ECM Dec-Jan_Layout 1 10/12/2012 16:08 Page 50   50 Columnist: Toby Webb                                                   ...
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Give your Sustainability Report the X Factor


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Give your Sustainability Report the X Factor

  1. 1. ECM Dec-Jan_Layout 1 10/12/2012 16:08 Page 50 50 Columnist: Toby Webb Ethical Corporation • December 2012 – January 2013 Reporting Give your sustainability report the X Factor There are some simple steps that can help sustainability reporters sing, writes Toby Webb t Ethical Corporation’s recent Interface come top in all the surveys A sustainability and reporting conference we held an “X Factor” of the aspirational brands on sustainability in expert surveys. session on reporting. These three all disclose failings and The idea was that corporate are regarded highly for it. Balanced reporting can score well with readers managers would pitch their Pointing this out to colleagues sustainability reports, and we choose may help convince them that and opportunity. Too many reports a winner, just for fun and to spark honesty and humility are the way to are obviously defensive libraries of discussion with the audience, and we go. Employees and potential data. More focus on them as a tool for had a popular vote at the end. colleagues, a key audience, also innovation should be considered. But Three brave companies, HP Co-, respond better to more authentic a good report engages people in the operative Group UK and Reed communications. business, and they can drive Elsevier, presented their reports in Genuine evidence of stakeholder innovation and new ideas. Talking brief. Our judges, Mike Tyrell of SRI- engagement. Again, this is about practical ways to use Connect and Ethical Corporation surprisingly uncommon. It’s hard to engagement for new products and columnist Mallen Baker, offered their demonstrate genuine employee services is the best way for views. engagement, but it can be done by Many reports companies to turn “defence” into I had to cast a deciding vote, and showing critical comments as well as still focus on “offense”. went for Co-op because they have a praise from staff members. Critical pledges rather Have a holistic “plan” for 2020 holistic plan on sustainability. All NGO comments and/or praise are and beyond. Lots of companies feel companies need one of those. Luckily vitally important for credibility. than real detail this approach is too ambitious. “We for me, our audience also agreed Companies like usually, at best, to on impact can’t commit to things we don’t when we put it to a public vote. rely on safe “stakeholders” who are know we can do” is a common It’s of course not really fair to actually consultants looking like refrain. This paradigm is increasingly compare companies that are so activists. indefensible. The same argument different. In the process, however, six This is not sustainable. Of course, would not be used on the subject of things became apparent that not every company can have running the business in a collectively give a sustainability comments from Greenpeace or the shareholder meeting, for example. report the X Factor. Clean Clothes Campaign, but there Yes these plans are tough, but you Humility and honesty. This is are other, local or issue-specific can either lead, or follow. And even fairly self-explanatory. But as Mallen groups out there that will be willing the followers will have these plans in Baker put it at the conference, most to comment. a few years’ time. So why not get companies seem utterly unwilling “to More effort is needed here by ahead now? admit they are less than perfect”. companies. A first step is a Use targeted messages to Humble approaches to commun- stakeholder mapping exercise, communicate progress to ication/reporting are vital, yet still looking closely at constructively stakeholders. Peter Knight from sorely lacking in most reports. For critical voices and how they can be Context puts it so well: “The report is example, being more upfront about engaged. the cone; communication is the ice- where targets are missed, or where Demonstrate real impact cream.” What he means here is that your company is finding them hard reductions and outcomes, with the report is essentially a repository to achieve. This is hard to get context. Many reports still focus on of information, and then targeted colleagues to sign off on, of course, pledges and corporate speak than messages from it should be sent out but it’s worth convincing them of the real detail on environmental impact to specific stakeholder groups. This is value of humility and honesty in reductions, or social indicators that the right approach, but still few reporting. show progress. Pledges and targets companies do it well. I That can be done using examples should be clearly separated from real of the leading companies and performance data. Toby Webb is founder of Ethical Corporation showing their approach. For Show how responsibility/ COLUMNIST: and Stakeholder Intelligence. He blogs daily example, Unilever, Patagonia and sustainability is linked to innovation TOBY WEBB at