cattleIn this post Elaine gives her take on the latest slew of industry sector sustainability reports increasingly being published by various industry associations, ranging from cattle growers to consumer electronic and every where in between. She notes that they tend to be oriented towards good news marketing oriented material, but they can give you a good overview of the issues in a particular sector. She reviews industry sector sustainability reports from: The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA); National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA); and the Yellow Pages Association.

by Elaine Cohen, Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd. Read Elaine’s blog. Follow Elaine on Twitter. Elaine is the author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices

Another trend we can see building momentum in sustainability reporting these days is the number of industry associations that report on sustainability. Industry sector reports are a fascinating breed. They are a sort of publication du jour for these associations, offering them a fun marketing ride on the back of sustainability. At one level, the industry association’s purpose is to promote the sector – that’s what members pay them to do – so inevitably sector reports are good great news and marketing oriented. At another level, their reports address the collective sustainability challenges that sectors face and therefore may loosely be described as some kind of sustainability report. By and large, they tend more toward the marketing end than the reporting end, but they are often nice publications which can give you a good overview of the material issues in a particular sector and the general approach being taken to address such issues. They also help you to become familiar with the sustainability jargon of the sector. Great for jargon geeks.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) published a 2010 Sustainability Report, its second, in which it highlights how the “consumer electronics industry is acting boldly and continuing to raise the bar in addressing environmental and societal challenges.” (No surprises so far, right?). The CEA promotes growth in the $170 million U.S. consumer electronics industry through its 2,000 members and the report includes data and case studies from published fiscal year 2009 sustainability reports for the 10 largest companies in CEA membership from a global revenue perspective (Dell, HP, LG Corp.,Microsoft, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba). Well worth a look to get a quick view of the nitty-gritty issues for this sector. And as for jargon, the CEA has an eCycling initiative, sales growth of EPEAT products, green lubricants for shredders, the green grid, power islands and more.

Another mine of interesting information (if you’re a beef geek) is the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) who recently published the Cattlemen’s Stewardship Review, which as far as I can tell is their first. It is dedicated to “the nearly 1 million U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers who work hard every day to raise good food, keep their animals healthy, protect the land and environment and build strong communities”. An interesting fact is that 97% of all cattle ranches are family owned – we tend to think of beef as a highly commercialized industry but when you get down to where it all comes from, its about good people trying to make a sustainable living with “cattle-raising traditions passed from generation to generation”. More than 10% of cattle farmers and ranchers are women :-). The U.S. Beef industry produces 20% of the world’s beef with only 7% the cattle. For the health-minded, you can also learn that a sirloin steak has 34% less total fat today than it did in 1963. The report is a nice overview of the beef industry and the key sustainability issues relating to beef life-cycle, animal care, educating consumers about beef and healthy diets, antibiotics use and disease, and environmental aspects such as use of land and water, managing manure though methane emissions from cattle are barely referenced. And for the jargoneers, BQA , the Code for Cattle Care, beef fabrication innovation opportunities, retail meat case knowledge, beef shoulder clod, the DASH diet and more should enrich your vocabulary.

My final example today is where green turns to yellow, or vice versa, with the Yellow Pages Association’s first Sustainability Report. The YPA is the “largest trade organization of a print and digital media industry valued at more than $31 billion worldwide” and it’s report is a 16 pager, which goes straight to the jugular of the YPA’s main business to consider the Life Cycle Assessment of a Telephone Directory (what’s one of those, remind me?) though disappointingly, the report does not reveal any data from a directory LCA assessment that the was conducted by the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI). The key conclusions are that the main components of a Telephone Directory Life-Cycle are paper production, printing, and end of life management (interestingly, distribution is not mentioned). But this is report is flimsy and not terribly informative and closer to the bon ton marketing brochure which any self-respecting trade association cannot now be without. Jargon lovers will enjoy consumer search habits, recovery rate of directories, coldset ink, ZIP code, waste paper landfill leachate and more.

Despite Sector Sustainability Reports being interesting, they provide only a very shallow and high level view of what’s happening in an industry sector. Indeed, this is one type of report that the GRI framework accommodates less well. Often the direct impacts of the Association itself are limited. The power of an Association is in the leverage of its membership and its ability to influence new directions. I think this is an something that could benefit from a GRI sector supplement to help address the different ways Industry Associations could report more effectively on sustainability.

In the meantime, I wonder if the Global Ice-Cream Manufacturers’ Association will be publishing a Sustainability Report this year? Free ice cream for everyone who reads it ?

For a look at a list of some best practices for corporate sustainability and CSR see: Top 10 CSR Studies of 2010, which compiles last year’s 10 best research findings related to CSR.

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© 2011, Elaine_Cohen. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Elaine_Cohen (19 Articles)

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, a leading CSR consulting and reporting firm, offering a wide range of consulting services for the strategic development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses, reporting and assurance using the GRI and Accountability frameworks, and reporting on application of Global Compact principles. Elaine writes a blog on CSR reporting, expert CSR report reviews for ,tweets on CSR topics at @elainecohen and has specialist knowledge of governance, ethics, diversity, advancement of women, responsible workplace and use of social media for csr communications.