Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dr Sustainability is back!

Dr. Sustainability has been rather busy of late, engaging with stakeholders, making materiality assessments, chairing conferences and generally enjoying life on the sustainability reporting circuit. She has once again agreed to share her perspectives in response to reader questions EXCLUSIVELY on the CSR Reporting blog. She knows that the CSR Reporting Blog is the longest running blog about reporting in the stratosphere and that it is always packed with quality insights. Good quality, bad quality, who cares, it's always quality.   

Dear Dr. Sustainability: After almost 20 years of reporting, we don't have too much left to say. We have already described our policies, approaches and initiatives. Of course, we can easily update the quantitative data, but all the rest is as it always has been. Should we now experiment with different topics to report? For example, the fact that we have organic ice cream in our dining room? Or that we have reversed our smoke-free policy in our corporate offices to ensure we get value for money from our fire detectors? Or should we simply republish our latest report with a different image on the front? 
Dear Reporter: It's true that a year happens very quickly and even if you really scrape the barrel, there is not always enough to say. However, simply republishing your last report is not a good idea. After all, you want to differentiate yourselves from your competitors, correct? (Think about it!). In my view, you could be proactive and create some content specially for your report. For example, you could rebuild your corporate head offices totally out of post-consumer recycled waste that you have collected from all your employees and local communities. This is actually a long-term win-win, because then, instead of throwing out your office waste, you can use it to construct another office.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I heard that GRI and SASB are to collaborate on reporting standards. All SASB sector standards are to be integrated into GRI Standards and then, eventually, there will no longer be a need for a two separate organizations. I heard they are going to merge and call themselves Global Sustainability Standards Reporting Accounting Board Initiative (GSSRABI) headquartered in Amsterdam. Do you think this will help improve the quality of reporting over the long term? 
Dear Optimist: I think that's just absolutely fantastic. It's true that we need more collaboration in the sustainability reporting space. Usually, when you hear the word "collaboration", it means endless dialogue that doesn't get anywhere. At least, in this case, bicycle sales in Europe will increase.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We are in the process of planning our next report and we have engaged two different consultants to help us prepare it. The problem is the consultants can't agree on anything and every time one of them advises us on something, the other gives the opposite advice. How can we resolve this?
Dear Moneybags: You have two options. Only pay the consultant whose advice you choose to accept. Or, better, hire a third consultant to mediate between the existing two and decide on your behalf what is most appropriate. You may end up with a consultant-speak techno-babble report, but at least you won't be caught in the middle of consultant-speak techno-babble arguments.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear GRI is collaborating with the UNGC and others to create a reporting platform for the SDGs. Do you like this approach? 
Dear Collaborator: Of course, this is a wonderful approach. Collaboration is a great thing. And another new reporting platform is exactly what everybody needs. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: Now that GRI Standards are published, are you seeing sustainability reports of higher quality? 
Dear Auditor: Oh yes. In particular, I am seeing a lot of investment in the reporting principles. One day, there will be an investment in reporting practice. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: My boss told me that sustainability reporting is just a phase and that it will disappear within 3 years. Should I be looking for another job? 
Dear Pessimist: Well, as the office cleaner, I wouldn't have thought this change will affect you significantly.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that GRI and IIRC are collaborating to make integrated reporting relevant to all stakeholders. Do you think this will be groundbreaking? 
Dear Stakeholder: Groundbreaking is probably not a word I would use. Backbreaking is probably closer to the truth.
Dear Dr. Sustainability: Why is it that sustainability reports are always about people, planet and profit? What about animals? I love animals. Why does no-one write sustainability reports that consider the needs of dogs, cats, elephants, lizards, snakes and hippos?  
Dear Zookeeper: The animal world is essential to sustainable development and many reports refer to the impact of corporations on biodiversity, wildlife, endangered species and other non-human life-forms. The problem is that pictures of wild boars and dead snakes on the cover of sustainability reports have been known to cause nightmares for the children of employees, and, in 2016, fourteen children were diagnosed with Sustainability Report Anxiety Disorder, a sickness usually only found to affect reporting managers. UNICEF has now banned animals from sustainability reports. In future, only nice photos of children and sunshine can be on the cover of reports.   

Dear Dr. Sustainability: For our last materiality assessment, it took absolutely ages to place the dots on the matrix. Every time I thought I had the right place for every dot, one of our executives or stakeholder groups decided that it should move up a little, down a little or to the left or the right. And when one dot moved, I had to move all the others. We decided on our most material topics ages ago, but it has taken 3 years just to agree where the dots should be, and now it's time for a new materiality assessment. How can I avoid the same problem in our new process?
Dear Dotty: Fix your dots down with SuperGlue. If anyone complains, fix them down with SuperGlue as well.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I hear that GRI is looking for new organizations to collaborate with. They have exhausted collaboration possibilities with all the other organizations in the sustainability reporting space and are looking for new ways to enhance their reach. I have a small business that makes edible keyboards and I was wondering if GRI might be prepared to collaborate with me. Edible self-regenerating keyboards are a new sustainable tool for the future of work. They are organic, calorie-controlled, free of colorings, additives, added sugar and GMO ingredients and they are perfectly functioning keyboards until eaten, and regenerate themselves immediately after consumption. Using these keyboards, sustainability report writers can write, copy-paste, revise, copy-paste, send to legal and revise for days on end without ever having to leave their desk. This will have immense benefits for the speed of reporting, the productivity of reporting managers and the reputation of the firm. Do you think GRI will be open to promoting the edible self-regenerating keyboard as an essential sustainability reporting tool alongside GRI Standards?
Dear Businessperson: The edible self-regenerating keyboard certainly sounds like a worthy innovation. In fact, thank you for the samples. I gave them to a report-writer and she has already eaten 16 and she hasn't even finished the About this Report chapter. As for GRI, they may be interested. You just have to make sure that the keyboard has quick keys for standard reporting phrases. For example:

  • CNTL+E: We are proud of all we have achieved but there is more to be done.
  • SHIFT+K: Even in a challenging economy, we have still upheld all our CSR values and continued to contribute to the community. 
  • SHIFT+P: As a customer-centric company, customers are at the center of all we do.
  • CNTL+Y: Employees are our greatest asset.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: My CEO is committed to compliance but he says beyond compliance is totally an own-goal. He will not listen to reason. So all we have to report in our annual sustainability report is how compliant we are. Is it worth publishing a report? 
Dear Optimist: Compliance is a wonderful thing and your stakeholders will be comforted to know that you are compliant. You can write a great report about being compliant. You can tell compliance stories and case studies. You can take photos of your executives being compliant. You can include compliance videos. You can talk about the meaning of compliance and how it affects your organization. You can talk about the incidences of non-compliance and how you addressed them. You can reflect on the nature of compliance and the need to build a compliance culture. You can identify compliance targets and report your progress against them. In fact, there is so much to say about compliance that you will have to be careful not to make your report too long. Of course, a compliance-only report is not everybody's dream report, but you have to do what you can where you are with what you have. And you get to keep your CEO happy. He will probably be so happy that he will reward you (with ice cream) for being compliant. 

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We finished our sustainability report ages ago, but it has taken so long for our legal counsel and senior managers to approve the report that I fear it is a little out of date. Is it worth publishing a report covering 2012 in 2017? 
Dear Optimist:  Ah yes, that is a big gap. Who can even remember where they were in 2012? However, as long as you have ticked all the boxes, nobody will mind. In fact, nobody will probably even notice.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We have a new Human Resources Director who doesn't want to listen to anything to do with sustainability. She says the role of HR Is to keep management happy and employees productive and within budget. She is not interested in diversity and inclusion, employee wellness, community involvement, green teams, living wage, work-life balance, sustainability-based bonuses, flexible working and open communications. She just wants to hire, fire and arrange company parties.
Dear Frustrated: Yes, this can be a problem with Human Resources Managers. They often can't see beyond the end of their nose. This is especially problematic if they have a very short nose. The only thing you can do in this case is try to undermine HR. Do a workaround. Convince your business managers to apply enlightened people policies and to actually talk to employees about sustainability. Eventually you will see a momentum building and employees will want to engage on matters that matter, and HR will have no choice than to respond. In the meantime, in your Sustainability Report, include statements like "our employees are our greatest asset", "our employees are our most important resource", "we are very employee-centric", and say that HR is driving a culture of caring and sharing.  

Dear Dr. Sustainability: I want to get our company listed on DJSI, as I see that many companies who are listed gain additional financial value and access to capital and generally deliver a better return for shareholders. How can I improve our position on DJSI? 
Dear Optimist: The best way to get listed on DJSI is to actually improve your corporate sustainability performance over a period of several years and systematically build your disclosure to meet the needs of the DJSI analysts. Of course, this may seem like rather a long and challenging process and it may not be worth your effort. If so, the alternative is to use the resources you would have invested in gaining DJSI listing for other purposes that will improve access to capital, such as bribing the bank manager, bribing the analysts or providing severance pay for your Chief Sustainability Officer.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We have had a lot of feedback from employees who have read our Sustainability Report but they say that it does not represent our company. In fact, they say it's nothing like our company. They don't recognize anything that's in there. How can we resolve this issue?
Dear Stranger: Tell them not to be so narrow-minded and to use their imagination. By definition, a Sustainability Report is full of dreams and wishes and an optimistic and rosy future. You employees should link to their higher selves, explore the realms of possibility, contemplate on a heavenly work-life and consider that the report is designed to create trust in the company. How can you create trust if you actually tell it like it is?

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We love all our stakeholders, but frankly, all this engagement stuff takes time. I would much rather gain stakeholder input without having to talk to them. What are the ways I can do this on a tight budget? 
Dear Introvert: Yes, I understand that stakeholders can be a big problem. Engaging with them is every reporter's nightmare. The best way to do this without getting involved in long and cumbersome processes is simply to attend as many conferences as you can and talk to as many people as you can. Networking is the new normal in stakeholder engagement. Record all your networking conversations and publish the highlights in your report. Not only will you have a wealth of insight, you will enjoy lots of free lunches.

Dear Dr. Sustainability: We want to engage with stakeholders by holding a stakeholder round table but we don't have a round table. What should we do?
Dear Carpenter: You have two options. Get a round table (easy) or or don't engage with stakeholders (easier).

Dear Dr. Sustainability: How do you see the future of reporting?
Dear Futurist: If I could see the future, I would not be working in sustainability. I would be selling underground bunkers and oxygen masks.

elaine cohen, CSR Consultant, Sustainability Reporter, former HR Professional, Trust Across America 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Ice Cream Addict, Author of three totally groundbreaking books on sustainability (see About Me page). Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen) or via my business website www.b-yond.biz (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: info@b-yond.biz 

Elaine will be chairing  the edie Conference on Smarter Sustainability Reporting  in London on 27th February 2018

1 comment:

Lucky Kormene said...

Sustainability Reporting is the only way forward. We all need to up our games with stakeholders satisfaction in focus while not negating the truism test

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