Sustainability Reporting – Innovative and Funky!
24 July 2013 at 10:54 am
The new Global reporting Initiative guidelines are in many ways a reflection of what innovative, effective and even funky sustainability communications look like today says Miguel Oyarbide from the Australian Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility!
You have probably heard by now that in May the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) launched G4, the new version of its reporting guidelines. (If you haven’t, here is a full analysis of G4.) Among the key changes is the positioning of ‘materiality’ at the centre of reporting: cut the clutter, report only what is relevant.
Perhaps the increased focus on materiality responds to the weaknesses typically criticised of the previous versions: even with the sector supplements, the GRI framework was becoming too much of a one-size-fits-all box-ticking checklist for reporting that in fact delivered little value for most stakeholders and the organisations’ own learning.
As Radley Yeldar’s review ‘How does it stack up?’ points out, while disclosure standards such as GRI can help organisations improve their reporting, they can become “a compliance exercise rather than a communications opportunity” which might hamper the ability to connect stakeholders with messages.
“We call upon GRI to consider how to achieve better reporting rather than asking for more reporting”, Novo Nordisk wrote some time ago. And this is what G4 is about – rather than saying what to report, it provides a more flexible framework to inform the process of reporting and easier to adapt to each organisation’s particular background, impacts and performance.
The new guidelines are in many ways a reflection of what innovative and effective sustainability communications look like today – producing big volumes of information is useful for us fastidious analysts but rather pointless for engaging with other stakeholders.
While thorough disclosure might continue, there are at least two current trends that might be shaping the future of sustainability communications: blogzine-like formats; and the use of new channels.
In addition to shorter and more focused sustainability reports (such as Nike’s, Unilever’s, Vodafone’s, Telstra’s, or NAB’s), some organisations are producing news sites to provide more timely and leaner updates on their performance and allow greater interaction for reaching broader audiences.
Take for example Coca-Cola Unbottled, a site created because “we were missing a connection to you – even in this social age, our communications still felt very one way. We couldn’t easily have a conversation about water conservation, or empowering women”. Another example is GE Reports, a multimedia site to communicate GE’s efforts on innovation and sustainability as short news stories. Or GSK More than Medicine. Or Timberland’s Bootmakers Blog. Or Renault’s Sustainable Mobility. Or Danone’s Down to Earth.
If you are thinking of ‘using new channels’ as in having a Twitter and Facebook account… well, yes but no. There are more innovative and practical ways for engaging with stakeholders.
For example, Novo Nordisk’s sustainability games to raise awareness about business dilemmas on ethical, environmental, and health issues. Or Nike’s app ‘Making’ to help designers choose sustainable materials. Or Petrobras Biomaps (and its Google Earth version, its Flickr version, its iPad app, or its YouTube channel) to explore the company’s efforts on biodiversity protection. Or Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan Facebook apps. Or Philips #pinyourcity on Pinterest. And if you want to engage with hipsters, look for example at KeepCup’s Instagram competition #Keepcupstyle to promote the use of non-disposable cups.
Of course none of the above will replace sustainability reporting as such (for now!) as they are rather complementary. But they are setting the trend for making sustainability communications more meaningful and effective for stakeholders who might not always fancy reading a wordy and data-filled PDF report.
In the end, both the focus of G4 and these trends answer one simple question: if you are producing a long and highly technical report that no one uses – what’s the point?
About the author:
Miguel Oyarbide joined ACCSR as a consultant in September 2011, mainly focused on reporting and strategy. He has extensive international experience in corporate responsibility consultancy and in international development.
He was a presenter at the recent GRI G4 briefing series held by ACCSR in conjunction with the Global Reporting Initiative.
ACCSR will hold a series of bridging modules to help companies transition to the GRI G4 guidelines during the rest of the year.