Analysing snowflakes in a blizzard

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Following a BSI forum on reporting, Consultant Alex Giles provides an update on the current landscape of reporting, and where we go from here.

Following a BSI forum on reporting, Consultant Alex Giles provides an update on the current landscape of reporting, and where we go from here.

Sustainability reporting today is like “analysing snowflakes in a blizzard”, according to the opening statement at a BSI stakeholder forum earlier this month. It was looking at the current landscape of sustainability performance and reporting, and discussing recommendations for BSI to support and improve practice.

The day started with an overarching statement that “trying to capture today’s reporting landscape was like analysing snowflakes in a blizzard”. I’m sure you’ll agree that this seems to ring very true with practical experience. With so much out there, where do we start? Does a company go down the AA1000 or GRI G4 route, or instead decide that CDP or integrated reporting is for them? Or even a combination of all of the above? It’s understandable that companies (of all shapes and sizes) could be perplexed by all the different standards, guidance and buzzwords out there.

The majority of the day was identifying the key features of the performance and reporting landscape. An interesting discussion arose on social value, a topic which is gathering increasing momentum as companies use it as a competitive advantage. Should we look to standardise how this is measured and reported, or is it too context-specific? Perhaps social value is such a new area, like Modern Slavery, that it needs to mature and be tried and tested first. This later point seemed to be the consensus, but watch this space.

Whilst some organisations continue to focus on reporting, my emphasis during the BSI forum was that this should form part of the end game. Are you reporting because you feel that you have to, perhaps due to stakeholder expectations or to keep up with the competition? Or are you driving continuous improvement internally through performance management, and then communicating progress externally through reporting? If you are reporting, without using this information to drive improvements to your organisation and sustainability performance, then are you running before you can walk? Having your performance indicators (‘your ducks’) and management processes (‘in a row’) is crucial to embedding effective performance management.

This is the only way that will generate actual sustainability improvements and the resulting business benefits. This is a key point that we promote through our Supply Chain School ‘Performance Measurement and Management’ workshops.  But does this mean that I should stop reporting, you might ask? It seems that, in the wider legislative context, reporting is becoming more demanded of companies.

The most recent example is the Modern Slavery Act, which requires companies with a global group turnover of £36m per annum are required to prepare a slavery and human trafficking statement per financial year. Another example is the upcoming requirement of payment reporting, otherwise known as the ‘Duty to Report’ rule which aims to drive better practice and performance of prompt payment. In essence, from April 2017, large firms and LLP will need to report on their payment practices and performance bi-annually, such as the average time to pay supplier invoices.

So my hunch is: no, don’t stop reporting. But ensure that it forms part of an overall strategic performance management approach. An annual sustainability report is much more convincing if it talks about what you’ve done to improve your performance, not just ‘here are those figures, again’.

Alex Giles, Action Sustainability, Consultant