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February 23, 2016updated 31 Aug 2016 5:00pm

How to get ahead in sustainability reporting

Opinion: Toby Crewe, director – sustainability solutions at Schneider Electric, gives his eight steps to effective reporting in the race to sustainability.

By Vinod

When it comes to sustainability, transparency is the obvious answer. Consumers and shareholders are keen to see organisations get better at benchmarking their sustainability initiatives. Governments are also establishing more reporting requirements, which will inevitably multiply through initiatives such as the recent Sustainable Innovation Forum at COP21.

No matter how you look at it, the call for climate action is coming in surround sound. More than 50 per cent of customers prefer sustainable brands and are more likely to trust a company that reports corporate social responsibility results.

From regulators to investors, consumers and employees – right the way through to the stock exchange – stakeholders have been asking companies to measure and disclose performance. The result is that integrated reporting is going mainstream.

The race to sustainability

Sustainability programmes and reporting boost consumer confidence, shareholder esteem and a company’s bottom line. Sports company Asics was grappling with timely collection and consolidation of its global sustainability data as it managed significant business growth particularly into retail operations. It didn’t have a centralised tracking system so collating metric conversions and formats of energy and water use and audit data was a challenge. We helped the company by delivering consulting, software and implementation services.

Reporting processes and data access improved dramatically, saving resources and allowing analysis and continuous enhancement of open and transparent reporting further down into the supply chain.

 

Eight steps to effective reporting

However, many companies are failing to capitalise on these benefits simply because they don’t have the expertise and tools to capture and report progress on their sustainability goals. Even companies that want to operate more transparently often struggle with collecting and wrangling sustainability data, which is typically scattered across different silos and platforms. According to research firm Verdantix, organisations have adopted more than 2,500 unique metrics for use in sustainability reports, which gives a sense of scale to the challenge facing companies.

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Companies can develop effective sustainability reporting strategies using the following steps:

 

1. Create a roadmap

A roadmap should show how your sustainability reporting will function. For example, you might first set out expectations for governance, shareholder engagement and disclosure. Then look at your expectations for performance in the following areas:

– Operations
– Supply chain
– Transportation and logistics
– Products and services
– Employees

 

2. Identify key players and develop a governance structure

Identify the data owners of your sustainability programme and establish communication pathways between them and the sustainability team. Bring in site contacts and enterprise stakeholders to make sure they buy into the goals. Short conversations up front can save significant time chasing information later.

 

3. Develop accountability structures

This is a framework not unlike an organisational chart in that it shows the different groups involved in reporting. It includes an outline of the roles and responsibilities of each group, and describes the processes, people and supports necessary to function effectively. Accountability structures provide clarity, organisation and communication.

 

4. Leverage technology

The right systems allow you to house various data points from all owners in one place. Rather than manually inputting data from a variety of sources, which is time intensive and error prone, implement a SaaS cloud-based solution.

That way, data can be more easily analysed and acted upon. This platform should also offer drill-down capability into single-site, interval-level data to find inefficiencies that can be hidden in monthly reports.

 

5. Identify the quickest ROI opportunities

Use analytics to identify projects with low up-front investments that can result in positive results over a relatively short period of time. Examples include an understanding of the leading and lagging site performers within your real-estate portfolio, or an immediate
opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. As much as 50 per cent of potential efficiency improvements are low- to no-cost.

 

6. Communicate successes

Share success stories with stakeholders and highlight the value of what has been accomplished, as well as challenges the company needs to address. Sustainability communications will only deliver brand value if they are based on brand strategy and integrated with mainstream communication.

 

7. Continually assess and refine

Examine where your strategy is performing well and expand upon those aspects. Then refine (or discard) the tactics that are showing less success.

Outside of your team, industry experts can fill gaps to drive efficiency and improve performance. Reporting strategies should be assessed on a regular basis, integrated with feedback from internal and external stakeholders.

 

8. Create a sustainable culture — from the top down

Companies that see significant returns on their environmental initiatives recruit a diverse roster of employees who have one thing in common: an appreciation for the climate challenge and a passion for action. That starts all the way at the apex, with the board of
directors.

For a company operating in the 21st century, the risks and opportunities a board considers must include environmental and social issues.

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