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3 Observations from RILA’s Retail Sustainability Management Report

The SSC Team September 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

This past spring, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) announced their brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix, which hopes to be a tool that will be used by retail executives, individual companies, and industry-wide to help companies become more sustainable. Fast-forward to September 2015, and RILA just released their Retail Sustainability Management Report that uses that matrix to analyze sustainability initiatives from over 50,000 RILA member companies.

Taking the 27 dimensions related to sustainability management RILA has identified from seven key sectors, the report looks at where a lot of the companies rank: are they starting, just standard, excelling, leading, or at the next practice already. RILA presents their key findings from each dimension, then provides resources for companies to reach the next level, case studies to look over, and how to get involved on a greater scale.

Here are three observations that really stood out to us:

What comprises a retail-based sustainability team?

RILA offered a breakdown of how many retailer’s sustainability teams look like, and over 50% of those surveyed indicated that there is one person or no full time employee dedicated to sustainability (and a surprising 10% of companies have 10 or more people working on sustainability full time). Often times, the sustainability team will set the sustainability goals for the company, but almost a quarter of the retailers said they do not have sustainability goals. And in terms of budgeting for sustainability, almost 75% of companies said their budget either stayed the same or increased over the past year.

The leaders are well ahead of the pack

When looking at how the retailers did across all dimensions, it becomes apparent most companies are falling firmly in the "standard" category (or rather a 2 on a 1-5 scale). But the leading companies aren't just one or two steps higher, they are already at the "next practice" level (or a 5 on a 1-5 scale). Looking at all of the dimensions, over half the time the leading company was getting top marks - only in 4 dimensions was the leading retailer at the "excelling" level (or a 3 on a 1-5 scale). Leading companies obviously know what they're doing when it comes to sustainability, so now there needs to be an effort to get everyone else up to their level.

A shift to the supply chain

Overall, the supply chain section was one of the weakest, with many companies falling between the “starting” and “standard" category, but as retailers begin to solidify their internal sustainability, there is a growing focus on supply chain sustainability. Companies have started to engage suppliers about various sustainability issues, such as the need to reduce energy and water.

Looking to start a new sustainability project but need to gain support? Find out ways to gain that support for your new project or idea here!

6 Ways to Gain Support for Your New Sustainability Project

The SSC Team September 3, 2015 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

You’re a member of your company’s sustainability team, and you just thought of a brand new sustainability project for your company to undertake. This project will not only help better the environment, but also help save the company money! But what’s the hold up? Often, like many other new projects and ideas, sustainability-related projects get lost in the shuffle.  

In a Harvard Business Review article called “A Guide to Winning Support for Your New Idea or Project", author Rebecca Knight discusses several ways you can win support and get people on board for your new project. We decided to add a sustainability twist to her idea and help you find new ways to gain momentum for your new sustainability project.

1. Understand What’s Motivating You

If you want to successfully pitch and sell your new idea, be sure you are able to explain why. If you want your company to undertake a carbon footprint, it’s a good idea to have a response that goes beyond “it can help the environment in the long run.” Identify why you think your company should invest resources into a carbon footprint and be able to articulate those thoughts.

2. Think Small

Sure, it would be great if every company could have a top-to-bottom sustainability makeover, but unfortunately that’s not the reality. Business still have actual businesses to run and can’t throw an endless supply of resources to the sustainability team. Think small, and try to get as specific as possible. The more precise you are with your goals and outcomes, the better chance you have to get people to respond. It’s much easier to dismiss a large, lofty goal than something that seems more tangible.

3. Gather Feedback

You might think that proposing a materiality assessment is a great idea, but what do your coworkers think? If you find yourself with colleagues who might have interest in the idea, present it in an informal manner, such as “What do you think of our company going through a materiality assessment?” You’ll be able to quickly hear any concerns or questions they might have, allowing you to tighten up your plan to make sure it is a sure-fire success.

4. Sell, Sell, Sell

As Knight mentions in her article, selling your idea is more of a campaign than a singular event. If you want your company to undergo a life cycle assessment, bring up the idea – often. This is when you need to market your idea and get as many people on board as you can. Make your coworkers understand what a life cycle assessment is and why it’s important for your company to complete one; try to get as much agreement as you can.

5. Propose a Pilot

Perhaps you have initial support for your idea of publishing an annual sustainability report, but there’s still some pushback. Instead of having an “all or nothing” mentality, suggest writing a rough skeleton outline of a sustainability report. This way people can get a better sense of what a report would look like, and it’s a fairly low time commitment. And if the sustainability report isn’t approved, minimal resources were wasted.

6. Don’t Get Discouraged

No matter what type of work you are doing, any time someone doesn’t approve of a new project or idea you suggested, it’s easy to get discouraged. Instead, gather feedback. Was your idea for a waste audit shot down because of budgeting reasons or rather your bosses needed some more time to think on it? Just because your project wasn’t accepted initially doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance to complete your waste audit in the future. Keep your head up and continue to advocate for sustainability projects within your company.

Are simple mistakes holding back your sustainability? Find out how to correct those mistakes here!

Moving Beyond Cultural Competency to Equity Literacy

The SSC Team May 14, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
By: Alexandra Kueller Take a look at the people that make up your workplace. How diverse is the group? Are they inclusive people? How do they react when someone displays a certain bias? All of these aspects are important to any workplace, because not only can these signs be indicative of a business’s reputation, but it can also monitor the success of how well everyone within the organization works together. To help bring all of this to light, the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities and Opportunity Lynchburg hosted a workshop to show examples of how to move beyond basic cultural competency in the workplace. By the end of the session, everyone walked out of the room equipped to help take their organization to the next level of equity literacy. It’s first important to note the difference in what separates cultural competence from equity literacy:
  • Cultural Competence – you are able to get along, understand, and interact with those from other cultures and socio-economic backgrounds; your actions are rooted within your best interest
  • Cultural Proficiency – you move beyond yourself and you have a deeper knowledge and grasp of those different cultures and backgrounds that surround you; your actions are not as self-serving
  • Equity Literacy – you dig below the surface to understand where the cultural differences stem from and take action to fix injustices; your actions indicate that you want to better the problem, because that is the right thing to do and not just for yourself
So how does one go from cultural competence to cultural proficiency to equity literacy in the workplace? Here are a few steps to help get you started in the right direction:
  1. Recognize biases and inequities as they come up; start to look for the ones that are subtle
  2. Respond to the biases and inequities when they are said; don't be afraid to point them out
  3. Redress the biases and inequities in the long term; acknowledge there is a problem and don't sweep it under the rug
  4. Create and Sustain a bias-free and equitable learning environment
Remember, this process takes time, and no one is going to achieve equity literacy overnight (as much as we would like to think that’s true…). Rather it’s a stepping stone to get you to the ultimate goal of equity literacy. Last fall SSC attended a workshop that focused on the business case for diversity. Read about it here.

Introducing RILA’s 2015 Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Index

The SSC Team April 21, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) recently announced their brand new Retail Sustainability Management Maturity Matrix. The Matrix, which is based on Deloitte and RILA’s knowledge of the retail industry and its sustainability programs, hopes to be a tool that will be used by sustainability executives, individual companies, and industry-wide.

(Although this matrix is designed with the retail industry in mind, we think that it has a wide applicability beyond just the retail sector.)

While there are many aspects of sustainability, the Matrix focuses specifically on environmental sustainability. The Matrix has seven sectors that helps break down the different components of environmental sustainability:

  1. Strategy & Commitment
  2. People & Tools
  3. Visibility
  4. Retail Operations
  5. Supply Chain
  6. Products
  7. Environmental Issues

Each sector is then broken down by dimensions, and each dimension is ranked by five categories: starting, standard, excelling, leading, and next practice. RILA acknowledges that only a few companies are in the “leading” category, but hopes that over the next few years more companies can get to that level. The main goal of the Matrix is to identify all of the possible pathways to strong environmental sustainability.

Here are some of the ways the Matrix can be useful:

  • Identifying and assessing the maturity of your sustainability program and opportunities for improvement
  • Helping to facilitate conversations about your sustainability program’s development
  • Finding ways to access for funding for your sustainability program
  • Training employees to have more sustainability responsibility
  • Allowing internal, external evaluation of your program’s perception, gaps it might have

It’s RILA’s goal to use the Matrix to benchmark the industry in 2015, while annually updating the matrix.

Over the course of the next two weeks, we will be further breaking down the Matrix by sector to get a more in-depth look at how the Matrix will work.

Last fall we took an in-depth look at SSC's peer benchmarking system that we used against the athletic wear industry. Catch up here.

How Sustainability is Saving Chinese Textile Mills Money

The SSC Team April 16, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

It’s no secret that China is not an environmentally progressive country. Beijing is plagued by air pollution, over 100 cities are facing water scarcity issues, almost a third of China’s rivers are too polluted for human contact, and to top it all off, as a nation China is one of the highest emitters of carbon dioxide. 

One of China’s largest polluters are their textile producers. Responsible for roughly 50% of the world’s fabrics, textile manufacturing is a very environmentally un-friendly process that results in high energy and water use. The industry is responsible for the being the third largest dischargers of wastewater and the second largest user of chemicals in China. 

All hope is not lost, though. With the help of the National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Clean By Design program, Chinese textile manufacturing facilities are using green tactics to not only reduce energy and water consumption, but also help them save money as well.

The NRDC recently released a report stating that the 33 textile mills that are using the Clean By Design program are saving an estimated $14.7 million annually. By going after the “low-hanging fruit” – the low-cost, easy to implement projects – the textile manufacturers are helping to make a strong business case for sustainability.

Here are some of the ways the Chinese textile mills have not only reduced their environmental impact, but also saved money along the way:

Electricity Reductions

10 of the 33 textile mills went after projects that helped reduce electricity consumption. While the average reduction was only 4%, some of the more impactful projects yielded a 9% reduction with over $21,000 in annual savings. As a bonus, this project paid for itself in only a month!

Water Reuse

31 mills implemented 53 projects that resulted in an average of 9% water savings, with some of the top mills reducing water consumption by 20%. A lot of the reuse efforts focused on targeting process water and grey water, because those tended to yield the largest and most cost-effected reductions. Some mills installed a water treatment process, and that initial investment of $7,600 paid for itself in three months.

Energy Recovery

Through 173 projects that focused on electricity reduction, every participating mill saw an average reduction of 6%, with the top mills seeing a 10% reduction in energy. A majority of the projects saw efforts to recover heat from exhaust gas, water, and oil due to the fact that they produced that largest, most cost-effective reductions: a $500,000 investment yielded roughly $650,000 in annual returns.

Looking for ways to reduce your company's carbon footprint? Learn more by checking out our white paper!

The Brutal Truth about Sustainability Reporting

The SSC Team March 5, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

In 2012, Jennifer Woofter wrote an article for CSRwire that we featured on our blog discussing some of the harsh truths about sustainability reporting. We thought this article was worth sharing again! Enjoy:

Last month, Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC) released its sixth annual Sustainability Report. That means we have published one report for every year that we've been in business. And once again, as cofounder and President, I was the author.

Committing to write an annual sustainability report is a little bit like spring-cleaning. You try to keep up with it throughout the year, but it's the once-a-year deep clean that really scours all the corners.

Much like spring-cleaning, few organizations eagerly anticipate the sustainability reporting process, and for good reason.

It's a bit of a nightmare.

Analyzing the data -- even with a great data management tool -- is a headache. Waiting for the stragglers to get their information back always takes longer than planned. I'm never happy with the first or second (or sometimes third) versions of the opening Letter from the President. Yet, I do it, and proudly stand by my company's commitment to devote the time and resources to an annual accounting of our sustainability performance. 

If your organization is dreading the approach of your sustainability-reporting season -- or wondering if committing to your first sustainability report is even worth it -- let me offer you a view from the trenches.

Sustainability Reporting: The Good News

Producing an annual sustainability report sends a powerful message to stakeholders about your commitment to environmental and social responsibility. Many companies talk about "going green," but the fact is that only a fraction of those organizations take the time to evaluate their performance and communicate it publicly. Those few, diligent companies get an instant credibility boost that only comes with putting your money where your mouth is.

Moreover, when done correctly, the annual sustainability reporting process can be an incredible strategic tool that helps you assess where the organization is today, determine tangible goals for the future, and chart a roadmap to get there. The steps necessary to producing a robust sustainability report are remarkably similar to developing a sustainability strategy -- so why not combine them and get more bang for your buck?

The Bad

Sustainability reporting is a time consuming process. From my experience in both writing our sustainability reports and helping clients produce their own, the entire process can take anywhere from six weeks to six months. Nothing about a Sustainability Report is simple or quick, from the data gathering to the CEO's Letter.

So make sure to schedule enough time -- and then double that to give you a cushion. I promise that you'll need it.

Equally important: don't listen to those software providers that promise to reduce time spent preparing a sustainability report by 90 percent. Software can make it easier to collect and aggregate data, but it doesn't -- and cannot -- effectively address the areas that take the bulk of the work and time spent: describing programs, identifying challenges, setting goals, wrestling with delicate issues, the seemingly interminable editing and review process, graphic design and publication.

And The Ugly: GRI's 90+ Sustainability Performance Indicators

Even if you collect and report on each of the 90+ sustainability performance indicators listed in the Global Reporting Initiative's (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, even if you carefully tally and index every measurement under the sun, it's not going to be enough. What really makes a sustainability report meaningful is its context. 

What do I mean? Let's start with GRI's statement on context:

Information on performance should be placed in context. The underlying question of sustainability reporting is how an organization contributes, or aims to contribute in the future, to the improvement or deterioration of economic, environmental, and social conditions, developments, and trends at the local, regional, or global level.

Reporting only on trends in individual performance (or the efficiency of the organization) will fail to respond to this underlying question. Reports should therefore seek to present performance in relation to broader concepts of sustainability.

In essence, you can't just report on what your organization did. You must also report on what those actions mean in your local community, in your industry, and in the world at large. No longer is it enough to judge the success of environmental and social initiatives using indicators like these:

  • Hours spent training employees (safety)
  • Gallons of water used (resource use)
  • Thousands of dollars donated (philanthropy)

The indicators listed above don't really tell anyone about the effectiveness of a program or its relative impact (positive or negative). Here's another example:

If I told you that a company emitted 3,415 tons of carbon last year, would you be pleased or distraught? The truth is you wouldn't be prepared to venture a reaction unless you had more information. You're missing context. 

Adding The Context to Sustainability Reporting

Figuring out the sustainability context for your organization is one of the toughest challenges for sustainability reporters. I know, because in 2011 my company made it a specific priority. I wrote in the opening pages of the report:

"This year, we’re pushing the boundaries of our sustainability reporting, and sharing how our activities have rippled out into the world. For each of the major reporting sections, we’ll report on the outcomes of our activities.

Not just how many clients we served — but what our consulting helped those clients to achieve. Not just how many webinars we conducted, but who received that training. Not just how many miles we traveled, but what those miles helped us to do."

The Opportunity

I won't lie -- I'm not completely happy with our approach to contextualizing sustainability. I think there are many more opportunities to push deeper and really explore what it means to be a sustainability consulting company -- balancing our own impacts against the services we deliver to clients. Trying to quantify that has turned out to be much harder than I anticipated.

But we've made a start and we'll continue to improve in the coming years. That's the huge opportunity presented by annual sustainability reporting. There's always the chance to expand, to redefine, to recalculate, to re-examine, or to shift your focus as you learn along the way.

Yes, I both dread and anticipate the annual sustainability reporting cycle. The best part, however? Just like that dreaded spring-cleaning, it's that moment when you step back and survey the finished product.

Two of our clients recently published their annual sustainability reports and featured them in our blog. Check out the article here!

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports – Part 2

The SSC Team February 17, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Two weeks ago, we featured an article that highlighted sustainability reports from two of our clients: Chicken of the Sea and PureCircle. Both companies made great strides towards their 2020 sustainability goals and we wanted to feature their achievements.

This week, we wanted to do more of a comparison between the two companies. With both companies operating in the food industry – Chicken of the Sea with canned fish products and PureCircle with stevia – we thought this would be a great opportunity to see how close the companies (and the reports) compare within the same industry!

Chicken of the Sea 

Chicken of the Sea specializes in…

…producing a wide variety of seafood that ranges from frozen to refrigerated to cans, pouches, and cups. While Chicken of the Sea is known for their tuna products, they also produce other seafood items that include oysters, crabmeat, clams, salmon, sardines, shrimp, and more.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…over-fishing in oceans is becoming a more prominent issue, especially regarding tuna. Chicken of the Sea is doing their best to make sure they are not only responsibly harvesting tuna, but also making sure that their production line is as sustainable as can be. 

These were their sustainability goals:
Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for the 2020 goals (against 2012 baseline):

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

 In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety. Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste, a 12.8% reduction in water use, and a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.

PureCircle 

PureCircle specializes in…

…producing and innovating the next generation of stevia to be used as sweeteners for the food and beverage industry that help support a natural and healthy lifestyle, such as low and no-calorie sweeteners.

Their services relate to sustainability because…

…even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their businesses practices since the beginning. From their operations to their social commitments, PureCircle has made sure to be socially and environmentally responsible by having sustainability policies in place. 

These were their sustainability goals:

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal – energy intensity – already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Regardless of whether it was the first or third report, what makes both of these sustainability reports strong is the incorporation of a materiality assessment. By completing the assessment, both companies were able to see what is not only what is considered important to the company, but also to their stakeholders, allowing each company to tailor their reports to fit their needs the best.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

A Tale of Two Sustainability Reports

The SSC Team February 5, 2015 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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By: Alexandra Kueller

Imagine our excitement when we discovered that not one, but two of our clients in the food industry were releasing their sustainability reports on the same day. This got us thinking, How can comparing these two reports help our community? We discovered that the patterns and differences can be translated across industries to help you understand what makes a good sustainability report whether it is your first time or third.

Chicken of the Sea is the nation's leading producer of packaged seafood, producing tuna, salmon, shrimp and more, and they are published their third report. PureCircle is a producer of stevia and natural sweeteners for the global food and beverage market, and they just published their first report.

Below we explore the highlights of the two reports:

Chicken of the Sea

In their third year of reporting, Chicken of the Sea continued to make progress towards their 2020 sustainability goals (2012 baseline). Chicken of the Sea has five main focus areas for their 2020 goals:

  • Energy – reduce electricity and natural gas use by 20% each
  • Waste – reduce landfill waste by 30%
  • Water – reduce water use by 15%
  • Health & Safety – maintain/reduce safety incidents
  • Supply Chain – audit 90% of seafood procurement spend

In 2013, Chicken of the Sea saw major strides towards a lot of their goals, but there were three focus areas that really stood out: waste, water, and health & safety.

Chicken of the Sea made a concerted effort in 2013 to reduce waste that went into the landfill, and it paid off nicely: Chicken of the Sea saw a 27.8% reduction in waste. Not only did the waste focus area see a huge reduction, but so did the water focus area as well. With the goal of 15% reduction, Chicken of the Sea reduced water use by 12.8% by installing new water-saving technology. Finally, Chicken of the Sea saw a 40% lower incident rate than the previous year, staying on par with their goal.

PureCircle

Even though this is PureCircle’s first sustainability report, sustainability has been engrained in their business practices since the beginning. This past year, though, they wanted to increase their transparency. Their first report did an excellent job at outlining their environmental and social commitments, and how those commitments align with their 2020 Sustainability Intensity Goals.

On the environmental side, PureCircle has four main 2020 goals (against 2011 baseline):

  • Reduce carbon intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce energy intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Reduce water intensity across the product life cycle by 20%
  • Eliminate waste across farming and processing operations with zero waste to landfill

So far, PureCircle is on course to meet all of their goals, with one goal (energy intensity) already exceeding the original goal by reducing intensity by 42%.

On the social side of PureCircle’s sustainability goals, the company hopes to:

  • Support 100,000 small-scale farmers with sustainable agriculture policies
  • Ensure 100% traceability from gate to individual farm

PureCircle is working and engaging with small-scale farmers on issues such as food security, biodiversity, waste reduction, and fertilizer application to help improve not only the stevia plants, but to enrich the lives of the farmers as well.

Curious about how a SSC sustainability report might look like? Check out our previous reports here!

How Chipotle Is Giving Consumers Exactly What They Want: Authenticity

The SSC Team January 27, 2015 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

Honesty is the best policy, right? According to customers, the answer is yes. Public relations and communications firm Cohn & Wolfe conducted a study on authentic brands by company to see consumers are demanding. In fact, the top three qualities or behaviors that people want to see from big companies are communicating honestly about products and services, not letting customers down, and acting with integrity all times.

Fast Company then asked people in the United States and 11 other major markets what they wish to see from brands, and do you know what was on the bottom of the list? Innovation, great products, and having a popular brand.

Chipotle is taking note of all of these points: the Mexican-food chain recently announced that they will stop serving pork at hundreds of their locations when one of their suppliers violated Chipotle’s standards. So how exactly is Chipotle giving their customers authenticity? They are becoming a great model for big brands in the 21st century:

Embrace Authenticity

Companies often have a set of standards and values they hold themselves (and their suppliers) to, but how are consumers to know if a company follows these values? Brands need to be honest and show they are acting with integrity. With Chipotle announcing that they are cutting one of their main protein toppings from some of their stores, they indicated they are not afraid to show that they uphold their standards.

Transparency for the Modern World

Ever since the economic crash, more people are cynical about corporations’ behavior and motives - only 3% of Americans think big businesses are honest and transparent! Companies can no longer afford to hide behind the curtain with more and more people calling for transparency, and Chipotle knows this and is being honest about their product.

Digital Everything

We live in a digital world. People are always connected, which makes it easier for information to be seen by the masses, and it means that both good and bad information about a company can quickly spread. A company cannot wait and hope a bad piece of information will never go public, but instead they need to embrace the digital side and come forward with the information. While Chipotle’s announcement about no longer serving pork might not be “bad” information, it does indicate that the company is embracing the digital world and is not letting anyone beat them to the punch.

Should more companies follow in Chipotle’s footsteps of providing more transparency and authenticity? Let us know in the comments below and join the conversation on twitter!

4 Reasons Why Corporate Sustainability Reporting Might Be a Waste of Time

The SSC Team January 13, 2015 Tags: , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

As more companies are publishing annual sustainability reports, some fear that these reports are plateauing, rather than offering more value each year. Some companies are beginning to think that producing reports are not worth the effort or money. In an article published by The Guardian last week, they stated that while sustainability reports do provide useful information, they are not being as effective as they could be.

The article provided an in-depth analysis on a report published by SustainAbility, a think tank and strategic advisory firm, examining what companies can do to help make their reports… well… not as wasteful. Below are four possible ways your company’s sustainability report might be a waste of time:

Heavy Language

No one likes reading an article or a book that is plagued with dense language and phrases, and a sustainability report is no different. All too often, reports are filled with special wording to adhere to reporting standards, or they are bogged down my technical language. While certain key phrases or words are inevitable, don’t have your entire report filled with jargon that no one is going to want to sift through.

Failing to Connect with the Audience

Your company spends countless hours putting in the effort to create a sustainability report, but for who? Who exactly is the audience your company is trying aim their report at? Tying in nicely with the previous point, if your company is structuring the report to be read by customers, but instead reads like a report intended for upper level executives, you aren't going to have readership. Be sure to remind yourself while constructing your report who your intended audience is, and be sure to not lose sight of that.

Confusing Standards and Frameworks

GRI. IIRC. SASB. These are just three examples of some of the many reporting frameworks available to companies. But how is a company supposed to choose and navigate one of these frameworks? They're all different! Should your company go with a compliance-driven approach? Or maybe they should consider a principle-driven approach or a materiality focused take on a global framework. A single framework is exhausting as is, but having so many options might lead to “framework fatigue” and possibly...

Choosing the Wrong Framework

Even if your company does end up choosing a reporting framework, it does not necessarily mean that it will be a good fit for your company. If a company is using a framework that is not best suited for them, their reports could potentially leave out a lot of valuable information. For example, Novo Nordisk recently decided to no longer follow GRI standards and instead take an “integrated reporting” approach, since they determined that would best reflect how they manage their business. 

Be sure to check out our blog post exploring how sustainability reports change over time!