Building on my last several posts, the main objective here is to recap the final phase and deliverable of a major sustainability project engagement: Reporting. As background, our client had not previously done any public reporting along the lines of Climate Leaders, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), etc. Nor had they been reporting on their sustainability efforts internally. Developing and distributing their first comprehensive sustainability report for all internal stakeholders was therefore a significant objective and one that was a key priority among the firm’s green team members as well as its leadership.
Early on in the engagement we promoted the adoption of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework. Comprehensive in nature (covering environmental, social and economic sustainability pillars), an established and increasingly popular framework (over 1300 firms reported to the GRI in 2010), and rigorous yet flexible in its design, we believe it is an appropriate model to guide ones sustainability program efforts. The specification of dozens of key performance indicators and well defined criteria for reporting on them adds to its popularity.
Concurrent with the implementation of the Environmental and Energy Management System discussed in related posts, we provided considerable training to client personnel on the GRI framework, how to use it, and most importantly how to craft a meaningful, tailored report following its guidelines. As we progressed through the determination of the baseline carbon footprint and the subsequent year’s performance, we purposely began shaping our efforts to align with the GRI.
Specifically, we identified the KPIs that the client’s available data and sustainability practices directly lent themselves to. This is a critical step as the absence of such data prevents the calculation and reporting of such KPIs. As but one example, not capturing business travel in sufficient detail precludes firms from selecting and reporting on the specific KPI pertaining to this often significant environmental impact.
We set our sights on a C-level equivalent GRI report. Not to be confused with a ranking akin to a letter grade suggesting adequate or satisfactory performance, this level report calls for 10 Kpis to be identified and reported on. One can readily appreciate the iterative nature of engaging in such reporting for the first or even second time: What data do we have? Which kpi(s) does it pertain to? For this kpi here do we have the data we need? If so, where is it and is it complete? After some similar back and forth we agreed on the kpis to report on. Leveraging GRI’s flexibility, where we could not report on a specific kpi we decided to report on related sustainability efforts anecdotally to at least provide “line of sight” to such efforts.
Once all the data is collected and analyzed, and the kpis finalized, the next major step is to begin writing the actual report. The GRI framework is sufficiently structured to provide more than adequate guidance on how to organize the different report components. Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, is in the content itself and how to present ones sustainability program efforts in a manner that is well aligned with ones business strategy and mission. Ideally, business strategy informs sustainability strategy and the two are well integrated and support each other. Thus the importance of a well articulated definition of sustainability for the target firm as well as related strategy.
In the absence of such specificity we shaped the GRI report content in a manner that seemed to make the most sense given the nature of the client, its industry, business practices, priorities and the like. This was first evident in the CEO letter (required as the introductory section) and flowed through the results section and vision for future program activity. Indeed, aligning ones sustainability objectives, efforts, and results with the business perspective envisioned is a significant challenge. A few revisions were required to present the correct perspective and tone to reflect the firm’s perspective and intentions accurately.
Needless to say, the reporting exercise is invaluable in “drawing out” the client’s posture and objectives pertaining to sustainability. In addition, it facilitates valuable discussions among organizational leadership as to how to pursue and present sustainability across the firm. The act of “putting it into writing”, as in many other domains, casts a very different light than when less formal efforts are made. I fully expect our client to benefit significantly from this exercise as they consider near and longer term sustainability program objectives and initiatives.
Adding to the benefits of the reporting effort itself, our client is actively soliciting feedback from its internal stakeholders, providing further insights that will guide their sustainability program’s evolution. This will be further informed and guided as our client develops and distributes a more comprehensive sustainability report next year that will be publicly disclosed. More comprehensive input from a broader array of key stakeholder groups, attaining more experience with various mitigation efforts and the impacts that can be reasonably expected, and continued monitoring of developments in the sustainability arena in general will lead to a further refined and compelling sustainability strategy.
I envisioned this posting as the last in a related series of engagement-centric posts. But the road certainly doesn’t end here as sustainability is certainly a continuous undertaking. The steps and deliverables covered in this series represent several key building blocks that serve to set the sustainability foundation. Future posts will explore activities that are pursued to build on this foundation and the various challenges encountered.