Apr 10, 2013

RECAP- Good Business Workshop: Leveraging Your Sustainability Report to Drive Performance and Increase Brand Value

Author: Candice Goldsmith

The reasons behind continued adoption of GRI and CDP are clear- 95% of the Global 250 companies report that sustainability and carbon disclosure (through the CDP) is viewed by over 650 institutional investors as an indicator of business health. Cynthia Figge, Partner and Cofounder of EKOS International and COO and Cofounder of CSRHUB, and Russell S. Barton, Ph.D., Partner and Cofounder of EKOS International, highlighted the importance of these emerging standards during the Tools for Tomorrow event on March 21, 2013 by discussing that today’s business environment is driven by customer’s expectations, stakeholder interest, as well as ratings, requirements, and standards.

The ultimate goal is to use sustainability reporting as a framework to drive continuous improvement; enrich the brand; deepen relationships with suppliers, employees, community, and customers; and increase value for the triple top line including less waste, improving employee relations, and increasing profits.

There are two primary categories that explain why companies are starting and continuing to report: external and internal benefits. 
External benefits include communicating your story of strategic priorities, goals, and targets; meeting corporate customer, regulatory, and investor requirements; increasing market access and share; qualifying for awards and positive indexes; raising community support; and gaining consumer and stakeholder interest.  Internal benefits include driving goals and performance; communicating commitment and progress; increasing awareness and knowledge of sustainability efforts; increasing employee engagement; improving internal branding; and stimulating innovation. 

Companies that are more involved with sustainability reporting see increased benefits over time, including increasing alignment within the organization at all levels through use of cross-functional teams, deepening knowledge of the entire value stream, and enhancing both supplier and customer relationships by sharing information and collaborating.

Getting Started
To identify what type of sustainability reporting to complete, find out what internal and external stakeholders consider important.  While internal and external priorities may not always match, external priorities often influence internal priorities. 

Figge and Barton provided some practical tips for getting started with sustainability reporting:
  1. Find a senior executive sponsor to help get the wheels rolling (this also facilitates approval on future actions)
  2. Develop a cross-functional team to gather data on the entire organization and to integrate sustainability daily operations
  3. Clarify and understand the audience, including prioritizing each party’s interests to foster engagement
  4. Face the issues, especially the difficult ones, by taking them on bit by bit (no procrastinating!)
  5. Sweat the details and the data to produce verifiable results
  6. Plan for decision and approval loops which may slow down the timing of the project
What to Expect
First time reporters should be prepared to answer questions and skepticism around the crux of sustainability. Be prepared for questions from leadership arising from perceived risk of going public with limited data or knowledge. Best approaches for dealing with these potential barriers are to show full transparency and congruence between the report and actions being taken (making sure you are walking the walk).

On the up side, first timers may also find hidden advocates come out of the woodwork. 

Looking Ahead
Some trends to expect: external expectations for reporting and transparency, steep adoption of GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) as a global standard, alignment of organizational reporting to the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project).  To aid with these reporting demands, it is expected that various sustainability management software programs will be used to help organizations track and maintain data. 

Ready to plan or re-plan your report? Share comments below.

To receive notifications on future Tools for Tomorrow events, join Sustainable Seattle's Sustainable Business mailing list. For more information on Tools for Tomorrow, head to sustainableseattle.org.

About the Author
Candice Goldsmith, FMP, LEED AP O+M is a sustainability consultant in the built environment, focusing primarily on existing buildings at Paladino and Company in Seattle.  With a background in facility management and existing buildings, she brings an understanding of high performance building operation from the manager/owner perspective to her clients’ projects.  Candice has LEED certified over 30 buildings, including AT&T Park in San Francisco, the first Major League Baseball stadium to achieve LEED EBOM certification.  Candice led a volunteer-based Green Team at her condo building in Atlanta, where she developed sustainability goals for the building, including a comprehensive recycling program, energy and water efficiency programs, a community resource for sharing and reusing moving supplies, and outreach and education.  Candice is also owner/founder of an eco-friendly apparel company operating 100% in Seattle: Dolomite Bags.

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