do you select data-providers?
  • Should it be cloud-based or server-based?
  • How do we verify the data internally?
  • Who signs off on all the numbers?
  • Do we cover all global operations or only the big locations?
  • What about assurance? Is it worth it? How to go about it?
  • Who is really going to use our data? What to they really want?
  • Where are the bottlenecks and how to manage them?
  • What exactly is the CSR Data Management Lifecycle?
The GRI has recently announced that sustainability data will be much easier to find with the new XBRL Taxonomy. The GRI calls this "a major step forward in making sustainability data available to society."  This is done through the use of software which tags data contained in Sustainability Reports for efficient retrieval. But, before you can tag it, you gotta catch it, right? If you don't do a good job of collecting and collating the data, even gold-plated taxonomy won't help.

Enter the CSR Data Management Conference. All about "Strategies For Successful CSR Data Lifecycle Management".  April 19th. London. One unique day dedicated to Data Management for improving sustainability performance and generating Sustainability Reports. Promises to provide answers.
Brings speakers from reporting companies and data-services vendors who can shed light on the entire process of getting the right data to the right place at the right time for your Sustainability Reporting process and presenting it in a meaningful way.

After the conference, you may be talking about Data Management in a different way. Just in case, here are 15 alternative synonyms for Sustainability Report Data Management: 

  1. Easy-peasy
  2. Piece of Cake
  3. No-brainer
  4. Professional
  5. Self-sustaining
  6. Elementary
  7. Painless
  8. Accurate
  9. Timely
  10. Smart
  11. Straightforward
  12. Pushover
  13. Efficient
  14. Systematic
  15. Ice-cream
I will be speaking at the conference. I always have a lot to say when it comes to Sustainability Reporting. You might have noticed.

See you there ?

PS: Quote "SPK" when registering for the conference to receive a 20% discount

PPS: To round off the day, starting at 6:00pm, one of my favorite annual events: The annual CR Reporting Awards Gala Evening, announcing the results of the fifth annual CR Reporting Awards (CRRA) and presenting trophies to the winners of all the reporting categories. Watch this space for news of the winners! See 2011 winners here and 2010 winners here.


elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Friday, March 9, 2012

7 material issues for the GRI to consider

Hot off the press is the GRI's latest Sustainability Report for 2010/2011 at Application Level A, covering the financial year 1 July 2010 to 30 June 2011. This time, the report contains a summary of prioritized material issues based on a stakeholder survey. This is the first GRI's own sustainability report to be based on the G3.1 Guidelines and the NGO Sector Supplement. The report is 33 pages long, supplemented by 26 pages of GRI Index and 14 pages of Annex, in which most of the quantitative data in response to performance indicators is reported.

Last year, the GRI GRI report was not terribly impressive and left big gaps in our understanding of the true impact of the GRI's performance in driving sustainability reporting. (See a post by Antonio Vives, Sustainability Guru, for a great summary of the issues). This year, efforts have been made to respond to the critics and take on board stakeholder feedback in three key ways:
- An online stakeholder survey to which 159 stakeholders responded.
- A review by a newly-established External Feedback Committee composed of five members selected by the GRI.
- Inclusion of disclosures relating to the NGO Sector Supplement indicators relating to Program Effectiveness.

The online stakeholder survey yielded eight key aspects of GRI impacts that are most material - these are all specific GRI indicator heading such as "training and education" or "marketing communications". This still does not get to the real, meaningful, material issues, in my view. It seems like a list of indicators which 159 individuals consider to be more important than other indicators. Materiality should be about specific issues relevant to specific stakeholder groups relative to a specific business - otherwise they remain generic and do not contribute to stakeholder understanding. Take a look at the way Vodafone presents materiality which I wrote about in a previous post.

As a GRI Organizational Stakeholder with a passion for Sustainability Reporting, I would consider several issues to be material:

The impact of sustainability reporting - how many companies report ?
The GRI, in 2010, announced a target: "By 2015, all large and medium-size companies in OECD countries and large emerging economies should be required to report on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance and, if they do not do so, to explain why." After two years, and with three years to go, I would expect to read about the GRI's specific progress towards this target in the Sustainability Report. There is reference to much that GRI is doing in the framework of "Report or Explain" activities. There is reference to an increase in the number of large global companies which report (95% of the G250 in 2011 according to KPMG research versus 80% in 2008) and this can definitely be attributed, in part, to the good work of the GRI staff.   The overall number of sustainability reports published appears to be increasing and has done so every year for over a decade. These are great achievements. And yet, reporting still remains below around 10% of the target companies globally. Is this really mainstream or is it just talking mainstream?

There is something to be said for increasing awareness of Sustainability Reporting and in this sense, the GRI has made a pivotal contribution. Collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the International Standards Organisation (ISO) has indeed created awareness platforms for the GRI Framework, reaching many channels and geographies. No doubt this awareness, as well as the work that the GRI does with governments around the world, is getting the message, at least in part, through to the regulators. Nonetheless, how many OECD governments currently require ESG performance reporting? The GRI reports on its advocacy activities, but not on their impact.

The outcome of sustainability reporting - does it make a difference?
The vision of the GRI is "A sustainable global economy where organizations manage their environmental, social and governance impacts responsibly, and report transparently".  This assumes that the sustainability reporting contributes to more sustainable practices. If, as I believe, sustainability reporting is a catalyst for sustainability performance, then we should be able to see the performance improvements in sustainability by corporation, by sector and by geography. While this is a hard nut to crack, I believe it's highly material. If all companies are doing is reporting their unsustainability, we haven't saved the world. We need companies to be performing more sustainably and reporting about that. While a measurement of reporting's contribution to sustainability doesn't really feature in the GRI lexicon of metrics at present, I feel that, sooner or later, Sustainability Reporting will have to become accountable. Right now, it's seen as a cost, a massive effort and a serious organizational burden by most. The ROI of reporting has not been clearly articulated and while we all know that it brings immense benefits, one day, someone will have to quantify those benefits in a way which we can all understand. It would be nice to see the GRI rise to this challenge.   

The quality of sustainability reporting
GRI says that they do not police reports or reporting companies - rather, the role of the GRI is to provide the reporting framework and offer guidance and support for reporters. But surely, the term sustainability reporting, or GRI Framework, should offer an inherent promise of minimum quality and accuracy? The reputation of the GRI and sustainability reporting is not well served when headlines such as Lies, Damn Lies and CSR do the rounds online, referring to research on thousands of Sustainability Reports which contain errors and misleading information. The purpose of Sustainability Reporting is not advanced when reports which are primarily "look how great we are" platforms destroy credibility. Sustainability Reporting kicks itself in the shins when all that is disclosed are "doing good" actions instead of impacts and outcomes. The number of truly high quality, comprehensive reports which give a "fair and balanced" representation of a company's sustainability performance are few and far between. I hate to dampen the positive buzz about sustainability reporting, and let there be no mistake that I believe Sustainability Reporting is important and that the GRI's role is crucial, but the quality, accuracy and scope of Sustainability Reporting needs to improve by several orders of magnitude. How can this not be material for the GRI? Does the lack of credibility in Sustainability Reporting not materially affect the GRI's ability to maintain its influential role?

Use of the Application Levels
In the GRI's own report for 2010-2011, an A level report, 47 indicators are "not material" and 6 indicators are "not available" - 53 indicators for which there is no response. This is a 67% non-response rate for the highest level of "transparent reporting". Doesn't this seem odd? The GRI is probably correct in the fact that many indicators are indeed not material to its operations - after all, GRI is not a global manufacturing company employing hundreds of thousands of people in a high-impact industry -  but it points to a problem in outlook and perception. If the most transparent level of reporting can get away with responding to only 33% of indicators, then either transparent needs a new definition or the Application Level framework is poorly constructed. This will surely be part of the new G4 considerations and I hope that the new-generation GRI Framework will address this issue in a thorough way. See my views about how to construct reporting in my post about whether sustainability reports actually report what people what to know or not. See also this post from AccountAbility which covers five misconceptions about GRI Reporting, the first relating to this very point about Application Levels.

The role of assurance
Not much has changed since I referred to Assurance as the Wild West of Sustainability Reporting. I recently came across another article about the poor quality of Sustainability Report Assurance in 2011, based on research conducted by Carbon Smart. This research shows that "the level of sustainability assurance provided by FTSE 350 companies remains pitifully low. Just 79 of the 350 companies included some kind of assurance comment for their 2010 CSR reports, only 66 of which were independent assurance statements. Even where assurance is provided, many of the statements fail to meet minimum requirements that would render them accessible and useful to readers." Add to this the fact that reports parade as "assured" when only a very small proportion of the data has actually been verified or only a small part of a corporation's global data is actually disclosed. For Sustainability Reporting to be both more useful and more credible, assurance practices need to change. Surely this impacts the mission of the GRI in a material way?

The GRI relationships with financial services stakeholders
Two of GRI's five largest donors are financial services institutions (PWC and KMG). The USA Focal Point was established through the financing of the Big Four Accounting companies. Integrated Reporting efforts are primarily focused on investor needs. The GRI EFC has two out of five members from the financial services community.  The weight of the financial services community on the development of the GRI cannot go unnoticed. But, as I have often said, sustainability should not only address financial stakeholders. If the purpose of sustainability (and reporting) is to help investors make more money, then I think something has gone astray somewhere along this journey. I believe a material issue for the GRI has to be the maintenance of a broader perspective - an appeal to all stakeholders, including those who are looking for a better future, not necessarily defined as having more money in the bank. See my Heretical thoughts on Integrated Reporting.

The GRI's management of its operations in a social and environmentally responsible manner
This is the area to which the GRI has given the most detail in its report, as in previous years. I concur with the External Feedback Committee (EFC) which wrote: "The report could be improved by providing a consistent and clear link between the DMAs and the performance results and by including performance-related data in the main body of the report, rather than the Annex or Content Index sections." Dumping data into a report add-on is usually indicative of a lack of integration of performance into core operations and often a way to conveniently skip over delivering full accountability for results.  However, the GRI does provide good narrative around the data, with clear explanations (except, perhaps, for the fact that the GRI Board of Directors is only 21% female, when the Secretariat is 70% female and total workforce is around 45% female).

Back, then, to the GRI's own GRI Report.

I support the GRI (as an Organizational Stakeholder) and believe that its value is far greater than the impression which readers of this report will take away. The GRI has made efforts to be more responsive this time around and has reflected a more rounded picture of the organization's activities and areas of impact. Attempts to include feedback are better than last time. My ability to write this post is facilitated by the GRI's commitment to transparent reporting. The GRI is still on its own reporting journey and this report shows progress.

In future, I would like to see the GRI take a less mechanical approach towards the use of the GRI Framework and see the GRI get beneath the skin of reporting to where real impact is created - in the hearts and minds of corporate leadership, in the daily practice of organizations, in the interplay between all stakeholders and in the engagement around the issues that bubble below the surface of sustainability reporting. In short, around the issues that companies do not (yet) report.  I would like the GRI report to be an account of outcome as well as action, a story as well as a checklist, a delight as well as an obligation.

Anyone for ice-cream?

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices   Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Editing Sustainability

How do you edit sustainability? What's relevant when you are the editor of a sustainability publication?

One person that confronts these questions every day is Tom Idle, a writer, journalist, editor and commentator in the field of corporate sustainability, climate change policy, environmental protection, clean energy and renewables, and corporate social responsibility. Currently, Tom is Editor of Sustainable Business, a climate change and sustainability magazine. I will be meeting up with Tom at the Smart Sustainability Reporting Conference which I will be chairing on 15th May in London, so I asked Tom about what goes through his mind as editor.

Here are a few of the things that Tom told me:
"I am constantly asking myself the question: What is a sustainable business? The answer is, of course, that a truly sustainable business does not yet exist. The challenge for me is sorting the wheat from the chaff. A growing number of companies are taking it incredibly seriously; shifting their business models to prepare for the new paradigm. Many others are making incremental changes, which ought to be applauded. It's important that the two sets of companies are not treated the same from an editorial point of view."

"We are living in interesting times. The challenges posed by the dire economic state of the West, potentially catastrophic climate change, a growing population, suspected peak oil, emerging economies, etc, etc. call for a revolution in the way in which we live, buy, sell and behave. To be writing about sustainability issues right here, right now, makes me feel alive. I am part of the debate and, hopefully, my magazine offers part of the solution. I happened upon this agenda by chance not long after graduating as a journalist. Now I'm here, I won't be leaving."

"I am keen to get away from the term 'corporate sustainability' and to talk more about smarter business. Adopting green practices and processes is sustainable. But it's also about being smart. A lot of this stuff is about doing business better. "

"I want everybody that books a place at the conference to have a good time. I want them to learn something new and to teach the person sitting next to them something new. This is not just a listening exercise - this is a chance to meet new people, learn new ways of doing things and to have fun. From the stage, I want to hear some great stories. That is what journalism is: storytelling. And stories, told well, make great editorial for the magazine."

"I want the Smart Sustainability Reporting Conference to rip up the rule book that has been built over the years, telling companies how they should put their annual CSR report together. I want businesses to question the objective of sustainability reporting and find smarter ways of doing it - with the 'how', 'why' and 'what' centre of mind."

Tom tends to skim-read many Sustainability Reports and uses them to grab the headlines on any company that he might be writing about.  What does ripping up the rule book mean? What does he consider to be a "smart" report?

"For me, it's got to be about materiality. What's the point in companies spending lots of energy reporting on things that are of no interest to their stakeholders? Companies need to find value in the activity of sustainability reporting. It's not just about the final document and communication. It's about devising methods for extracting the key data that is vital to assessing the company's sustainability credentials and using that in creative, informative and interesting ways that will help drive value across the business and in the supply chain. I feel for reporters, though. It must be a tough job, especially if they are sitting in the midst of an unhelpful workforce that views them as merely a pain in the backside."

Yes, it's true. As a Sustainability Reporter, with broad contact within companies, often interviewing tens of managers for stories and chasing tens of others for data, the feeling of being a "pain in the backside" is not entirely foreign to me. Reporting is a tough job, and doing it well is even tougher. The focus on materiality is key and a fundamental assessment of material issues as the basis for Sustainability Reporting is certainly a smart start-point.

Editing sustainability, therefore, is giving critical voice to the material impacts for which companies are accountable, and their consequent outcomes. Using relevant and meaningful case studies to illustrate how all this happens is part of the editorial skill. Editing Sustainability and Sustainability Reporting, apparently, have a lot in common. 

Tom's insights led me to wonder if Sustainability Editors are just as much a pain in the backside as Sustainability Reporters? I didn't ask him that question.  

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)
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