World Water Day: how businesses can take more action on water

Today is World Water Day! 🌊

Our Earth is called the “Blue Planet” because of the large water distribution on the surface of this planet. Yet, there is a lot of ‘hidden impact’ we are having on the blue of our planet.

Today we share four tips to do more on water stewardship as a business:

1 Start with your product

2 Take a close look at your supply chain

3 Don’t forget about waste

4 Collaborate on water achievements

1. Start with your product

Is water impact inherent to your product or service? Having much water in your product such as bottled water, sweetened drinks or laundry detergents can connect your business to sensitive issues related to the communities of which water is sourced. The world requires businesses to step up and become the solution to these issues instead of the problem.Better action: Spadel is on a continuous journey to take this role and this week they become B Corp certified, showcasing that they take significant actions on the positive impact their business model has and can have in the future. Last year, as part of our BIA advisory service – offered through the B Corp Way – we supported Spadel on an ad hoc basis specifically with supply chain and procurement-related assessment questions. One part of the much bigger puzzle in becoming B Corp Certified, but we are super proud of @Spadel for this achievement! More here.

2. Take a close look at your supply chain

Quite often clients of ours believe their water footprint to be insignificant. Their offices use very little water, or they offer products without water as an ingredient. It is often forgotten how water is a significant source to produce many raw materials, especially agricultural commodities and materials like plastics and metals (both in mining and manufacturing). To illustrate: cotton for one pair of jeans takes 8 liters of water, and the 5.3 liters of water is needed to produce a typical single-use PET plastic bottle. Companies that have their product in the ‘cloud’ such as e-commerce or web applications might forget their water impact, but a typical data center uses about 3-5 million gallons of water per day for cooling purposes (more here). So, great step companies can take is taking a closer look at the role of water in the supply chain of their product, platform, or packaging.Better actions: Companies are increasingly developing science based water targets and WWF offers a water risk filter tool which is a great tip to start understanding water in your supply chains. Companies such as Tchibo, Edeka, and H&M group are using it.

3. Don’t forget about waste

Waste is of a significant impact. First, polluted waste streams, such as plastics and hazardous chemicals, enter our water sources. But water in our manufacturing processes are also too rarely reused. In 2017, over 80 percent of the world's wastewater is released to the environment without treatment according to UN Water. Yet, Energy, clean water, fertilizers, and nutrients can be extracted from wastewater and used to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.Better action: Ecofixe supports businesses and municipalities to biologically treat their wastewater. They do this with treatment solutions that create a positive social impact too.

4. Collaborate on water achievements

As showcased in the other examples much of the water impact of companies is made in tandem with others, such as suppliers, employees end consumers or other stakeholders. An important route into reducing your water footprint is to creatively activate people and joining in on the solution.Better actions: Companies are joining the CEO Water Mandate of the UN Global Compact, meant to tackle the water challenge from the top down and as well as the Alliance for Water Stewardship to align on action plans. Additionally, the Water Action Hub featuring all types of water projects. Already 1836 company projects are connected on the platform by companies such as Heineken, Danone and Dupont. To take employees or consumers along you can start with providing better insights into water footprints. For instance with the Personal water footprint or Product water footprint.

 

We hope to have provided you with some extra insights into taking actions on water for your business. Of course, there is much more work to do, and we are curious to hear your experience with water as a sustainability topic. Want to connect? ‘Drop’ us a line at Info@theterrace.nl.


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Everything you want to know about a CSR / sustainability report

In this blog we help you on your way to make your first CSR or sustainability report.

Why would you make a sustainability report?

Did you know that large companies in the EU are even legally obliged to publish data on their sustainability performance? There are also enough internal and external reasons for other organizations to start reporting on CSR.

External:

  • Customers and partners increasingly expect transparency about sustainability objectives and performance;
  • Civil society organizations and future staff also want to know what is going on and what you stand for as an organization;
  • With a report you can tell where you stand, where you want to go and what you need for that. Nice starting point for dialogue with your environment.

Internal:

  • With an annual report you show all employees what has been achieved, and also where challenges still lie;
  • By involving people in drawing up the report, you also involve them more in the CSR strategy and its implementation;
  • External communication about objectives, successes and challenges increases commitment in the organization.

How long does it take to prepare a CSR / sustainability report?

You will certainly be working on a few months to prepare a CSR or sustainability report. This is not something you do in a few weeks. It also takes more time the first time. In addition, there are other factors that influence this. Consider the complexity, size and maturity of your organization. Where smaller organizations have a lead time of around three months, larger or complex organizations usually take longer. In general, most companies manage to complete the report between three and six months.

How to start?

Are you convinced to make a first CSR report for your company? Here are a few tips to make things a little easier for you:

  1. Divide the process in steps and make a good planning
  2. Think carefully about who exactly you need in which phase (for approval, data, photos and other content);
  3. Make a structure for the report in advance;
  4. And see reporting as a journey or a cycle. It goes and it gets better every year!

Want to know more?

Follow our Reporting training or contact our reporting specialist Marjolein via +31 (6) 12965895 or marjolein@theterrace.nl to provide your reporting journey or other sustainable project with positive energy and structure!


Partnership for the sustainable development goals

You’ve probably heard to the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, also known as the SDGs or Global Goals. But how are these relevant to you and your organization? How is the Netherlands progressing on these goals? And how do different sectors contribute to the SDGs? Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace organized an event for the alumni of Nyenrode Business University at the office of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC ). The SDG's were the topic of this day.

Immerse yourself in the SDGs through virtual reality

PwC Amsterdam built an SDG dome to bring the SDGs closer to its staff and clients. On March 29, 2019, PwC Amsterdam opened the SDG dome to the alumni of Nyenrode Business University.

The United Nations strive to achieve these goals by the year 2030. In the dome we tried to achieve the the Sustainable Development Goals as quickly as possible. Even for people with deep knowledge of sustainability, this proved to be quite a challenge. Our two teams achieved the SDGs by 2037 and 2044. These results and the impact of experiencing sustainability challenges and solutions through virtual reality raised the sense of urgency and the commitment to act in all of us.

Dutch organizations working on SDGs below the surface

At the launch of the SDG dome, PwC also presented research about the application of the SDGs by Dutch organizations. This shows that listed companies in the Netherlands embrace the SDGs, but that these have not been integrated effectively into the strategies and activities. A smaller subset of the Dutch ministries and municipalities refer to the SDGs but is not yet leading to different actions. Social enterprises and NGOs in the Netherlands hardly mention the SDGs at all in their annual reports. They do not see a sufficient added benefit to link their impact to the SDGs. So, below the surface, things seem to be moving, yet organizations could still make much more use of the SDGs. Linked to their operations, their impact in society and as a common language to connect with other organizations.

Dutch organizations primarily focus on SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). While we should pay more attention to SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 13 (climate action), as international research by PwC shows we are lagging behind on these SDGs compared to other countries.

PwC brings the goals closer for clients and staff

Wineke Haagsma, Director Corporate Responsibility at PwC shared how PwC integrated the SDGs and how they help clients to do this as well. There is a four-step process to select the SDGs to which they want to contribute:

  1. Start from the positive contribution of your own organization;
  2. Then act on the negative impacts of your own organization;
  3. Focus on the positive impact of your products and services;
  4. and finally, search for the negative impacts in your supply chain.

These four steps help organizations identify which SDGs provide challenges and opportunities for the future, and to select the SDGs on which to focus. For the selected SDGs, the next step is to dig into the underlying targets. Make the selected SDGs very concrete for your own organization, with clear goals linked to your own operations. And with KPIs to measure progress. The SDG selector can be a handy tool to support this selection process.

Through this process, PwC Netherlands selected four focus SDGs and linked these to the strategy. On their website, you can read more about the selected SDGs (8, 10, 12 and 16). Wineke’s enthusiasm and openness sparked many people to really consider how to get to work on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Plant-based networking

As always, these alumni events are wrapped up with networking drinks. PwC served organic wine and vegetarian snacks made from mushrooms grown on coffee grounds from PwC’s own offices.

This event was organized and chaired by Marjolein Baghuis of Change in Context, in her role as Chair of the Alumni Circle for Sustainability at Nyenrode Business University. 

This blog of Marjolein also appeared on the website of Nyenrode.


Circular Event Nyenrode, Interface, Government

Interface and Dutch government go circular!

Planet Earth is a beautiful circular business model. From which we can learn as people and organisations. Linear business models have dominated our global economy in the past centuries. Yet it has devastating effects such as the depletion of finite resources and the creation of waste, which either needs to be stored or ends up in the environment. In the circular economy, we reuse all primary resources and residual materials. Renewable sources provide all energy used. A growing number of companies and other organisations are starting to see the benefits of circular business models and are joining in!

On January 29, 2019, I had the opportunity to facilitate an interactive session with an audience of Nyenrode Business University alumni after listening to Geanne van Arkel, Head of Sustainable Development at Interface (and Dutch CSR Manager of the Year 2018) and Martie van Essen, Program Manager Sustainability Acceleration at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs share their stories about working more circularly.

What’s the business case for ending life on earth?

Ray Anderson, founder of carpeting company Interface would ask people this question when they asked him about the business case of working more sustainably. After reading The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawken he completely changed the course of his company. He became convinced that, as humanity, we need to learn from nature and we need to stop using fossil fuels. In 1996, Interface launched Mission Zero, the ambitious plan to no longer have a negative impact on the world by 2020.

Through Mission Zero, stock-listed Interface progressed in various areas. Compared to 1996, by the year 2017, Interface reduced:

  • Its greenhouse gas emissions per unit produced by 96%;
  • The use of water per unit produced by 88%;
  • The CO2-footprint of carpet tiles by 66%;
  • The energy used per unit produced by 43%;
  • 88% of the energy used comes from renewable sources;
  • and 58% of the materials are either recycled or bio-based.

The circular approach also yielded added value in other areas: costs came down, the reputation grew, innovation rose, employee and stakeholder engagement grew and the company became more future-proof. Because 2020 is almost there, Interface launched a new mission: Climate Take Back. It’s objective is to not just eliminate the negative impact but to also contribute positively to the recovery of our planet. Interface doesn’t confine the circular economy to its raw materials; it’s all about new business models, innovation and inspiration as well. An inclusive business model supplies part of the yarns from damaged fishnets from the Philippines and other places. With a great bycatch: H&M and other carpeting companies are also sourcing circular yarns which the supplier created at the request of Interface!

Practice what you preach on circular business

Through different programs and regulation, the government stimulates Dutch companies to work in more sustainable and more circular ways. And what does the government actually do itself? With 111 thousand FTE, 10% of all Dutch offices and € 12 billion purchasing power per year, the national government has an enormous impact. And with that the opportunity to drive change. The purchasing power is actually € 72 billion is we add regional governments’ and municipal budgets.

The program Think Act Sustainable (Denk Doe Duurzaam) delivers nice results. The national government’s annual report shows that in 2017, compared to 2016:

  • Energy use per square meter of office space decreased by 12%;
  • CO2 emissions decreased by 9%;
  • And an online marketplace for used office furniture saved € 7.4 million.

As much as possible, the government buys refurbished (circular) copiers, reuses its ICT devices, and the army reuses clothing or fiberizes it to recycle it to towels. In the offices, people are encouraged to reuse their paper cups during the day. Cups collected after use are recycled into toilet paper. These measures also deliver cost savings. For example, the army saved € 500 million by reusing clothes. Yet at the same time, circular and sustainable ways of working also raise dilemma’s within the government. Sometimes the scale of what the government needs provides a barrier. For example, there isn’t one supplier which can provide enough circular copiers. And sometimes the switch to new and different business models can require an upfront investment – funded by taxpayers.

A circular dot on the horizon, yet both feet on the ground

After these stories, the audience got on its feet to engage with the speakers and each other by Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace. On the basis of our “Take a stand icebreaker” – they literally had to take a stand in respons to various statements about the circular economy. I really enjoyed facilitating the discussions among the audience and with the speakers. Everyone was convinced about the need for more circular business models. And everyone had the ambition to work in a more circular way.

Yet there were also plenty of doubts about the willingness and abilities of their organisations to really get going. Everyone expected a large role from the government, through its own actions as well as support and regulation for companies. At the same time, there was a passionate plea from the group not to wait for the government to lead; to just get started. Everyone agreed that this transition requires visionary leaders. Over drinks, we continued to discuss what roles we’d like to take up personally in this exciting field.

Circular Event feb 2019

This event was a co-production of the Nyenrode alumni circles for Sustainability and Market & Government following up on an earlier event about the energy transition. An inspiring Mindspace location in central Amsterdam hosted the event. Marjolein Baghuis was a guest at the Circulair Event, where the Nyenrode alumni were told how Interface and the Government work more circular.


Tony's Chocolonely: Raising the chocolate bar for industry change

For years, I’ve been supporting chocolate – and change – maker Tony’s Chocolonely to create their annual report. My kids and my colleagues love that I work for them. Because I always return from meetings with their yummy chocolate in funky flavors. Their bars are a treat, but what inspires me most to work with them is their commitment to creating positive change in the industry. Here’s my take on their key ingredients for positive change!

Crazy people raising the (chocolate) bar

Positive change usually starts with frustration about an issue plus people crazy enough to doing something about it. And this ccompany started just like that. Investigative journalists were shocked to find out how much child labor and slavery there is involved in nearly all chocolate. In 2006, in an attempt to prove that it could be done, they produced 5000 bars of slavery-free chocolate. As this first batch sold out in just a few hours, they turned the experiment into a company.  The company tagline says it all: “Crazy about chocolate, serious about people.”

Partners towards a common goal

A shift to more sustainable business practices is needed at all steps along the chain. From cocoa farmers, chocolate companies and governments, to retailers and consumers. The people at Tony’s understand they cannot transform the cocoa industry by themselves. Tony’s therefore developed a roadmap towards its mission: “Together we make chocolate 100% slave-free”.

The roadmap engages five key actors in the industry to work towards this common goal:

  • Strengthen farmers to increase their income
  • Engage the largest companies in the industry to take action in their supply chains
  • Encourage retailers to leverage their buying power
  • Push governments to adopt and enforce legislation
  • Enable chocofans to raise awareness and spread the message

Scaling up for real movement

To really engage partners along the cocoa chain, Tony’s knows there needs to be a business case every step of the way. Its own story and success provide lots of inspiration to get different parties to act.

At the launch event for its 17/18 annual report that scale became very clear:

  • Over 5,000 farmers benefit from the special premium Tony’s pays, nearly 1,000 farmers are involved in awareness-raising activities to prevent unwanted child labor and slavery;
  • The Netherlands’ largest retailer Albert Heijn announcedit will use Tony’s principles of cooperation for 100% slave-free chocolate for its very successful private label chocolate brand Delicata. World leading chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut supports the change process;
  • 5,000 chocofans joined the party, over 8,500 people support Tony’s mission as Serious Friends;
  • And the brand became the market leader in the Netherlands with a market share of 19%. Net revenue grew by 23% to nearly € 45 million and a net profit margin of 4.5%.

Relentless ambition for chocolate and change

Nice numbers for a company that produced its first bar of chocolate just 12 years ago… But they know there’s still a lot of work to be done. Therefore, Team Tony’s continues to work – and party – very hard to increase its own impact by expanding the business to other countries and continuing to drive collaboration in partnership with many others.


What sustainability leaders can learn from treasure hunters

Is sustainability leadership like a treasure hunt? Initially, I didn't think so, as these two concepts have different characteristics. Treasures generally don't move, while sustainability is an ever-moving target. Treasures are usually quite tangible and concrete, making it easier to express what you're looking for than when stating sustainability as a goal. And while both require an investment of time, willpower, and other resources, the treasure hunt usually benefits just a few, while sustainability strives to benefit many. Find out in this flog what sustainability leaders can learn from treasure hunters. On March 15, I attended Sustainable Talent's Sustainable MBA in One Day. When Mondo Leone, the guide for the day, was introduced as a treasure hunter, I was quite skeptical. But after a day at the Interface Awarehouse with a diverse group of people, I must admit there were great learnings to be captured from his treasure hunt. Some he listed at the end of the day, others developed over time in my mind. So here they are:

Explore for treasure

There are so many sides to sustainability. Use your curiosity to explore which topics are most relevant to your organization. The program highlighted the Sustainable Development Goals, Kate Raworth's Doughnut Economics, and the circular economy as sources to explore. Emerging technologies could also provide inspiration for areas to explore. One key caution: always start from why. If you don't know what your why is (at the personal and organizational level), then applying your curiosity to search for treasure won't be very useful.

Act for positive change

Organizations (re)act differently to the sustainability challenge. They can be either, inactive, reactive, active or pro-active, according to the model presented by Rob van Tilburg, one of the authors of the book Managing the Transition to a Sustainable Enterprise. Just like in a treasure hunt, nothing happens until someone takes action. Various models were provided to create strategies and action plans, including inspiring guidance on how to drive change by Peter Senge and an overview of the seven roles of sustainability managers.

Fail fast

"Adventure is uncertain", said our guide for the day in his closing comments, "so prepare for failure." Several of the other speakers also highlighted failure as a key step along the way. We simply don't have the time to develop the one and only perfect solution. They, therefore, urged us to test different ideas at a small scale. And then to fail fast and learn from these failures to scale up the stronger ideas. And to share those learnings, within the organization and with peers in other organizations.

Collaborate for sustainable impact

Today's societal challenges are too complex to be solved by just one person or even one company. Therefore, collaboration is a key factor to succeed. The treasure hunter not only engaged many to fund the project but also engaged many people to contribute their expertise. Peter Senge highlighted that successful collaboration depends on the goal setting; finding a balance between the big, stretch aspirational goal and the practical, immediate goals that give people a sense of fulfillment along the way. He also highlighted the importance of relationships, trust, and empathy. Without these, collaboration is usually a waste of time as people are then unwilling to yield their own short-term interests to the larger, shared, long-term interest.

Celebrate your treasure

With many people involved and short-term goals in place, there are many ways to celebrate achievements and learnings along the way. The treasure hunter celebrated the outcomes of his expedition with his partners and funders. Sustainability leaders celebrate milestones along the journey of integrating sustainability into the strategy. And at the end of the "Sustainable MBA in One Day" workshop? We threw our graduation caps up in the air and toasted to all we learned and the people we met!


Top tips for greenwashing: communicating sustainability in horticulture

In October 2017, The Terrace was invited by the MPS-group to lead a workshop for and with leading growers of flowers and flowering plants from the Netherlands. This was part of event in preparation for an international horticulture trade fair. The focus of the workshop was on how to best communicate on sustainability in the horticulture sector. Here's what I had to say about conviction, focus, collaboration and... greenwashing.

Tip #1: Start from your personal conviction

The trouble with sustainability is the lack of a common definition. It may include topics like environmental protection, labor conditions, community engagement, economic impacts and/or governance. There are so many terms floating around, like CSR, responsible business conduct, future-proof, thriveability... Whatever term you prefer, it needs to be relevant to your core business and your key stakeholders. Most likely, this will be a function of the industry, the cultural/national context and the conviction and focus of senior leadership. So before communicating your sustainability efforts externally, first consider what sustainability means to you. For which parts of sustainability do you care most deeply? Why did you get started with organic flowers? What made you integrate sustainability into your business model?

Tip #2: Focus on what matters

Sustainability is multi-faceted, so your sustainability strategy probably is as well. But while all those facets may be relevant and understood by people within the industry, they won't all be equally relevant for different stakeholders. So when communicating your sustainability strategy, think first and foremost from the perspective of your audience. For different target audiences, focus your sustainability story in different ways. While keeping the overall story the same, differentiate the key topics to highlight for different audiences. Not everyone knows as much about sustainability issues in horticulture - or whatever sector you're in - as you do.

Unilever uses a very powerful analogy to further strengthen its sustainability communications: the sword and the shield. The sword is a strong message that you pro-actively want to share with your target audience. And which is very relevant for that target audience. The shield contains other topics which you are working on in your sustainability strategy, but which are less relevant to your audience, or less easy to talk about as an individual brand or company.

For example, for Lipton's sustainability strategy includes both social and environmental elements. In consumer communication, the social elements are emphasized like a sword. Most consumers realize that picking tea leaves is hard work in tough locations, so this context helps Lipton tell its story about the programs it has in place to make life easier for tea pluckers. The improvements Lipton is making to reduce pesticides is more like a shield. Something to work on very actively, but as most consumers are unaware that nearly all tea in the world contains pesticides, communicating about this as an individual brand is more challenging. So while this may be a great topic for a sustainability website or report, we'd not recommend putting that same story on the pack.

Tip #3: Some stories are better told together

Some topics are difficult to raise, even if you feel it is high time the world knew about the issues and your solutions. This is where sector-wide collaboration and communications may be needed. Just like for tea, for the horticulture sector, pesticides might be such a topic. As an individual grower of flowers, this is a topic you might be able to raise with expert buyers in retail. But with consumers, this is not so easy. If you try to mention this on your packaging, consumers might just link your name to pesticides in general, rather than the reduction you've achieved. To raise awareness of the issues around pesticides, it would be better to collaborate. With industry bodies and certification providers, but potentially also with NGOs and consumer organizations.

Tip #4: Always be honest

Good communications about your sustainability efforts and performance can build trust in your organization and its products. But even if you're selling plants and flowers, and you'd like to make the world a greener place, what you're communicating has to be true. Only balanced communications - sharing both successes and challenges - builds trust. If what you're sharing is not true, then it's merely greenwashing. That word might have a nicer connotation for the horticulture sector than for others, but it will simply erode trust.


Top tips for reading sustainability reports

To mark International Literacy Day, this post is about reading sustainability reports. In 2016, the theme for International Literacy Day actually was “Reading the Past, Writing the Future”. Which is quite similar to our recent blog about transforming sustainability reporting to a tool for positive change. But that's a different story, as this blog is not about writing reports, but rather about reading them.

An ever increasing number of companies publish a sustainability report. Or integrate sustainability into their annual reporting process.  The question is, who reads these reports? And are the readers finding any use for the sustainability data and stories presented in the reports?

Who's reading?

In 2015, the Global Reporting Initiative, creators of the most widely-used sustainability reporting standards, co-authored a report with Oxfam, Informing decisions, driving change, about how different stakeholders read and use sustainability data captured in sustainability reports. It offers a comprehensive view of the key users of sustainability data, such as civil society organizations, investors, business, governments, market regulators, and media.

Some would argue that consumers also belong on that list, as well as prospective employees. Very different stakeholders with very different objectives. Yet all trying to get insights from reading the same sustainability report! Besides a few reporting geeks, many people may wonder how to best read or assess a sustainability report. So here are some tips to guide your reading!

Commitment or compliance?

The fact that a company has a sustainability report, doesn't always guarantee a real commitment to making their company more sustainable. A company may simply report only to comply with regulations. So a key thing to look for when reading a sustainability report is commitment. Is top management involved and engaged? What are they committed to exactly? How are decisions made regarding sustainability topics? The introduction to the report by the CEO or chairman is the best place to look for "commitment" signals. A great way to test the depth of this commitment is to cross-check the introduction of the financial report. If there is no mention of relevant sustainability topics there, then that commitment may not run so deep.

Connected context

The selection of topics for the sustainability strategy and report generally shows how connected a company is to its environment. So the next thing to look for in a sustainability report is a clear understanding of the company's context. Is the sustainability strategy linked to the vision and mission of the company, or is it focused on totally different topics? Are environmental and social risks and opportunities explored in relation to the business model? If you are less familiar with a specific industry, this may be hard to assess. In that case, reading parts of the sustainability reports of companies in the same industry will generate insights on the key topics.

Large companies are expected to act according to the OECD Guidelines and adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. And all companies can use the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework to assess how their business contributes to a better world. So when reading a sustainability report, check whether and how the company references these frameworks.

When done well, companies select their so-called material topics after engaging relevant stakeholders, such as employees, clients, investors, NGOs, and communities. Through a materiality matrix, many companies plot the interests of their stakeholders against the interests or impacts of the company. That matrix and the accompanying text are my favorite parts of any sustainability report.

Completing the cycle

Sustainability is all about the future, yet reports tend to look back in time. So when reading a sustainability report, check whether the report on past performance is in function of the future. Are the long-term objectives clear, as well as the strategies and policies to reach them? Are they closely linked to the material topics identified? Does the report share relevant results for the past year as well as previous years as a benchmark? How do these results stack up against the goals for this reporting year?

Are the results balanced? Not just sharing what went well, but also the learnings from things that did not go as well? And does the report provide insight into the specific goals and action plans for the year ahead? These kinds of questions help you assess whether there is a structured, full circle approach to sustainability for the company. In which reporting is a key instrument to fuel improvement, rather than a goal in itself.

Consistency

The GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (and Guidelines) help companies to prepare their sustainability report, but they also help the readers. Especially the GRI Content Index, which lists the standard set of disclosures for all companies and includes the material topics selected by the company. With it, the reader can easily find the pages for each topic.

And just like it's useful to scan the sustainability report of a company's peers and the financial report, it can be tremendously useful to have a look at previous reports by the same company. Is the company consistently reporting on the same material topics? If not, are there good reasons to change the scope of the strategy and report due to changes in context? Or is the company cherry picking its stories and KPIs from one year to the other, to always have good news to show?

And last, but not least, is the sustainability report itself consistent with the materiality analysis? Are the topics in the report - and the space they are given - in line with the materiality analysis? If not, it may be time to look for the page that highlights how to get in touch with the company about their report!


Transform your sustainability reporting to a tool for a positive future

Let's talk about how to transform reporting from a burden into a tool to build a better future. Our earlier posts zoomed in on materiality, but in the end, it's all about creating that better future. Here's our take on how to get more out of your reporting efforts. Just in time for the people in the midst of planning the next sustainability reporting cycle for their organization.

Every year, the reporting cycle returns and, every year, it turns out to be a lot of work. So it should raise questions around whether it’s worth the investment. Does the report itself add value to the company’s strategy and the sustainability efforts for a better future? Does it serve a strategic purpose beyond compliance with regulations and the accountability expectations of our stakeholders? For a strictly “by-the-book” type of reporting process, the answer to these questions is probably no.

Why? First, sustainability reporting suffers from a strange dichotomy. While sustainability is all about the future and long-term thinking, most corporate reporting is all about the past and has a horizon of just one year. Second, most companies do not use the reporting process to really connect the present performance to the future they to build and be part of. With our tips below, you can overcome this dichotomy and transform the reporting process into a powerful tool. So here we go!

Report the past in the context of the future

Start from the world you want in the future! In what kind of world does the company want to operate five to ten years from now? Instead of only looking back, we strongly recommend starting your sustainability report from the long-term vision and mission of the company. The report then gives an account of where the company is on your envisioned path

What does your company have to do to achieve that vision? How are your efforts to get there evolving? When you start from the vision and these questions, you report in the context of the future. This is a much more useful perspective for the company and for the report readers.

Focus on what's material for the future

Take your materiality analysis beyond the report! Most reporting frameworks include a so-called materiality analysis to identify the sustainability topics to be included in the report. The “by the book” analysis is mostly about what stakeholders want to know or what the company considers key risks, based on past performance and fears for the future.

To raise sustainability to a higher level, go beyond and ask: “what are the key topics we need to manage strategically to create value for the company and society?” Involve senior management in this analysis. Not only will the materiality analysis then inform the sustainability report content, but it will also provoke a strategic discussion and add a new perspective on what matters. That's the moment for sustainability (reporting) to enter to the board room.

Focus on what's material for the future

Involve your stakeholders in value creation! Stakeholders are vital to really create value for the company and society, so don't just engage them for selecting material topics for the sustainability report (as most reporting guidance recommends). Again, frame this step in the reporting cycle at a strategic level rather than the limited scope of reporting. And then continue the conversation from there.

Don’t limit the role of stakeholders to helping you choose your material topics. Really listen to what matters to them, what their goals are and jointly explore the world you want to build and the path you envision to get there. Only then can you find opportunities to collaborate and co-create on joint goals to make both your company and society stronger.

With these tips, we trust you can make your report a tool for positive change in the future, rather than just a report on positive change in the past. Let us know which of the tips you found most useful!

This blog post is part of a series on sustainability reporting and materiality. It is co-authored by Marjolein Baghuis of The Terrace and Nelmara Arbex of Arbex & Company. At GRI, they worked together on the creation and stakeholder engagement around GRI’s G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. They now collaborate to support companies with strategic sustainability challenges, materiality analysis, and communications.


Developing roadmaps for reporting - for positive change

On June 22 and September 28, 2017, The Terrace held a workshop on sustainability reporting for companies just starting on their reporting journey and those eager to take their reporting to a higher level. Here are some of the key learnings from the workshop.

Start from why

We kicked off the workshop with a brainstorm on the reasons to publish a sustainability report. The participants came up with many: engaging stakeholders like clients, suppliers, and NGOs; having something tangible to prove what we claim to be doing; measuring and communicating our impact; accountability; informing and influencing employees to deliver on our sustainability strategy and more. Some are more internally focused, others are more externally oriented. Some relate to managing risks, others to identifying opportunities.

Make the complex simple

At the start of the workshop, we provided all participants an empty template for the reporting process. Using interactive exercises and group discussions, we jointly walked through the various steps in the reporting process. Here are some of the key questions we answered in the course of the workshop.

Prepare: Who's on the team? What are the tasks and timings? what budget is available? What are your initial ideas on topics to include in the report?

Engage: Which stakeholders are impacted by how you do business, and vice versa, which impact your business success? How can you engage with them effectively to understand their issues?

Focus: What are the material (or important) topics to include in your report (and in your strategy of course)? How does the prioritization of these topics compare for senior management versus the stakeholders' interests? What are the targets and measures for each of the material topics? And how will you achieve these targets?

Collect: Which sources are available to collect the information for your report? Who needs to be involved? And when do they need to deliver the information? Is it realistic to get this all ready in time for the first report?

Report: What are the key building blocks for your report content? How can you best structure this for legibility and engagement? Who will write, edit, check the report content?

At each step along the way, the workshop participants filled in parts of their roadmap.

Show the positive side of business

We closed the workshop with a brainstorm on how to make the best use of the report once it's done. All agreed that reports and their content are currently underutilized in communications. Besides sharing the report in its entirety with stakeholders and the press, the brainstorm also generated ideas like sharing parts of the report on the website or in social media, tailoring the content to engage different teams internally, training sales reps to use the report in sales calls, and - our favorite - throwing a party to launch it.

Don't be afraid

This advice came back again and again throughout the workshop. Be honest with yourself and your stakeholders and therefore also share things that are not going so well. Of course always in combination with your learnings and next steps. Or perhaps there are material topics you cannot yet measure. Again, signal that you understand this is a material topic, combined with how you will address and measure it in the coming year. A balanced, honest report that goes beyond the good news show is so much more credible! And don't be afraid to ask for help in the reporting process. A reporting consultant can add expertise and extra capacity to your reporting team at every step of the reporting journey.

At the end of the reporting workshop, the participants were certainly less afraid to get started on their (next) reporting journey. We closed the workshop by toasting to the personalized, actionable reporting roadmaps which they had each created during the workshop!

Interested in how The Terrace can support your sustainability journey? Please contact Marjolein or join one of our future workshops. The next sustainability reporting workshop will most likely take place in September 2017. Interested to join? Please let us know by sending an email to hello@theterrace.nl. We look forward to welcoming you in a future workshop!