In this post Kathrin examines some of the issues and challenged that crop up in sustainability reporting from the perspective of her own recent experience preparing the sustainability report for EMC. The author gives advice to those who are about to embark on crafting a sustainability report — saying in effect that it is a big job with a very large scope that includes practically every aspect of the organization. She concludes by sharing some of what she learned from her experience and what could have perhaps been done differently.
I’m very happy to report that this past week, we published the 2010 EMC Sustainability Report.
It was hard…
And it’s not where we want to be.
It’s good: This year, we go more deeply than ever into our challenges, tell more customer and employee stories, and really endeavor to describe not only what, but why. Topics that stand out this year include (but are absolutely not limited to):
Feedback from our multi-stakeholder forum (p21)
What’s happening in our data centers (p28)
Everything the supply chain team is doing, but especially discussion of the challenges of Scope 3 data collection (p45)
Discussion of the oh-so-important FMD (Full Material Disclosure) data base that is filling up and is already serving us so well with the deluge of regulation and customer questionnaires (p50)
The Innovation Conference award winning packaging innovations (p51)
The breadth of education projects (p65)
Our financial performance (p74 – how could I not be proud of that?)
It was hard: If you’re about to do your first report, be forewarned. First of all, you can’t “tell it how it is” until you actually figure out how it is. The scope is so broad that it involves data from every nook and cranny of the company and it takes time to ferret that out and, in many cases, aggregate material from multiple sources.
Secondly, it’s often a forcing function: asking for info drives some actions that you need to let play out; this means either waiting it out or skipping it until the next go-round.
Thirdly, we are doing it during mega-reporting season, while we’re also doing CDP carbon, water, and others. Our own fault? Well, yes. On the other hand, we want the most up-to-date emissions data.
And while we have tons of internal measures, we still struggle in some areas with selecting the right overarching KPIs to fairly and accurately represent our performance. Unfortunately, I do think that many companies load their stories with measures that lack context and don’t reveal the bigger story. And, in all honesty, there are some areas where we’re still nailing down the baseline and simply didn’t have the data to share.
In our related post: “Is Reporting Waste a Waste of Time?“, Elaine Cohen poses the question whether or not reporting is a waste of time and then continues by showing three varying examples of where the GRI reporting is incomplete in very important ways.
It’s not where we wanted to be: This year, we were lucky enough to get Kaisa on board. She is an unstoppable force. But she didn’t join until February, and our previous report was so out of date (it’s amazing how much changes in a year!) that we didn’t want to postpone putting out new information for too long. So what we did was basically update last year’s report with the newest data, additional topics such as biodiversity, responses to stakeholder input, description of corporate values, EcoKids illustrations, and more. But the format stayed the same, and where the content was still accurate, left that too. (After all, sustainability is about long term thinking, and if everything you have to say changes every year, it may be an indicator that the strategy is perhaps a tad short-sighted!)
What we are now working to tackle in our reporting strategy includes:
Being more dynamic: having more data and available on an ongoing basis so A) our stakeholders don’t have to wait a year and b) the data collection exercise becomes trivially easy.
Being more interactive: both between stakeholder and report development, between reader and report content, and data and its analysis.
Being crisper: (Kaisa is chuckling – I say this a lot!) so that our meta-story stands out from the volume of information.
Being shorter: big PDF files are daunting. The crisp story with linkage to interactive, dynamic information of the reader’s choice is the way to go.
Having a more comprehensive, but not longer, scorecard. Pithy, even.
Being more forward-looking: though we do discuss our goals and, in the narrative, what we’re working toward, the balance is still toward what we’ve already achieved. Most of our stakeholders – especially our employees – care about what we’ve done, but are even more interested in what is in store.
There’s more – but these are the ones that I believe merit the most attention. If you get a chance to look through any sections of the report, we’d really appreciate your inout, reaction, and ideas. And thanks!
Read: “The Global Reporting Initiative Year in Review: 2010 a Memorable Year“, to read a review of what the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) of what it has been doing between July 2009 and June 2010.
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© 2011, Kathrin Winkler. All rights reserved. Do not republish.