Trucost Blog / 15 Jun 2010

So what makes a good sustainability report?

Paul Druckman, chairman of executive board at The Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Project, comments on what makes a good sustainability report.

As a general rule, we tend to trust the financial information published by companies. Aside from the obvious regulatory and compliance issues, responsible companies recognise that it’s in their best interests to be open and honest. That’s why they go to so much trouble to ensure that their financial reporting is meticulously accurate.

But what of other types of reporting? Many companies have jumped on the ‘green bandwagon’ and published sustainability reports. But are they worth it?  As sustainability becomes ever important, companies will need to do more than just report their short-term financials. I am convinced that businesses with a good ethical, environmental position will eventually have a better capital value too.

I believe there is a correlation between those companies that have a good track record in sustainability and the reports they use. And that means reporting bad news – as well as good. Far too often, in my opinion, punches are pulled in reports leading to a ‘greenwash’.

But there are some companies that do understand the need for honesty and transparency.

Take Hong Kong-based CLP Holdings. They’re a power generation and transmission business with a history that goes back more than 100 years and operations throughout the Asia Pacific.

I took a keen interest at this company when I was recently the jury chair of the Globe Sustainability Reporting Award. Now in its second year, this award aims to highlight those companies that have developed integrated reporting. The general mission of the Globe Awards as a whole are to highlight and acknowledge particular cases and initiatives within the sustainability area.

Worthy winner

Like CLP, ICA of Sweden was also shortlisted – alongside BT which was singled out as being “outstanding in most respects”. In the end, my co-judges and I decided that CLP was a worthy of this year’s award. Why? Because we were “impressed with their report, the superb web presence, and the integrity shown by disclosing the bad news, as well as the good news stories around investment in renewable energy generation and staff safety amongst others.”

They also told us that their report “serves as a strong management tool to drive improvement, as well as communication with our stakeholders…[and that they]…believe transparency is a key element.”

“We communicate our shortcomings as well as success, and we keep the language simple and straight forward to reach a wide audience,” they told us.

And that’s my point.

The key to good reporting is when you show how sustainability impacts on your business as a whole. It’s not about facts and figures or whizzy presentations. It’s about having sustainability knitted into the very fabric of the business across all areas and activities.

In my experience, companies need to take this issue seriously and adopt an integrated approach. Treating sustainability merely as a compliance exercise is a waste of time that will ultimately prove costly and fail to deliver change. For businesses to flourish in the future they need to make sustainability part of the DNA of their organisation and ensure it is being driven by senior management.

This blog was republished with thanks from BT’s Corporate Blog:

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