A New Era of Corporate Sustainability Reporting

A heavily impacted forest west of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A heavily impacted forest west of Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. CI is working with companies to help them report not just their financial results, but their performance when it comes to sustainability -- to help protect ecosystems like this around the world. (© CI/Photo by Russell A. Mittermeier)

Every day, each one of us votes — with our dollars. But without the right information, how can we decide who to vote for?

That’s an idea that’s been on my mind since last weekend, when more than 2,600 corporate sustainability leaders got together at the Net Impact Conference to share ideas and push each other on advancing the sustainability agenda. One topic that cycled through the conference was regarding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting: go or no-go? Separate or integrated?

I was interested in the topic because CI has been working with leading companies for more than 20 years to create and implement strategies that combine bold commitments to sustainability with practical solutions that deliver benefits to the bottom line and the environment. Through CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business, we help our corporate partners set and meet their CSR commitments by:

  • Helping assess the risks and opportunities of their existing operations and supply chains;
  • Adopting environmental goals, action plans and timetables; and
  • Communicating progress and results with key stakeholders through tools like a company’s CSR report or website.

I was surprised — almost disturbed — to hear statistics cited about how few people are actually reading CSR reports. Could it really be that less than 1 percent of people are taking the time to go through these reports? If we are asking companies to provide the transparency that comes through CSR reporting, how can we as practitioners, investors, consumers and decision makers not be using it to inform our decisions?

Perhaps this will come with new advances in technology. Smartphone apps from two startups, GoodGuide and Barcoo, have given us the power to look up a company’s sustainability profile on the spot. By scanning the barcodes on a wide range of products, we can get instant information about the company’s CSR work with little effort required before entering a store.

I was also part of the growing number of Net Impact attendees asking when we will get to a point where we are measuring a company’s performance and long term viability using both financial and non-financial results. When will we expect all companies — not just a few self-selected companies — to produce an annual report that includes transparent information on financial and sustainability performance?

I think the second question can be answered by the first. The day that we are all reviewing and making decisions about a company based on both financial and global responsibility indicators is the day that we can expect companies to report on both. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the most commonly followed framework for producing a sustainability report and they keep a list of companies that follow the GRI framework, with links to 744 companies’ CSR reports.

Ask yourself which companies you are rewarding with your dollars. As I said at the beginning of this blog, each one of us votes with our dollars every day. Who did you vote for today?

Angie Prosek is director of corporate relations for CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business.

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