How Balanced Are CSR Reports?

By Nancy Mancilla & Alexandru Georgescu of ISOS Group

As GRI’s Certified Training Partners in the U.S., we have become connoisseurs of fine reporting and somewhat critical of lavish attempts to build credibility by what we feel is blatant greenwashing. Through all the reports we have read, we have rarely found that

» all the basic components for a quality CSR report were easily identifiable, nor that
» all social, economic and environmental activities were presented in a balanced manner.

The above issues pose a number of questions regarding the validity of reporting processes. Hence the two-pronged approach we administer at the end of all of our GRI Certified Sustainability Reporting events. Our assessment has been designed to identify GRI’s content and quality principles through what is communicated in the report, and secondly to match actions with an integrated list of sustainability criterion summarized from a number of scorecards, indexes and standards. As with all score sheet methodologies, reviewers assign a certain number of points to each criterion with the possibility of achieving an accumulated score of 100 from all three categories: Economic, Society & Human Rights, and the Environment.

For the last year, our trainees have rinsed Disney, Qualcomm, Safeway, Target, Cisco, Levi Strauss, GAP, HP and Symantec’s 2008 reports through the assessment cycle to determine which reports came out clean and which appeared to have been spun through the public relations department. The purpose of using GRI’s principles as a reference point for assessing GRI and non-GRI based reports is to see just how comprehensive the G3 is and how limited other reporting frameworks can be. However, since we appreciate all these companies’ initiatives towards developing voluntary reports, GRI based or not, we’ve decided to report our findings related to the second part of our assessment- the “Sustainable Action” Balance Sheet.

We found that Cisco and Qualcomm scored the best overall, while GAP and Symantec achieved poorer results than others considered. Cisco obtained full points in both the economic and environmental arenas and suffered a bit under the social category with regards to investment policies, customer-oriented systems, collective labor and employee information, as well as training plans. For the most part, both GAP and Symantec executed a credible approach, but failed to include enough actionable items to support any one area. Granted, it is up to the company to determine what its priority areas are, but our check list includes basic policy-backed actions that most companies in the U.S. should already have in place, such as collective labor contracts, investment policies, environmental risk management plans and philanthropic activities. It is more than likely that the companies assessed in our activity do have programs in place to address our criteria; however these areas have been left void from their beautifully written reports.

On average, GRI reporters tend to do much better than non-GRI reporters. Our assumption is that the GRI G3 really does operate as a framework, by providing a systematic approach to selecting certain indicators covering all the three dimensions of sustainability.

Full operational impacts are essential for gauging true balance of action when reporting on sustainability. The idea behind this type of reporting isn’t really to develop a marketing piece, but rather a document that provides a balanced and clear representation of organizational sustainability performance, regardless of positive or negative contributions. Companies that have managed to incorporate a balanced approach benefit from risk minimization, cost reductions, innovation and a plethora of new business opportunities.

Stay tuned for the release of our next set of companies that will be assessed at our upcoming event, organized with Triple Pundit, in Berkeley on July 29-30, 2010 CLICK HERE for more information.

ISOS Group