Monday, December 11, 2017

Speeky Engleesh 3

It's been a while since I posted on the charms of translated Sustainability Reports.  Check out:
Now, here's Speeky Engleesh 3. 

As I have said before, it's the content that counts, and wobblies in translation are not always easy to avoid. I do not judge a Sustainability Report on the quality of its English translation and I am truly appreciative of companies who make the effort to produce their reports in English, enabling me and many others to read them. When I look through the GRI Disclosure Database, I am always so disappointed that so many companies publish only in their home language. Of course, I can't fault them for that, really, but, as a geek, I'd like to be able to read those reports too. For example, in one sector, the Household and Personal Products sector, of 32 reports published in 2017 in the database, just 50% are standalone sustainability reports in English. In the Automotive sector, I counted 69 2017-published reports in the database of which just 26 (38%) are standalone sustainability reports in English.

Translation oddities often lend a certain charm to a report and they make me smile. That's all part of what makes reporting so sticky for us reporting geeks. The reporting world would be far less fun if every Sustainability Report were translated perfectly. 

In sharing some of my reporting-chuckle-moments this time around, I asked myself whether it was fair or proper to name the companies. After all, it's only a translation, right?  It's not substance. Local stakeholders, who read reports in their local language, are not distracted by poor English. I answered myself that, well, in the spirit of the CSR Reporting blog's mission to help improve reporting, and in line with my practice of referencing reports for all sorts of reasons, there's no reason not to name names in this post. Even the finishing touches of translation and design are part of the reporting process. Presentation, while not substance, plays an important role. But, in the end, I decided not to name the names of the eight reports the quotes below are drawn from - from different countries and sectors. After all, providing a translation is going the extra mile and I am grateful to companies who do. Still, maybe you can identify one of the quotes below from your report and you can work it out. Maybe you know that your report is translated and you should take another look. If you really want to know, you can always drop me a line. Either way, although I love a chuckle, I would counsel companies who translate their reports to invest in professional proofing in English. Perhaps it's a potential customer who's reading it. Or worse, a reporting geek!

Here is my chuckle-pick from recent reports. Company names and other identifiers redacted.

"The Company has a gratification practice control system that is built and developed continuously." 

"In 2016, the customer satisfaction survey stood at 82.61%, which is an increase of 4.70% from 78.9% in 2015. This proves that customer service management got better in 2016."

"XXX proceeded in accordance with the sustainable management strategy as well as risk management effectively all the whole supply chain."

"The Company gives priority to the stakeholders by considering the stakeholders."  

"The Company emphasizes to build the anti-corruption mind to management and employees as well as provide the support to its trade partners, allies, and stakeholders."

"The XXX Organisation represents the highest ideals of corporate governance and a rich value system which resonate across each of its entire area of business presence."

"XXX still hold our intention in operating business along with providing social benefits by promoting innovation and developing infrastructure that is prompt for dealing with changing."

"To develop everything to be prosperous, it is necessary to develop from existing foundation. If exiting foundation is poor or unstable, it is difficult to develop further. Accordingly, it is necessary to understand clearly that besides emphasizing on prosperity, it is also necessary to maintain foundation stably without any defect simultaneously."

"The Governance and Nomination Committee is responsible for recruiting directors by establishing Board Skill Matrix in order to consider on necessary skills that are lacked from directors and propose to the Board of Directors for approving."

"In addition, XXX also propvides some models of innovations for the ultimate experience of customers bouderlessly as follows:"

"Our compny has also retold our employees to behave themselves to be consistent with conduct, policies, and practices along with organization’s values fostering."

"XXX considers that employees are the most important foundation of the company to make the company to be successful continuously with outstanding contributions and become acceptable with outstanding knowledge and abilities in building excellent work standards for building and maintaining superior competitive capabilities."

"The company’s approach to achieving a good working climate is to create both a healthy organization and a happy workplace under the business condition requiring improvement of competitive capabilities and more challenging."

"We encourage our employees to thing independently and express their ideas."

"This will help XXX to ensure that employees are happy at work, resulting in a sense of ownership, well wishing thoughts and loyalty."

"During the year 2016, there were no criticalities emerged from the activities of stakeholder engagement."

"Our growth and sustainability and, therefore, our ability to meet our commitments to our stakeholder, are conditioned by the customer’s satisfaction"

"To reduce the so-called "abnormal" behaviour among the employees we have adopted a disciplinary code that defines sanctions in connection with possible violations of company rules on safety." 

"XXX Group assists its employees in the transition from employment to retirement, which sometimes causes problems. Since a few years it also created the “XXX Pensioners Group" to give the opportunity to the retired employees to meet and, together refresh the binding of long working life spent within the company."

"XXX tracks and summaries all international environmental regulations including hazard substances, green marks, environmental labels and so on. Relevant units report the regulatory compliance and response measures on the regularly Steering Committee (SC) meetings."

"Over 60% of our managers were local people in our major operation sites so as to practice the concept of talent localization"

"We provide timely cares and helps for employees, while enhancing our company’s productivity as well as reducing employees’ turnover rate."

"Despite having a lot of difficulties in business activities, XXX still had a certain concern on the community and society by participating in CSR campaigns."

"The above training strategy is proven to be efficient as all the new promoted person-nels are doing their jobs well and gain high appreciation as well as credibility by the clients."

"We improve our design and development ability of the product of which value can be increased and accepted as it meets the needs of the customer by our own design and technology."

"We believe that the company will sustainably grow by the important driving factor which is employees to accomplish the vision and mission targeted. Therefore, the company focuses on developing the employees at every level to be ones who have good moral and improve their skill and knowledge, including professionalism that corresponds to organizational culture to create value for themselves, organization and society as per the master plan of smart people."

"The company has encouraged employees to do good. By committing mercy on every day, monks, by invitation of the monks from the various communities around the factory to rotate around the corpse. And bless the employees It also promotes activities related to the religious maintenance. Both activities are done with external agencies. And the internal activities that the company held regularly. This will result in better staffing. And refine the mind with merit and charity, and also create a good relationship with society and surrounding communities as well."

"The company encourages employees to donate blood to the Red Cross four times a year. Because the XX Red Cross as a center Donate and serve blood. Need large amounts of blood because of the current need for more blood. Resulting from Disasters and accidents This activity demonstrates employee involvement in social responsibility."

"The Company has featured on the creation and development of corporate culture. Because it is the foundation that drives the organization to achieve its vision. And grow sustainably. It is used as a tool to manage and develop people as both good and good."

"In 2016, the Company implemented significant regulatory compliance risks"

And my absolute favorite:

"We promote our employees who are knowledgeable, potential, and smart, and have morals."

On a positive note, I will add that it was much harder for me to find examples of Speeky Engleesh this time around. My last post was in 2011. One of the reports I highlighted then, Ambuja Cement, has an impressive report in English for 2016 that is well written and seems linguistically accurate (after a brief scan).

Chuckles or no chuckles, reporting is always fun!

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Is your report long and boring?

One of the numerous tests I use when I am reading and reviewing sustainability reports is how far into the report I can get before it becomes tedious, boring or generally rather meaningless. Some reports are so full of verbiage before they tell you anything substantive that it rather turns you off and makes the rest of the report hard to digest. This is the problem with looooong reports. No-one has the patience these days to read long waffly explanations of every thought process about every bowel movement of the reporting team. 

Reports today need to be concise: they need to state clearly and quickly the most material impacts of the business and efficiently update us on what has changed over the past year. Companies that maintain an online "policy bank" -  a list of policies and positions on core aspects of sustainability -  save themselves time and space in the annual sustainability report. They also gain reader attention, as we don't exhaust our patience on long diatribes and lose energy before we get to the main course. Let's face it, when you go out for a meal, if the first course is massive, you don't have room to eat the main course, let alone dessert. It's the same way sustainability reports. Your material content is your main course. A light starter provides context and background, and a healthy dessert provides the GRI content index and other references. The main course, your materiality process, topics and performance, is where companies should focus their reporting efforts. You can offer a menu of snacks - sustainability stories, anecdotes and case studies - on your website.

Here's an example of a report I came across while doing some research on the consumer goods sector. Ontex Group is a Belgian-based company listed on Euronext Brussels, employing more than 11,000 people and enjoying sales of almost Euro 2 billion. Ontex is a supplier of disposable personal hygiene products including diapers and pants, pads, tampons and panty liners in more than 110 countries. The Ontex 2016 Sustainability Report is a credible report that focuses on its defined most material impacts of the business.

It's a GRI Standards core report, crafted around SDG priorities, and does its stuff in 44 pages (including 5 pages of GRI Content Index) in an attractive, pleasant and clean design. Ontex provides contextual background on trends that have influenced the selection of material impacts and sustainability strategy.

And presents a materiality matrix

While aligning the report with Sustainable Development Goals

And on the Ontex website, the company discloses specific strategy and policy documents to complement and complete the sustainability picture.

But beware: Concise does not mean skeletal. 

Reports that are 2-page infographics are not reports. Four-page summaries are not reports. If they are not infographics of a concise report, or summaries of a longer report, they are not useful in lieu of a sustainability report. While it is possible to reference a host of other documents where disclosures may be located (and the GRI framework allows this), in practice, the beauty of a sustainability report is that key information is on one place and we don't have to go searching for all the individual elements separately. We want the essence of everything that's material without having to trawl the web, download multiple other documents and search forever for references that all too often are not there anyway. So, up to around 45 pages, for me, is concise enough to deliver a complete story with enough detail and context for me to understand the company's impacts and accountability. If I want supplementary information for interest or deeper understanding of quantitative data, I am happy to get this online, via a policy bank or other downloadable appendix.

I know that many people will consider even 40 pages too long....and there are many reports that are much shorter than that and do a good job. While the quality of reporting should not really be measured in terms of the number of pages, my rule of thumb for something that fits in the space between feeling stuffed and still feeling hungry - sort of nicely satiated - is around 40 pages.

Here's another nice example: Ramboll's 2016 Corporate Repsonsibility Report.

Ramboll is an engineering, design and consultancy company founded in Denmark in 1945. Ramboll employs 13,000 people across the world. This is a 40-page GRI G4 almost-core report that packs a ton of information in a well-structured concise framework, pleasingly designed and easy to read, with no distracting glossies and frills. The GRI Content Index and key KPI tables take up 4 pages.

One of the positive things about this report is that the material impacts are right there up front on page 5, immediately after the CEO statement, making it very clear what we are going to learn about Ramboll in the remaining pages. I like reports that state materiality up front - not only does this help clarify the report context, it also drives credibility. If it's one of the first things a company reports, it must be one of the first things a company thinks. And that's what materiality means. It should never be an afterthought or a summary of what you are doing. Materiality is a guide to what you should be doing.

The remainder of the report is split into two main sections, a format that I particularly favor. The first section is called "Shaping sustainable societies" and it addresses what are broadly the indirect impacts of the company's business - through the projects it advances and the role it takes in shaping the sector and public policy. The second section covers direct impacts, called "Demonstrating our progress", and includes sections on employer of choice, environment, safety and integrity - linking these also to UN Global Compact and SDG priorities.

Ramboll also uses its website to supplement information with policy statements and commitments - here's an example from one of the sections:

While this report could be even more reporting-year focused, with fewer perennial policy statements that could be policy-banked on the website, this report offers comprehensive coverage of material impacts in a concise way.

So, if your report is long, it is almost certainly also boring (at least in parts). It's totally worth reconsidering how you can deploy other ways of getting your content out there and delivering on your transparency obligations without crowding your report with content that causes us to doze off instead of inspiring us to buy in.  Incentivize yourselves. For every page you save, treat yourself a scoop of salted caramel ice cream.

(NB: I have previously written about Liberty Global's last Corporate Responsibility Report - a masterpiece in concise, precision reporting).

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A new CSR standard in Safeguarding

Using the Datamaran Research Tool, I looked for how many companies are talking about safeguarding in their sustainability reports. It seems, that safeguarding can be applied to just about everything.
  • Export Development Canada's 2016 Sustainability Report talks about safeguarding people and the environment 
  • Piraeus Bank talks about open communication with employees and safeguarding their ongoing development and elearning for safeguarding of Human Rights and Equal Opportunities in the workplace 
  • Wilmar International's 2016 Sustainability Report talks about safeguarding water quality
  • Statoil's 2016 Sustainability Report refers to safeguarding people, communities and assets
  • Stericycle's 2016 Sustainability Report refers to safeguarding sensitive information and helping protect against identity theft
  • Motorola Solutions 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report includes disclosures related to machine safeguarding
  • RSA Insurance Group refers to safeguarding customers' data and assets
  • American Water Works Co Inc. talks about safeguarding the nation’s long-term water supply as water demand grows
  • TDC goes for safeguarding trust and safety
  • Macquarie Infrastructure Corporation includes references to safeguarding of storm drains, overfill controls, and extensive use of LED lighting
  • SunArt Retail Group Limited includes safeguarding biodiversity
  • L'Occitane International SA goes for another type of safeguarding -safeguarding the future of bees while helping to build communities.
In fact, safeguarding has become so popular that I am thinking of safeguarding my personal ice cream supply for the next five years. As you can see, safeguarding can apply to just about anything and the use of the term safeguarding is bandied around quite freely in CSR and sustainability worlds with no real accountability for what safeguarding anything actually means and how to measure it. Maybe this is a shame, because there is one use of the term safeguarding that is arguably the most important use of all: safeguarding vulnerable children, youth and adults. I happen to know a bit about this, as my niece, Sarah Carlick, (Yay! Proud Auntie) is a leading expert on safeguarding in the UK, and runs The Athena Programme, one of the best known and most active consulting and training firms dedicated solely to safeguarding in the important sense of the word. Sarah has just completed her doctoral thesis on safeguarding, so we shall be calling her Dr. Sarah in the very near future! (Yay! Extremely Proud Auntie). Read Sarah's insights into safeguarding in a corporate context later in this post.  

Some companies stand out in their approach to safeguarding vulnerable children and adults. Pearson's Sustainability Report for 2016 includes a commitment to safeguarding adults and children. 

As a company engaged in education and supporting learners all over the world in schools, training and learning centers and other teaching facilities, and even virtual classrooms, human rights risks and challenges are very real for Pearson and it seems quite obvious that safeguarding would be directly relevant to this company's business.

Another company that has a safeguarding focus, and also rather obviously so, is LEGO. With a business designed to engage children, LEGO partners with UNICEF to implement and globally promote the Children’s Rights and Business Principles developed by UNICEF, the UN Global Compact and Save the Children, and to promote the importance of play for early childhood development. LEGO's 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report also discloses what LEGO is doing to safeguard children.

LEGO's Digital Child Safety Policy was developed as an industry leading practice to ensure the welfare of children interacting with digital channels. The policy is implemented through mandatory training for employees who work directly or indirectly with children online and also applies to partners who deliver LEGO® branded experiences.

Online safety is relevant not only for companies in the education and toy development sectors. It comes up regularly as a key material topic for companies that provide internet or media content. For example, Liberty Global (whose reporting I have supported for the past several years) has invested millions in protection of children while online and watching TV (one of the company's most material impacts) through collaboration on the development of an entire set of resources for children at different stages of development and exposure, parents, teachers and schools. In 2015, Liberty Global joined the ICT Coalition for Children Online, which aims to help young people in Europe make the most of their digital life and be better equipped to handle the challenges and risks it may bring. 

There are more positive examples of safeguarding out there, enough to convince you that safeguarding is an essential element of corporate responsibility. (For those who want a fascinating and sobering read on this subject, see also Joel Bakan's Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children). Many companies, especially food companies, have responsible marketing policies where the aim is not to market directly to children under age 12 - though in practice, exposure of children to marketing in all its forms today is impossible to monitor, I believe. Most companies today explicitly prohibit child labor in their supply chains. That's an obvious one in modern times, I guess, even though there is still much work to do to achieve safe supply chains. But there are endless, not so obvious other ways that children are exposed to and are potentially at risk from the practices of corporations. This may be unintentional but it should not be unknown. Corporations have a duty of care to understand the impacts of their activities on children. I believe, however, that this topic in the broader sense of safeguarding vulnerable children and adults has flown largely under the radar and is not explicitly included in sustainability frameworks and standards such as GRI or SASB, beyond responsible marketing and avoidance of child labor. I think this could be a new area for a potential performance and reporting standard.

I want you to hear from the expert herself, Sarah Carlick, Founder and Managing Director of The Athena Programme.

Why did you choose safeguarding as your area of specialist expertise?
"Safeguarding was my background as a social worker and probation officer which I was drawn to because of my passion for helping and protecting vulnerable people. Through my work and experience of safeguarding at both a national and international level, I am now able to incorporate all areas of this important and complex topic under one umbrella which I think is the most effective way of achieving results to benefit those that are vulnerable or at risk of harm."

In a business context, what are the connections to safeguarding? What are the key safeguarding risks for companies? 
"Governance, compliance, reputation, recruitment, social media communications, customer relations and interactions are all areas where safeguarding is a relevant potential risk that must be proactively managed. For companies or organizations that have services that are used or may be used by children, families or vulnerable adults, there may well be legal compliance issues (in different countries) as well a range of potential risk areas that are not currently legislated. While businesses often look outside for the impacts of safeguarding (for example, with services used by children), there is also an internal aspect. How do companies support their own employees who may be victims of domestic abuse, for example? I think there are many connections between the practices of business and corporate responsibility to protect vulnerable children and adults, and some may not be so obvious."

Does every company need a safeguarding policy? Can you give some examples of where such a policy might be needed?
"Not every company needs a policy, but some are required to have a policy and set of procedures, for example, those that are regulated or inspected, those that apply for external funding, or those that have residential services, schools, a charitable arm, or where they employ apprentices, teachers, mentors, nurses, dentists or manage learning environments, to mention just a few cases."

In what context is it important to train company employees in safeguarding?
"It is important as safeguarding is two-fold - both protecting and supporting your staff and as well as protecting and supporting those that use your services. There are many areas that come under safeguarding, for example, modern slavery, child sexual exploitation, on-line grooming and emerging risks such as prevention from radicalization."

What can you and The Athena Programme do to help companies practice effective safeguarding? 
"Whatever your needs, Athena can help any company with everything to do with safeguarding children and/or adults at risk. If it’s about safeguarding – we’re the experts. A first step we can help with for many companies will be to map the nature, scale and impact of their activities and identify the safeguarding hotspots - immediate and/or significant risks that need to be managed. From there, we can help companies develop tailored policies and procedures, formulate communications packages, deliver training for all staff and put in place monitoring and reporting tools. For companies who are not sure, we can or simply come and speak to your management, or deliver a lecture on what to watch for. We are always happy to listen to the challenges companies face, or help them decide what the challenges are and minimize potential risks. We have strong credentials from our work over the past 10 years, so we are confident that we can help companies do better in this area."

If you are interested in exploring more, contact Sarah here. Either way, I think we are going to hear a lot more about safeguarding, and not just safeguarding anything, but safeguarding those who matter most, our children and our youth and our friends and families and communities who may not be able to protect themselves. If that's not CSR, what is?

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Lindéngruppen: a shared transparency journey

Last month, I was honored to be invited to join the next stage in the transparency journey of a wonderful, privately-owned group of companies in Sweden. The parent company is Lindéngruppen, and it describes itself as "a second-generation family business focusing on sustainable long-term development of industrial companies". In 2016, Lindéngruppen’s wholly-owned companies had a combined turnover of approximately SEK 7.4 billion, and more than 3,200 employees in 27 countries. Lindéngruppen, based in Höganäs, Sweden was founded by Ulf G. Lindén in the mid-eighties and is now led by the Chairperson of the Board, his daughter,  Jenny Lindén Urnes.  

Lindéngruppen owns and runs four companies:

Beckers is a global industrial coatings company specializing in coil coatings and industrial coatings for metal. Beckers also provides finishes for consumer electronics and lifestyle appliances. 
Colart supplies the world’s most popular art material brands. Colart’s mission is to provide sustainable, creative tools and services to release pure expression.
Höganäs  is the world’s leading producer of metal powder and the main driver of the development of metal powder applications. 
Moorbrook Textiles produces woven-textile products from luxury fibers. 

These four businesses are primarily B2B, and do not have all that much in common in terms of the nature of their business, beyond their ownership and shared values as members of the Lindéngruppen family. But that is clearly enough to sustain responsible practice, as all four companies are guided by the enlightened, passionate and visionary leadership of the group's Chair, Jenny Lindén Urnes, whom I was privileged to meet at the first Lindéngruppen Sustainability Reporting Conference for the companies in the group last month. Her commitment to growing positive-impact businesses shines clearly as an inspiration for all.

At the one-day event, where company CEOs, sustainability, EHS and HR professionals came together as a group of more than 30 people, I shared my thoughts and insights about Sustainability Reporting, with a focus on the benefits for privately owned and smaller sized enterprises, and engaged in discussion with the business leaders. During the day, teams works on future scenarios and considered the challenges and opportunities that sustainable practice might bring. And all of this took place at Färgfabriken in Stockholm, Beckers' old paint factory built in 1889 and later converted into a cultural institution, supported by Lindéngruppen, now serving as a platform for contemporary cultural expressions, with an emphasis on art, architecture and urban planning, using approaches that help explore and understand the complexities of our constantly changing world. What a superbly fitting venue for a day of free thinking and collaboration.

The Lindéngruppen companies started their sustainability journeys well before this first shared experience, however. Each company has been applying sustainability principles and transparent practice in its own way with its own particular relevance and focus.

Beckers has been publicly reporting on sustainability since 2012 and its most recent Sustainability Report for 2016 is GRI compliant report with a focus on 8 core material topics underpinned by a sustainability vision.

In this report, Beckers shares the progress made in the development of Beckers Sustainability Index, a tool to help customers understand and make more informed choices based on data about the sustainability profiles of Beckers coating products. Last year, Beckers converted the index into an IOS/android app allowing customers to easily contrast the sustainability performance of different coating systems. This is an example of Beckers integrating sustainability in its core business through the products it sells, beyond managing the direct impacts of its production and other activities. It's about the impact of the business on society, not just about operating responsibly.

Colart's Sustainability Report for 2016-2017 reflects the color and creativity that are the essence of this company. Aligning with the UN SDGs, Colart identifies 12 goals that are most relevant for its business impacts and contribution to society. Using a seven-step "GET WISER" approach to sustainability strategy, Colart has been embedding awareness and understanding across all levels of the business, and engaging in creative platforms to promote the use of art for positive impact, such as “Hospital Rooms”, a UK-based mental health charity that commissions artists to create inventive environments and artworks for mental health units and holds art workshops for mental health service users. Aligning positive social impact with core business expertise helps make this partnership a success. 

Höganäs has just started its reporting journey with an initial internal report for 2016 that has not been published as the company prepares for external reporting for 2017. Nonetheless, having had the benefit of a sneak preview, I can say that the 2016 Höganäs internal report is a strong GRI-based report, reinforcing the sustainable contribution of metal powders that help reduce resource consumption and make manufacturing processes more efficient. There is much scope here, as metal powders from Höganäs are used in component manufacture, electrical applications and filters, surface coating, welding and brazing, water purification, cleaning of industrial wastewater, soil remediation and more. With more than 700 patents on metal powder processes and products, Höganäs invests in building its expertise and creating sustainable solutions for customers. With five central thrusts in its sustainability strategy to climb "Mount Sustainability", Höganäs is advancing climate neutral operations and sustainable offerings for customers while managing direct workplace impacts and engaging in communities. Höganäs is a partner in developing and advancing Swedish Sustainable Steel Vision for 2050 with other sector players in Sweden, playing a role in shaping a more sustainable future for the industry.  

Moorbrook Textiles, owners of the Alex Begg brand, is applying sustainability practices in its operations as part of its brand approach. This includes working to eliminate hazardous chemicals from all fabric production processes, ensuring aminal welfare in the animal fiber supply chain for wool and angora and developing traceability processes for sourced fibers. I understand that Moorbrook is also building a sustainability reporting capability and aligning its reporting processes with GRI Standards. So far, this work is internal and has not yet been published. Clearly behind the Lindéngruppen vision, however, Moorbrook has a positive sustainability story to tell and I look forward to hearing more.   

Lindéngruppen is an example of privately-owned, SME-scale, B2B businesses that are engaging with sustainability as essential supply chain partners for their customers and positive presences in their communities. It's inspiring to experience the passion that each company demonstrates in finding its own relevance and establishing its unique space along the sustainability spectrum. Led by a clear-headed, team-spirited and pragmatic Group Chief Sustainability Officer, Jenny Johansson, all companies in the group have the support they need to find their sustainability voice. And each is doing so at a pace that is manageable and enables maximum learning for each company along the journey. 

Lindéngruppen is proof that enlightened leadership and a practical approach is good for people, good for business and good for all of us, no matter the size or nature of the business. I wish all the Lindéngruppen team continued success and look forward to more Sustainability Reports of their progress.  

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

WARNING: Strictly only for Reporting Geeks

The Urban Dictionary says: "Geek: An outwardly normal person who has taken the time to learn technical skills. Geeks have as normal a social life as anyone, and usually the only way to tell if someone is a geek is if they inform you of their skills." Merriam Webster's third definition of geek is more straightforward: "an enthusiast or expert especially in a technological field or activity." In the CSR-Reporting Blog dictionary, reporting geeks are simply "folks who breathe, eat, sleep and live all things sustainability reporting."

In the world of sustainability reporting, geeks have a place all of their own. Without geeks, reporting would never have achieved the major impact on the world it has had to date. Without geeks, we would still be begging companies for tidbits of information and clambering to understand whether they are performing in an ethical, responsible and sustainable manner. Without geeks, we would not have the opportunity to peruse the thousands of sustainability reports in all shapes, colors, sizes and languages that are published each year around the world, enriching our lives and making us feel that the world is a better place. Without geeks, sustainability reporting simply wouldn't happen - and then we would all be utterly miserable and the planet would be doomed.

So how do you know if you are a reporting geek? Here are some of the tell-tale signs:
  • Your read at least one Sustainability Report before breakfast every day
  • When someone asks you what you want for your birthday, you say: a brand new Sustainability Report 
  • You worst nightmare is a Sustainability Report that doesn't have a GRI Content Index
  • You read your kids bedtime stories from your favorite sustainability reports
  • You feel physically nauseous when someone talks badly of sustainability reporting
  • You recall that, as a child, whenever you were asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, you always answered a sustainability reporter
  • You even read sustainability reports in languages you don't understand
  • You take a few sustainability reports to the gym every day and read them as you jog
  • You're in a restaurant and the first thing you look for on the menu is a materiality matrix
  • You prefer to read sustainability reports to watching Star Trek
  • Your favorite Christmas gift is a nicely-wrapped Sustainability Report
  • The shredder in your office has never seen a Sustainability Report
  • Your spouse is citing a Sustainability Report in your upcoming divorce
  • You attend the edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference in London every year.

The next conference, the seventh annual, in February 2018, designed by reporting geeks for reporting geeks and potential reporting geeks, boasts a stellar line up of speakers and an exciting program that any reporting geek will find invigorating, informative, incredible and impactful.

An opportunity to debate with experts, explore with peers, learn with other professionals, moan and groan in a safe environment where everybody empathizes, ask questions that only the reporting community can relate to and share in the fun that is sustainability reporting, the edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference will turn you into a reporting geek if you are not one already, or it will make you a geekier geek if you are already showing the signs. And who wouldn't want to put reporting geek on their resume? Can you afford to miss this unique opportunity? The CSR-Reporting Blog is offering a special discount for reporting and aspiring reporting geeks, so contact me if you want to take advantage of that.

What can the geek community expect at the conference?
  • Latest updates from the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures 
  • Insights in aligning with the the non-financial EU directive 
  • Stories from innovators who are reshaping reporting using creative, digital methods
  • Discussion and tools to unlock the power of meaningful data 
  • Best practice examples for shaping your report to reach multiple and diverse audiences
  • Constructive insight from global experts on the key elements of a good report
  • Totally geeky conversations
  • A delicious lunch
  • A lot of fun in the company of many geeks
  • No ice cream, sorry
As the Chair of the conference, I will be around all day to meet and reconnect with you all, make sure things go smoothly, add a little provocation to the panel discussions, and lead one of the breakout sessions with a deep-dive on reporting on environmental and supply chain impacts. Sound geeky enough for you?
Of course, there are those of you out there that are secretly reporting geeks but afraid to admit it. It's time to come out. Reporting is mainstream. Reporting geekiness is something to be proud of. Proudly register for the edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference here (don't forget to email me for your discount) and tell all your friends. They will thank you.

See ya in London!

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

In the hot seat at GRI with Tim Mohin

After nine months at the helm of GRI, Tim Mohin is still, yes, still, enjoying his job and making waves in sustainability circles. An eternal optimist endowed with just about enough realism and an unshakeable vision of a future of sustainable development powered by corporate accountability and transparency, Tim has a lot to say. GRI is also 20 years old young, and though Tim Mohin has been leading it for a much shorter time, his experience as a practitioner and sustainability leader gives him the long perspective. 

What prompted me to pound Tim with a barrage of tough questions was an interview with Bob Eccles published in Forbes a couple of months back.  Tim is quoted as saying: "There is a narrative that has been running for a while now that portrays sustainability reporting organizations as in conflict with each other. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. I believe there is an increasing amount of harmonization in this space, whether it be GRI, or the UN Global Compact, SASB or the IIRC. Not only do we have longstanding partnerships with those organizations and others, but we are in fact all just after the same thing, which is sustainable development." 

I beg to differ. I do not see harmonization between any of these organizations and there are new frameworks and reporting approaches popping up all the time, whether in relation to specific sectors, regulation, stock exchange listings or other independent initiatives. Investment analysts use their own proprietary methodologies that are not based wholly on one framework or another. Longstanding partnerships with organizations in this space may look nice on paper, but in practice, they have yielded very little in terms of simplifying the way companies report. I am sure it sounds nice to talk of harmonization and partnership, but the reality is that it is not yet yielding tangible benefits. The proliferation of Linkage Documents that enable some sort of correlation between GRI Standards and other frameworks further clutters the landscape. 

One case in point is GRI's close collaboration with the UN Global Compact. Both organizations have been in dialogue forever and have signed more MOUs than Nobel has given out prizes. And yet, signatories to the UN Global Compact are still required to prepare a Communication on Progress in line with UNGC requirements at Advanced, Active or Learner level. In fact, the UNGC is very proud of its flagship reporting framework - as noted on its website. 

There is a 31 page document making the connection between GRI G4 Guidelines and the UNCG COP(s). This states clearly that reporters using GRI must still include content relating to UNGC core elements, even if those have not been deemed material for the organization and therefore not required by GRI Standards. Frankly, just reading this linkage document made me crave for paracetamol-flavored ice cream. If there were a true spirit of harmonization, I would expect the UNGC to declare the demise of the COP and require all large company signatories to deliver GRI-based in accordance reports and all SMEs to deliver reports covering a subset of GRI indicators. The perpetuation of different frameworks compounded by the need to understand the link between them is about as useful as an iPhone at a mindfulness retreat. There are many examples where unnecessary duplication of requirements adds nothing to sustainable development. It adds only bureaucracy, budget and salaries for people charged with promoting different frameworks. 

I asked Tim to explain his thinking about the positive extent of harmonization. 

"I am coming from twenty years of practitioner experience. I can say that a fractured landscape has created confusion and burden for corporations and we have to pay attention to that. We have to look at how to dig a layer deeper and appreciate that there are different tools for different uses. It is not a reason for companies to become confused. There is real harmonization work going on. When I say harmonization, I am talking about when standard-setters are asking the same question in annoyingly different ways. Right now, we have an aspiration to work with SASB to align such questions. There are over two thousand different disclosure standards out there. Currently we are in Phase One, mapping the overlap and looking at where we can align and simplify. This is work we are trying to get funded. I am certainly seeing a change in collaborative spirit at SASB. When I first got this job, I went on a listening tour. When I got to SASB, it felt like we were competitors. I took the opportunity to appeal to a shared aspiration which is our end-goal to improve how information is used to advance sustainable development. That's the reason I took this job."

And the new thinking on the Sustainable Development Goals? 

"My view is that work in industry sectors and work on the Sustainable Development Goals can merge together. When you look at a sector and what's material for that sector, and then overlay the SDGs, you can see there is a good degree of correlation. I am very keen to merge those streams of work."   

What about the work GRI is undertaking to advance reporting by SMEs? 

"I took a trip through Asia this summer and one of the things I noted was the explosion in stock market listing requirements. Many of the listed companies in that region are SMEs, and they are starting to come to us for help. This is a major driver of the expansion of SME reporting. We have been working with one of our major funders in a program to drive sustainability reporting through the supply chain. When large companies use their buying power, you can bring a lot of SMEs into the fold, so it's a program to bring buyer and supplier together. First, they define the material issues they really want from the SME. A digital tool has been developed to help them use the GRI Standards so that it is more simple, straightforward and requires fewer resources. We are conducting training in developing countries (Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, South Africa and Vietnam) where we have funding and there are more to come. The pilot program has a two-year time-frame before we can roll it out globally. We are excited about this and it clearly shows the difference that GRI brings - we are trying to affect the entire global economy by harnessing the forces of capitalism in the service of sustainable development." 

How would you summarize your thinking after nine months at GRI?

"I have never been happier. This is certainly one of the highlights of my career. It's a fantastic cause and a fantastic organization. My only frustration is that there are so many ideas and possibilities, more than we can act upon at any given time. I have had to prioritize and manage expectations and focus but it's working out quite well. Running a not-for-profit is like running a business - we now have nearly 100 people around the world." 

And the focus is? 

"We have four key areas that we are prioritizing at present and we have reorganized our structure to meet the needs. (1) improving the quality of sustainability reporting (2) providing preliminary reporting guidance on sustainability topics that are new to the corporate reporting field (3) increasing reporting among small and medium-sized enterprises (4) promoting harmonization in the corporate reporting landscape. We are actively working in all these areas."

Do think there is still an issue connecting reporting practice to actual sustainable development?

"There is more work to do in this area. We have gotten some funding recently to work with the investor community to define what is investor grade reporting and how GRI can make that happen. It's a big hill we have to climb."

And the next GRI Global Conference?

"Ah yes, we'll be making an announcement on that soon. Watch this space!"

So, lots of things bubbling at GRI, including the tarmac on the Road to Harmonization. Tim Mohin is very consistent and clear in his purpose and intentions - to advance sustainable development and improve the value of reporting as a tool to help us all do that. In the meantime, defragging and optimizing the reporting framework hard drives continues to be somewhat of an elusive goal.

And if all that is not enough for you, you can check out the recent GRI Podcast with Tim Mohin and hear him talk about GRI's 20th anniversary and other things reporting - including more on the subject of harmonization. 

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 (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm). Need help writing your first / next Sustainability Report? Contact elaine: 

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