Monday, November 30, 2015

7 tools to make your online Sustainability Report dance

Who doesn't like dancing? A dancing Sustainability Report is one that has great content and is presented so creatively that the content just dances right out at you. The online environment is your dance studio. Of course, you need fabulous dance instructors to turn your Sustainability Report in to a dancing report.

As a consultant and writer, my focus is primarily on the content of Sustainability Reports. Getting a balance of content and crafting the narrative is a thrilling part of the work. I love it. That's me, still a proud reporting geek. An important part of my work, however, is going beyond the content to engage with the graphic designers who put it into a form that is navigable, digestible and aesthetic and helps the report dance. This is no easy task. I am often mind-blown by the creative skill of the designers. Our interface is usually at the beginning and at the end when we are working with clients' in-house or external design teams:

At the beginning: At the conceptual stage, once we have an idea about the focus of the report content and the key story for the reporting year, it's important to check in with the designers to make sure we are all aligned - and to help us prepare the content in a way that takes advantage of the possibilities and acknowledges the limitations of the selected report concept and format. Use of infographics, presentation of quotations, use of boxed text, dynamic presentation of charts and graphs...there are a million ways to do different things with words and numbers - it's important to set expectations up front and agree initial directions for key design elements early in the process. 

At the end: Once 95% of the content is ready to go (it almost never gets to 100% at this stage), we shoot it to the designers. Then begins the long process of back and forth as we proof and reproof and check and recheck. Our role as overseers of the reports is critical at this stage. Aside from technical errors, which always happen (charts get inverted, dates get jumbled, pages get omitted, paragraphs are in the wrong order, letters are capitalized when they shouldn't be, all sorts of weird things happen in converting the content), designers do not always understand the nuances and critical context of the report content and therefore may select imagery that is totally inappropriate. We need to pick that up and oversee the integrity of the design in all of its different facets. This is often a challenge and, depending on the experience of the design team, can have us tearing or hair out - or gorging on triple chocolate fudge ice cream from early morning right through till late evening. And weekends.

The challenge is amplified when you are designing for the online environment. That's why I so appreciate and admire the work of my long-time friends Thomas Rosenmayr and the team at nexxar. They have a way of creating online reports (annual reports and sustainability reports - but I refer here mainly to the latter) that turn content into experience, text into narrative, numbers into pictures and a report into an event. nexxar's claim to fame is designing for online. They make reports dance. While PDFs remain an essential tool, especially for off-line use, nexxar has mastered and even championed the online environment for sustainability reporting.

Thomas says: "When we started our business we looked for a name that incorporates our aspiration to shape the future of corporate reporting. nexxar is an abbreviation for your next Annual Report. The .com domain attached to nexxar is a vital part of our company name. It stands for both our digital focus as well as our multinational business concept. Ever since we started, nexxar has devoted itself entirely to the topic of digital reporting. Since 2003 we have published more than 500 online reports, in our early days most of these reports were financial but nowadays half of the are Integrated or Sustainability Reports. Our mission is to develop digital reporting solutions that embrace technology for the benefit of its users as well as our clients. We believe the web is not just another communication channel to push content via PDF originally designed for printing. A good digital report does not just convert data but reshapes the messages to work non-linear as well as on screen and adds value through interactivity, multimedia and hyperlinking."

For a long time now I have been meaning to showcase some of nexxar's work here on the CSR Reporting Blog. The time has come. Here's a selection of some nexxar's report creations and how they dance. 

Dancing Value Chain

Thomas says: "Using a clickable value chain is one of the best ways to get users right into the content of the report."

See this example from The Linde Group in its CR Report 2014.

In this report, online opens up with this overview of the value chain. Each element is clickable and takes you to the specific report content belonging to that click. For example, clicking on "25 million" (gas cylinders - the most commonly used form of packaging) takes you to a page on raw materials where you can find all relevant disclosures including clickable cross-references to GRI and UNGC indicators. The report is seamlessly navigable, with more about >> links for those who want more about, and side and top menus so that you never forget where you are. 

From any page you can one-click to all Linde's key figures, cleanly laid out in table covering 5 years' performance

Dancing charts

Thomas says: "An interactive charting tool certainly is one dimension that digital can bring to the table to engage your audience. From what we can see in our statistics, this tool is very well received by web users."

Dynamic responsive user-driven interactive charts and tables have become somewhat of a signature feature of  nexxar's online creations. You can play around with numbers in charts, graphs and tables and totally enjoy the fun of seeing numbers miraculously appear in so many different ways. Such charts make the data so much more accessible.  Here are a few examples:

Dancing Storytelling

Thomas says: "Engaging digital storytelling needs to be done different for the digital space "

See this example from Metro in its 2013-2014 Corporate Responsibility Report.

Metro Group's Report is clean and spacious and guides you to key content for heavy report users right from the report home page. The report has five main content sections called "spheres of action". The storytelling approach is done through short personal insights from key people in the Metro Group. Each shares a personal story about a sphere of action. The following section then details the company's progress and performance in this area. 

Dancing materiality

Thomas says: "Interactive materiality index enables you to click on the legend  to select / deselect issues. "

See this example from Legal and General in its 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report. L&G presents a rather full materiality matrix. To help the reader navigate this online, you can click on each of the dots and get a pop-up that tells you what it's all about.

In addition, there is a clickable list of material impacts that take you directly to the relevant content.

And the home page of the report has clickable drop-down menus that take you to any part of the report at the click of a click.

Dancing home page

Thomas says: "The home page of the online Sustainability Report should guide readers to interesting content. "

See this example from SNAM's 2014 Sustainability Report

Another nice online feature of SNAM's report is the download center where you can download all or bits of the report and/or go straight to the hyperlinked GRI content index. Navigation at its best.

Dancing gallery

Thomas says: "Photo galleries are a great way to draw attention to great stories."

See this example from  Merck Group's 2014 Corporate Responsibility Report

This photo gallery is a great way to attract the reader to the relevant stories in the report. When you click on a black and white image, it suddenly goes technicolor and the screen below jumps to the story narrative. 

Dancing GRI Content Index

Thomas says: "Interactive GRI Index actually is the perfect fit for the web, sometimes I think GRI invented this index for online usage. While in a print based document the indicators are referenced by page numbers, within the web version these are converted to hyperlinks leading you on-click to the right spot not just within the Sustainability Report but also to the Annual Report or any other website providing the necessary information."

See these examples:

(this is a UNGC index against the 10 principles)

The concertina GRI Content Index that expands and contracts to let you decide how much content you want to see, with content hyperlinked to the report sections, really makes navigating to selected content a pleasure. 

I couldn't let Thomas off the hook without asking him a few more questions about nexxar and online Sustainability Reporting.

When you co-founded nexxar in 2003, sustainability reporting was just getting started. Also, the online environment was hardly as expansive as it is today. 12 years on, did you expect that you would become a champion of online sustainability reporting? How did you make that happen? 
Thomas says: "I think what you end up with on a long-term scale is never fully congruent with your original plans. When we started business, I wasn't so much aware of Sustainability Reports. But wanted to have an impact on corporate reporting. As our service is quite specific, right from the beginning, our clients have been large multinational corporations who forced us to fully focus on quality and innovation. The early days of the Internet opened up this great opportunity for nexxar as a tiny start up offering a service that large corporations could not fulfil internally. Defining clear goals with our clients right from the beginning is key for our long-term success. And over time lot of companies understood that the web is the perfect communication channel for sustainability matters. Main advantages are the global reach combined with a very efficient use of resources as well as the two-way communication to truly engage with their audience." 

What do you find most challenging in designing Sustainability Reports for online reading? 
Thomas says: "The dominant mindset still thinks in pages. Almost all content is created on paper based software like Word. Not only text but also images, graphs, diagrams or even tables are designed to fit on portrait format. To convert this content later on for a screen based viewport will always have its limitations. How can you transform a business diagram or management picture to change from portrait to landscape format? Other issues include contrasts of images, fonts or content structure. Sometimes it's impossible to generate a usable navigation for multi-page textual wasteland. Online we need a clear hierarchy as well as teaser content on main pages providing users a clear understanding where to continue their journey. In our lab we present some of the most important do's and don'ts when editing contents for the web "  

And what do you find most satisfying? 
Thomas says: "Sustainability Reports do not have regulatory restrictions like financial reports. They are more flexible when it comes to designing content for digital. When involved right from the beginning there is a lot of positive impact that is possible for the digital report. Also people involved in sustainability are way more more web savvy. The web is perceived as a chance for sustainability not as a threat against traditional communications. As a result, we see adoption to web techniques like using a CMS to compose content easier (see more information on our online first approach) .  

When you start work on a new sustainability report for the online environment, what are the three non-negotiables you present to your client? 
Thomas says: "That's a difficult question. We see ourselves as providers of a high level service. There are some high level no-go's for us. For example, we do not white label our work through other agencies. We see the direct contact to our clients being essential for the quality of our reports as well as for our own satisfaction. We live for what we do. On the other hand, our clients have their own views or needs and we fully respect this. Three things we see as indisputable for a usable online sustainability report would certainly include: 
  • Web based navigation that provides individual structure with sublevels 
  • All content needs to be presented in HTML to be fully accessible 
  • Responsive design, so the layout adopts flexible to the screen width of the device used."

Rounding off, I love the work that nexxar does to make sustainability disclosure more accessible. If you haven't selected your providers for your first or your next Sustainability Report, using expert providers such as nexxar for design and Beyond Business (ahem, couldn't resist) for content is a sure way to make your report dance.  

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dr. Sustainability is back!

Dr. Sustainability is now a movie star. Since featuring in the Beyond Business video, she has been overrun with offers to star in major sustainability feature movies that help make the world a better place. Here are just a few of the movies she has worked on over the past few months. Watch your local box office for news of these movies coming to your cinema soon.

The Silence of the Engineers: Jodie Foster stars with Dr. Sustainability in this movie about a conspiracy of silence at a major German car manufacturer who has been cheating regulators about the level of air emissions from its manufactured vehicles. Dr. Sustainability is cast in the role of Clarice Sparkling, who uncovers the scam and saves the world from the duplicity of corporate car makers.

Almost Back to the Future: Dr. Sustainability stars alongside Michael J. Fox in this gripping tale of 45,000 attendees at a Climate Conference in a major European city who valiantly try to alter the course of global climate change, one of the most complex problems the world has ever faced. Dr. Sustainability plays the heroine who, towards the later stages of three days of deadlock among nations, manages to bring the parties to consensus about how we are all going to save the world.

Forrest Rump: Together with co-star, Tom Hanks, Dr. Sustainability goes on a world tour to explain to populations across the globe that reducing consumption of processed meat would be a good idea if they don't want to get colorectal cancer. Eventually Dr. Sustainability gets the message through and converts everyone to eating to ice cream instead. 

The Hunger Shames: Dr. Sustainability stars as Katnip Evergreen who brings together an army against President Slush to challenge the increasing inequality in global food production and distribution, enabling all the world's hungry people to receive government rations of three balanced and nutritious meals a day. The result is that people get so much to eat that they get fatter and fatter. The sequel to this movie will be called The Obesity Games. 

Muriel's Wedding: Dr. Sustainability doesn't star in this movie, actually. But I included it because it's one of the best movies ever and if you haven't seen it, you really should.

As usual, CSR Blog readers had a chance to ask Dr. Sustainability some questions.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Now that you are a movie star, will you be advancing sustainability principles in Hollywood? 
Dear Star-Struck: Of course. Hollywood has a great sustainability record. The amount of recycling of old movies is the highest in the world. Also, I have suggested a Hollywood Green Month. We will start by recycling The Boy with Green Hair. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I have heard that by 2030, the world will be OK and there will be no hunger, poverty or  abuses of human rights and there will be world peace, all due to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals? Can you confirm this?
Dear Boundless Optimist: Of course I can confirm this. But remember, if by 2030 we fail to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we can always make some new ones like we did last time. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Of all the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that have been ratified, which one do you think is the most likely to be achieved? 
Dear Intellectual: Number 18.  
Dear Dr. Sustainability: But there is no number 18.
Dear Intellectual: Exactly. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We are a small business and our impacts are modest. How can we contribute to advancing the SDGs ? 
Dear Contributor: Every action is worth something. Whatever your actions are worth, please calculate the value and put that on a money order addressed to Dr. Sustainability, Hollywood.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We are thinking of developing a  new sustainability initiative at our privately-owned printing company. The initiative is designed to alleviate poverty by creating new wealth through the manufacture of money. We plan to provide 3D printers to small impoverished communities in the Niger Delta. They will be able to print notes and coins and even new wallets for the adult population. Could this be a solution to many of the social problems caused by poverty? 
Dear Creative: This is a wonderful initiative. I am all for distribution of wealth. The only problem I foresee here is that, as ApplePay takes over, they wont have a need for money as they will pay for everything using their iPhones. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Do you believe in karma? My boss says that sustainability is simply an issue of karma. If you screw the planet, it will screw you.
Dear Spiritualist: I think your boss is quite wise. Karma is a bit like the chicken and the egg.  The chain had to start somewhere. You have to undo all the unkarma things you did before you can start becoming karma positive. You can start by making a karma offset through the Dr. Sustainability Dekarmazation Fund that rights the world's wrongs as Dr. Sustainability gets rich. Money orders to Dr. Sustainability, Hollywood.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Now that everyone is using the G4 guidelines, do you  feel confident that we can overcome climate change? 
Dear G4-user: That depends if climate change is material. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I plan to be at the 5th global GRI Conference on May 18-19 in Amsterdam next year. Can we fix a time to meet? I would love to shake your hand. 
Dear Hand-Shaker: Of course, I will be at the conference. Who won't? But I don't do handshakes unless your palm is greased with Euros.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We recently did a materiality assessment and came up with more than 3,000 material topics that we screened down to one after a process of stakeholder engagement and management analysis.  The one issue that we identified as being most material was the time wasted on packing lines at our factories through people taking bathroom breaks. Our process was very robust. We used an accounting firm.  
Dear Materiality: What's your question? 
Dear Dr. Sustainability: I have no question.
Dear Materiality: If your main issue is bathroom breaks , you should have lots of questions. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I am so worried about our next Sustainability Report that I can't sleep at nights. I have the feeling that we will never get to publish our report. We have made so many revisions, legal keep wanting to review it, senior management keep changing words, the designer keeps making mistakes and we have to correct it all over again and again and again. I am worried that we won't complete the report on time to publish this year - it's already November.
Dear Sleepless: No Sustainability Report is worth losing sleep over. Once the report is out, people will look at the content and not when it was published. Publishing a report at the end of 2015 for 2014 performance is rather late, but it's not the end of the world.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: The report covers 2013. 
Dear Sleepless: In that case, just change all the dates from 2013 to 2015, publish in 2016 and no-one will be any the wiser. Oh, and don't tell the legal folks. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that GRI guidelines are becoming GRI standards. What do you say about that? 
Dear Standard-Setter:  That's nice for GRI. SASB has standards. IIRC has standards. Even ISO 26000 is a standard. Who's anyone without a standard? Now GRI will be just like everyone else.   

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Do you plan to be at the Paris climate summit? 
Dear Paris-watcher: It seems that the trend these days is that everyone is explaining why they will be in Paris or why they won't be in Paris. I have never been one to go with the trend so I will remain silent on whether I will attend and why or why not. Of course, remaining silent is one of my great life challenges, so watch this space, just in case.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: What advice would you give to our company? We have published 13 annual Sustainability Reports to date, but now we have no budget to develop content for a next report as times are hard.
Dear Hard-Up: My advice would be to publish  a Best of Sustainability Reports, as a compilation of all the best bits from all 13 reports to date. If you're lucky, no-one will even notice.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: How many Sustainability Reports have you enjoyed reading in your lifetime?
Dear Report-Reader: All of them. But please wait a second while I uncross my fingers.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:  

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Elastic Sustainability Report

How do you make a Sustainability Report that's elastic? That's easy, you have to be an elastic company. ECI is a global provider of ELASTIC Network™ solutions for service providers, utilities and data center operators. In ECI's fourth Sustainability Report, entitled "Reinventing the Future", ECI explains how elasticity goes hand-in-hand with an innovative, responsible and ethical approach to conducting business.

All this is in addition to continuously improving environmental impacts  - check out these results: since 2010, ECI has reduced
  • Energy consumption by 54% 
  • Greenhouse gas emissions by 49% 
  • Water use by 15% 
  • Waste by 62%
But back to elastic. One of the problems these days with technology is the fact that it becomes obsolete so quickly as the pace of innovation overtakes it - especially in the world of ICT - internet and communications technology. In order to keep up with technology, which can be the main key to remaining competitive, companies have to replace old technology with new. That is, unless they have ECI's ELASTIC targeted applied technology solutions that hook onto legacy technology without throwing out the baby with the bathwater, as we say in Manchester. This is the sustainability of ECI's network solutions. In most cases, solutions are new enough to enable customers to stay ahead, and old enough to be compatible with existing platforms to avoid large investments that dent profitability or delay new competitive offerings. This is the case for example in Mexico. ECI supports the Mexican government's digital inclusion strategy by providing ELASTIC solutions for internet connectivity that reaches up to 97% of Mexico's population through fiber optic digital communications transported by existing power lines built for transmission of electricity. Bandwidth at the flick of a switch, combining legacy and innovation to deliver optimal flexibility, efficiency and conservation of resources. 

The concept of elasticity in business was introduced in a book called "The Elastic Enterprise" by NicholasVitalary and Haydn Shaughnessy - a truly interesting read. The authors present concepts such as radical adjacency, mass differentiation, new scale economics, sapient leadership and active strategy, supported by five dynamics of new operating models that together form a manifesto for business revolution. Elastic enterprises do well even in recession and support the creation of societal wealth and advancement. You'll have to read the book to understand the concepts in more detail. Even though The Elastic Enterprise was not written as a sustainability textbook, it could certainly be mistaken for one. 

Back to elastic reports. There is something always that little bit extra in ECI's Sustainability Reports - innovation with legacy. Each year, the report is brought to life by a global activity that engages employees in the company's mission and community spirit. Whether it's a Green Camera competition, or an "ECI and ME" photography competition or, as is the case in ECI's 2014 Sustainability Report , a "get-your-kids-to-draw-the-way-they-see-ECI" competition. The 2014 Sustainability Report is illustrated with drawings by ECI's extended family and includes children between ages 4 and 12 who creatively show ECI in its global ecosystem with drawings about about connectivity, the family culture of the company and the pace of technological advancement. Some show ECI simply as a home to thousands of employees and their families and communities.

Three other things that add interest and insight to ECI's 2014 Sustainability Report are commentaries from prominent voices in the world of sustainability today. These are (in surname alfa order):

Deborah Leipziger advises companies, governments and UN agencies on social innovation, human rights and business, and sustainability. Professor Leipziger is a Senior Fellow in Social Innovation at the Lewis Institute at Babson, and teaches at the Bard MBA in Sustainability program and other business schools. The third edition of her book, The Corporate Responsibility Code Book will be published soon (I have editions I and II - these are essential books for susty professionals). Deborah's commentary refers to the Guiding Principles on Human Rights, explaining their importance.

Margo Mosher is a Manager with SustainAbility. SustainAbility is a think tank and strategic advisory firm working to catalyze business leadership on sustainability. SustainAbility was founded by activists John Elkington and Julia Hailes in 1987.  Last year, SustainAbility published a very insightful paper on transparency and the need for greater strategic material focus. I mentioned this in a post back in December last year. Margo's commentary is about the role of the private sector in working to create a sustainable economy and the value of reporting. 

Luis Neves is the chairman of GeSI - a membership organization for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) companies and organizations around the globe and a leading source of information, resources and best practices for achieving integrated social and environmental sustainability through ICT. Luis's commentary is about the value of ICT an an enabler, helping companies to reduce environmental impacts through the use of technology. GeSi has produced some impressive publications about the role of ICT in helping create a sustainable future, and since Luis prepared this commentary for ECI's Sustainability Report, GeSI has managed to put out SMARTer 2030, which updates prior research and insight into how technology can transform business efficiency and deliver environmental advantage. Well worth a review. 

Anyway, back to elastic. Now you know what an ELASTIC Sustainability Report is.

As always, take a look. Give feedback!

(Disclosure: ECI is a valued client and I supported the writing of this report and all prior reports)

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise Guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine:  
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