Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The future of conferences on Sustainability and CSR?

I have worked in the Sustainability / CSR for quite a while now and have attended a lot of events and conferences during that time.

The recent years have shown some interesting developments here. Webinars and virtual conferences are now normal and generally accepted in this field and form a big part of how you meet likeminded people.

But like with everything in our lives we need to choose where to participate and what we find most useful in the events and conferences we attend. And despite the new trends actual face-to-face conferences still are the most popular conferences.

For us as individuals, it is crucial to meet people and organizations that add value and are challenging our thinking. This is what an interesting event or conference is about.

So what are the things am I looking for in an interesting event or conference before signing up to an offline or face-to-face event?

• How much does the participation cost? Does it represent a fair value to what I want to get out of the conference?

• Transportation: How easy is it to get to the venue?

• The right mix of participants: The number of participants needs to be large enough to have a wide variety of individuals in the room. At the same time it should not be overwhelming but also not too intimate. The right mix is crucial.

• Are there separate workshops or so called breakout sessions that can bring some added value to the speaking slots? These sessions are really useful and add a lot of value to the event/conference.

• What about the audience? Is the target audience more practitioners from the corporate world or more consultants looking for the next customer? A mix of both is always useful.

• What about the speaker list? Are there people I know speaking or running workshops? This might make it easier to get introduced to more new people.

• What about my competitors or other services providers in the sector? Are they going to attend? If so then this is an indication that I might to sign up as well.

• Is there a way to participate virtually if it is a conference that is happening offline at a conference centre, etc? This would be very useful if you cannot attend. At least you would not miss the interesting speeches.

These are some of the questions I ask myself before I am deciding to sign up for a conference or an event. You might have different questions before signing up for a conference. But in the end it all depends on what you want to achieve by attending I believe.

Once you decided to sign up then the rest is really up to you and how much you want to network during the event. You can decide to get as many business cards as possible or aim to engage in longer discussions with individuals if you like. The choice is yours. And this is the beauty of events and conferences. The possibility to meet likeminded people you can share thoughts, ideas and experiences with.

Post written by Fabian Pattberg. Fabian is a CSR/Sustainability and social media expert blogging at and

Sunday, 7 March 2010

One Day a Year is not Enough

We are fast approaching International Women's Day on March 8th, which has been observed since in the early 1900's. This year's theme is Equal Rights. Equal Opportunities. Progress for all. This is not just about human rights, morality and feeling righteous. It's about survival, surthrival (did I invent that word, or did I retrieve it from my subliminal consciousness?), sustainability, and in a business context, sustainable business and accountability. Wherever you are, something will be going on around International Women's Day. One event I strongly regret I won't be able to attend on March 9th is a special meeting of the UN Global Compact and UNIFEM, at which the Women's Principles for Business will be launched. I am privileged to have been part of the International Advisory Group who reviewed the first draft of these Women's Principles. The finished document is excellent guidance for developing gender equal workplaces. The principles are:
  • Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality.
  • Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination.
  • Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers.
  • Promote education, training and professional development for women.
  • Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women.
  • Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy.
  • Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality. 
Together these principles, supported by detailed how-to statements, address both the elimination of inequalities and the promotion of equality. If they are endorsed and assimilated by all the business leaders subscribing to the Global Compact, then 2010 will be a great year for women, and for men, and for business. As women take their well-deserved place on the corporate stage, they create more space for men, not less. As you may notice, transparency is a key principle. We must demand that businesses, in their CSR or Sustainability Reports, or in any other channel, account for the way they are enabling the inclusion and advancement of women. 

Pioneering Sustainability: Anita Roddick

One of the early practitioners of this kind of accountability and transparency with regard to equality and gender balance was THE pioneer of sustainable business, a bold and brave woman, the late Dame Anita Roddick, whose spirit lives on in The Body Shop, which she founded in 1976 and continues to blaze trails despite a much criticized and feared change of ownership. Anita's "Business as Unusual" which I read some years ago is what I call a life-changing book – one of those books full of insights which your mind always leads you back to when you are reflecting about "profits with principles" and the positive power of business, and women,  to change the world. Anita wrote: "As business people, we have world-wide capability and responsibility; our domains transcend national boundaries. Our decisions affect not just economies, but societies, not just the direct concerns of business, but the world problems of poverty, environment and security". Anita didn’t believe that "the proverbial glass-ceiling would be shattered in her lifetime". She calculated it would take 1,000 years for women to achieve equal managerial, economic and political status to men. More quotes: "If a woman can decide who gets the last toffee, a four year old or a six year old, she can negotiate any contract in the world… I treasure the Company of women. I love their laughter. I am astounded by the ability to keep communities together around the world….we need to press for greater gender equality on a massive scale…. Women simply have to be listened to" . The Body Shop published their first 300-page 1995 Values Report in January 1996, a time when most Companies had never heard of social auditing, consulting over 5000 people in the process.  This was ground-breaking, and a precursor to the 3,000 or so reports that are now published each year around the world. The Body Shop is still publishing independent sustainability Values Reports, and the 2009 report  continues to inspire, and includes a review of the Body Shop award-winning Stop Violence in the Home campaign,  to protect those at risk from domestic violence (mainly women, of course). 

The place of gender equality, diversity and inclusion: two points

First, is that gender equality begins at home, at the corporate hearth. As I have been known to repeat, preaching gender equality when there is one woman on your Board and two on your executive team is WomenWashing. We must demand that Companies report more transparently about gender. The GRI Practitioners Guide to Gender in Sustainability Reporting  attempted to map this out. Amy Augustine, of Calvert, (@amydaugustine), another impressive woman leading sustainability, said that "only 7 percent of the 636 companies in the 2007-08 Calvert Social Index® surveyed provide the detailed demographic data required for full Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO-1) disclosure, making it difficult to assess progress for women and minority employees from the factory floor to the executive suite.” See Calvert's report Examining the Cracks in the Ceiling. When are we going to see real change ? It's time we raised the roof, not slipped through the cracks in the ceiling. Right, guys and gals?

Second, the place of gender equality in the broader context of diversity and inclusion. I had the opportunity to reflect on this again this week in the company of two more inspiring women : Juliana Oyegon, the Chief Diversity Officer at the World Bank and Kaye Foster Cheek, the global Human Resources VP at Johnson and Johnson at a private reception at the home of the US Ambassador to Israel, Mr William B Cunningham, which preceded a conference at which these women spoke the following day. (See pictures of Juliana and Kaye on the US Embassy photo stream) . This was a conference organized by yet another strong and mission-driven woman, Tziona Koenig-Yair, the Israeli National Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. Juliana says that diversity is about survival, not just about accepting each other. Kaye says diversity is a journey, and you need to keep travelling and involving everyone along the way. She gave some great examples of how Johnson and Johnson journey to diversity, including tangible examples of how a diverse workforce assists in attracting a diverse customer base. Check out J&J's last CSR report for 2008. In the talk about diversity, however, a strong focus was on minorities and more general dimensions of diversity that prevent truly equal participation in the workplace. But heck, if Companies cannot create equality for women, what hope is there for smaller minority groups and non-mainstream employees? If you can't do it with women, with 50% of the population to choose from, you can't do it with anyone, right? The key is talking the business case for diversity, because most leaders still see diversity as a nice, ethical, moral, feel-good feel-benevolent type of activity. Let's be nice to everyone and show that we don't discriminate. That'll do wonders for our reputation. Great attitude. But, guys and gals, why should we settle for this? Diversity, like the womenomics of gender equality, is also about business. That's the language that CEO's need to hear. It's about adding value through innovation, reduced workplace conflict, attraction and retention, reduced employee turnover, improved customer service, higher productivity - all of which support the economic bottom line as well as the others.

Let's celebrate !

You know what, gals, this is our day, let's celebrate! Here is a great post from Aysu Katun on Women Making strides in Sustainability.

Two other women I would add to this list, interestingly, both connected with Anita Roddick, are :

Amy Domini : Amy Domini, founder and CEO of Domini Social Investments, often called the First Lady of Responsible Investment, the one who put SRI on the map. Anita Roddick mentions Amy in "Business as Unusual". I had the pleasure of hearing Amy Domini talk at a conference some years back. She makes an impact, no doubt about that. You can read her speech here. Both a visionary and a practitioner, Amy has changed business of finance and the world for the better.

Maria Sillanpaa : Maria  (@ThinkWider) is a sustainability pioneer with one of the most impressive records in this field. Maria produced the first CSR-related thesis for her Masters in Finland way back in 1990, and was charged with producing the first Social AND Environmental Report, for which no known methodology existed back then, which culminated in the Body Shop first Values Report, mentioned above. In chatting (or should I say Skyping) with Maria this week, she said: " I worked with Simon Zadek to develop a methodology for the Values report – this was the post-Brent-Spa era, and one in which the Shell/Nigeria human rights issues were on people's minds, and everyone was pushing for more business accountability for these issues. Anita and Gordon had a political drive to use the Body Shop as a guinea-pig to develop the methodology and show the others how to do it. The Values Report was the first indepently verified comprehensive social report. The mainstream reaction was that this was just a fad, but now the story is quite different. It was both a frightening! and exciting experience, and I truly appreciated, especially as a young female, being given the political space to do something significant. Being a woman never came into it. I never encountered discrimination at Body Shop so I felt my early career was rather cushioned in that respect." Maria went on to help found AccountAbility, write a book on Stakeholder Engagement, and do many more pioneering sustainability things, including founding her consulting firm, Sustainability Advisory Group, through which she continues to drive responsible business practices and transparency, especially in the Middle East where she spends a lot of her time. Maria is also on the Technical Advisory Committee of the GRI. On women and sustainability, Maria says, "Women have a collaborative mindset which fits with the philosophy of stakeholder engagement and dialogue and the multi-disciplinary challenge. There is more openness in women to that". We agree, right guys and gals ?

And whilst we are in the Spirit of International Women's Day, you can also vote in Andrea Learned's poll of Women at the Forefront of Sustainability  (Andrea herself is at the forefront of gender equality and marketing to women, but it's bad protocol to write a poll and include yourself, right?)

See? More women, more sustainability. Let's Make every day International Women's Day and let's drive more and more Companies to be transparent about their data, and adopt the Women's Principles and Gender Reporting Indicators and align their practices with their bold declarations. Perhaps we should turn it into International Promote a Woman day!  More action , more collaboration, more getting it done and less empty declarations of intent.  I mean, this day has been an annual event for nearly 100 years and we still get 30% less pay than men in equal jobs. Right, guys and gals ? Before you can achieve equality, you have to eliminate inequality. There is a difference. And doing it for one day a year is not enough.

This article was contributed by: Elaine Cohen , co-Founder-Manager of BeyondBusiness, a social and environmental consulting and sustainability reporting firm, and GRI Organizational Stakeholder. Elaine also writes regular Sustainability Report reviews on, and a popular reporting blog at

Friday, 22 January 2010

In search of the perfect GRI Report

The perfect GRI Report hasn’t been written yet. Don't waste your time seeking perfection.

Over the years, reports have become more and more impressive. The level of transparency has increased, and the substantive quality of reporting has matured. New formats have made data more accessible and interactive, and the colours, shapes and concepts are more appropriate. The adherence to GRI guidelines has created a structure to reporting which offers report readership easier access to what counts, even if many reporters are still not entirely clear how to apply the framework in the most effective way, and some choose to bypass the framework and report in their own way.  We are seeing more about sustainability and strategy and less about philanthropy and giving back. We are seeing more focused summaries and less Encyclopedia Britannica. More materiality and less shopping list. More Companies, from more sectors, from more countries are reporting. The range of reporter profiles is expanding and includes global companies, private companies, SME's, non-profits, government agencies and even small consulting companies.  All in all, over the past 10 years, reporting has come of age, one might say , has mainstreamed, and is evolving with trends which include integrated reporting, quarterly reporting, online reporting, local reporting by global companies, personalized reporting using videos and interactive elements to support what reports were always meant to do i.e. providing a platform for feedback and dialogue. But still, in an estimated 5,000 reports published in 2009, there is no perfect report.

Why hasn't reporting reached perfection? Some Companies have been reporting annually now for over 15 years. Why haven't they got it right? Why are all the hundreds of first-time reports that we see every year not learning from the experience of the several-time reporters and producing first-time reports which are, well, perfect?

The answer, I believe, is clear. There cannot be a perfect report because there is not a perfect Company, at least as far as sustainability is concerned. Just as sustainability is a journey, so is reporting part of that journey. Just as no Company has reached their ultimate goal in sustainability, so has no Sustainability Report reached the level of perfection in the way it expresses sustainability performance, and serves as a platform for improving that performance.

The evolution of sustainability reporting
Novo Nordisk's website shows the evolution of their sustainability reporting. The first report listed on the Company website is an Environment Report for 1995, which is their third annual report (previous reports not available online).  The 1998 report looks remarkably like the environmental section of any current report, with calculation of carbon emissions, all resource consumption and resource efficiency, and details of dialogue with environmental stakeholders.  By 1998, Novo Nordisk progressed to the issue of two separate reports, an Environmental Report and a Social Report, with the social report covering human rights, responsible workplace and engaging society themes. Little data is presented in this early social report, though we can read a good contextual presentation of material issues related to diabetes, a disease Novo Nordisk has come to own, as the apparent world leader in addressing solutions for this commonplace disease which has the potential to severely reduce quality of life for millions of people worldwide. In 1999, Novo made its first integration leap with an Environmental and Social Report (not online) and this was  followed by  some experimenting with a Triple Bottom Line Report (2001), a Sustainability Report (2002) and again in 2003, until Novo Nordisk took the second leap of integration, producing an Annual Report with both financial and non-financial disclosures in 2004.  This has remained the preferred format for Novo Nordisk with the release of their latest Annual Report 2008.  This report is at GRI Level A+. By this time, Novo Nordisk reporting has been branded "Changing Diabetes" and "access to health" with reference to the Millennium Development Goals is a core element of the report structure, and the concept of materiality is discussed and material issues listed. Novo Nordisk provides us with one example of the evolution of the internal sustainability journey as reflected in sustainability reporting, though there are many others: Barclays plc (from 1997), BASF (from 1998), Ben and Jerry's (from 1995), Cisco Systems (from 1998), Henkel (from 1992), Intel (from 1994) and many many more. Almost all reporters started out with an environmental report or a social report, and ultimately integrated these into one Sustainability report. Because, actually, this is how internal processes have evolved. (Few Companies have integrated Sustainability Reporting with Financial Reporting. Does this also tell us something about internal processes?)

Seek progress, not perfection
This reporting journey seems quite incredible, as most of use seem to think of reporting as a phenomenon of the last 5 or 6 years. It was only in 2004 that annual reporting output reached the level of over 2,000 reports per year level (according to CorporateRegister), and way back when Novo Nordisk started to report, total global output was less than about 100 reports.  The point here is that reporting continues to evolve just as the concept of sustainability continues to evolve, and neither has reached perfection in application or presentation. Instead of looking for perfection, we should be seeking progress.

Reporting is not effective
A key tenet of progress in sustainability performance is stakeholder feedback and dialogue. Sustainability reporting progress relies on similar feedback and dialogue. This is why the opportunity to provide feedback at the GRI 2010 Reader's Choice Awards and engage in dialogue at the GRI 2010 Conference in May 2010, or on this blog, or elsewhere, is a way of contributing to such progress. There are many people whose first reaction at the mention of reporting is "Reporting is not effective. No-one reads reports". I disagree. I believe that Sustainability Reporting adds significant value beyond the number of people who read them, but I also believe people read reports, maybe not cover-to-cover in every instance, but my experience is that reports add value useful internally and externally and are used by many stakeholders. Take the current demand from Apple stakeholders for a Sustainability Report.

Influencing for progress
Rather than bemoan the ineffectiveness of reporting, a more productive approach would be to change the face of reporting by contributing to the dialogue in a positive way. Reporting, as the expression of transparency, is here to stay, however we see it continuing to evolve. Contributing to the dialogue is influencing the evolution of reporting so that reporting (transparency) can reach and engage more stakeholders, just like us, more effectively. I want to be an influencer not a critic. I want to see a big improvement in the scope and quality of reporting. I want to see more stakeholders engaged in the sustainability debate. That's why I voted in the Readers Choice Awards. Not because I seek perfection, but because I seek progress.

Elaine Cohen
Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading social and environmental consulting and sustainability reporting firm, and GRI Organizational Stakeholder.  Elaine also writes regular Sustainability Report reviews on, and a popular reporting blog at

Monday, 4 January 2010

Time to speak up

If it is about sustainability, we seem to have a number of reasons to speak up. First of all, the Copenhagen negotiations did not bring anything close to a global treaty. Whilst new dates are set to finalize next steps, global warming just continues. Also it does not seem undisputed that business is working on changing its values as a solution to the financial crisis. Some of the world’s largest organizations appear to miss the plot – not fundamentally changing the attitude towards bonuses etc. – although others have now started to link bonus payments to sustainability measures as a step in the right direction. As another example, the energy crisis does not seem to have gained momentum yet to tackle climate change from another angle: exhausting natural resources. Countries such as China, however, are very rapidly changing investment policies.

We need to know where companies stand on sustainability and it seems from the above examples that businesses could benefit from some help. Transparency is a key part of the deep change that is needed. I look very much forward, therefore, to understanding sustainability report readers’ needs and expectations about sustainability reporting by companies. And if you – as a reader - are representing a company, let your report be part of the next GRI Readers’ Choice Awards Survey at

Together with the other partners of the GRI Readers’ Choice Awards 2010 we are ready to analyze the results: we will start our first analysis just a few weeks from now and February will for sure be busy with drafting the report! The first round of voting closes on January 27. So vote for the reports you believe should be recognized.

Wim Bartels
Partner, KPMG Sustainability, the Netherlands