The following post is part of a series on 3p about the global reporting initiative and is part of a promotion for our upcoming GRI certification course in November
By Brooks Nelson
Getting training to create a sustainability report can be a hard sell. As part of a small/medium sized enterprise I am called on to wear as many different hats as there are needs in a day, so two days in training plus the cost of education is not on the top of the list of things to do.
I work for a lighting and hardware manufacturer / retailer in Portland Oregon that grew 33 years ago out of a salvage business. This is important because sustainability is at the company core and has been since the beginning. That is 33 years working really hard at doing the right thing, but from a primarily subjective point of view.
Within the company, folks working on sustainability recognized the drawbacks of this subjectivity and started to create some quantitative data. We then strove to use this data as part of our overall decision making process and were successful in integrating sustainability factors as specific decision points in all capital acquisitions.
We started looking for specific measurements in 1998 as we moved into our current factory. We started with the easy things — impacts others were measuring for us – utilities are a great example. (I did get a laugh at the ISOS group training when I let it be known I have over 10 years of utility data in excel spreadsheets). By focusing on an easy measure it did not take long to set a baseline, set efficiency targets and work for reductions. This saved us money, time, helped us find problems in metering and even billing. It was just good business. That is why even a small or medium sized business should report.
This data also created a natural foundation to develop early carbon calculations and target reductions. We set a baseline and measured, reduced and offset such that we were successful at reaching our carbon reduction target. What we were missing was the complexity that multiple indicators can give you.
One specific example is that as part of our business process we generate a contaminated water waste stream; if we use energy to concentrate the waste that goes to landfill we see only an increase in carbon footprint and no corresponding measure of toxic reduction. Or, a completely different view — did we reach our carbon target because of the recession and business being down? or because of improvements?
The adage is true – you cannot improve what you don’t measure and one simple measure does not show the full decision making process. Carbon measurement alone does not integrate stakeholders into the process. No one working with integrity in business, regardless of the size of the business, has the luxury of looking only at single indicators of success. The GRI framework base report (level C) has a minimum of 10 indicators and drives businesses to look outside our own four walls in a way that is objective and measurable. That is why a GRI report is better reporting.
Even now with a certified sustainability reporter on staff the debate is not over. In many ways it has just begun and the reality is that the process is already helping us look at our operations in a new light, through different filters that will help us find efficiency, reduce waste, build our brand and reputation, and make us better at what we do, for the long haul.
Brooks Nelson works for Rejuvenation, Inc. and thinks it is the coolest lighting manufacturer in the world. Check it all out at www.rejuvenation.com.