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Symantec: Trends in Sustainability Reporting

| Monday October 11th, 2010 | 1 Comment

This is the second in a series of posts on GRI and some of the trends in sustainability reporting.  The first piece focused on the new and growing trend of integrating sustainability metrics into annual reports. This piece focuses on the business case for reporting and highlights Symantec’s new on-line corporate responsibility report.

Try poking around Symantec’s new on-line corporate responsibility report, released today!

While I often find the typical  60 + page corporate social responsibility (CSR) report overwhelming, this user-friendly, on-line format worked for me.   I was impressed with how quickly I understood the company’s key issues.  And I easily pulled together a customized, printable report with the sections I was most interested in.

Last week I had the opportunity to have a lively conversation with Cecily Joseph, Director of Corporate Responsibility at Symantec, about the new report and trends in sustainability reporting. First we explored the obvious question, why bother reporting at all.  I was also interested in her perspective on the value of the GRI framework, especially to beginners.  And finally, we explored the issues of materiality and transparency, two best practices the new report has embraced.

Why Bother?  Reporting Offers Tangible Benefits

When it comes to CSR reporting, some sustainability executives argue, why bother when no one really reads these reports?

Joseph articulated a strong business case for why reporting is a valuable process to go through, beyond what the report alone delivers.  She explained, “Actually going through the CSR reporting progress, putting together an internal, cross-functional team and working with external stakeholders, has taken our program to the next level.”

According to Joseph, the reporting process has delivered a range of tangible benefits, including:

  • Identifying new goals, including a new overall GHG-reduction goal;
  • Creating a competitive advantage by attracting a more diverse talent, and therefore, creating a more innovative culture;
  • Delivering a better understanding of stakeholder concerns and materiality;
  • Educating employees and stakeholders about how sustainability is relevant;
  • Saving money by identifying more efficient environmental strategies;
  • Developing new market opportunities around products that can help customers save costs and reduce energy use at their data centers;
  • Making the company more transparent and accountable to stakeholders and employees; and
  • Challenging the company to do more.

The Value of GRI

Behind the easy-to-navigate site is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework.  In Joseph’s experience, getting her team familiar with the GRI framework was a great guide in helping to shape Symantec’s program and it challenges the company to make continued and enhanced progress.

Joseph explained, “I think that any company, no matter what size, can benefit from the GRI tool.  Even if you are not going to report right away, it is a great guide on the kinds of things that a true, well-rounded sustainability program should be thinking about and have in place.”

The Web site includes a detailed section that directs readers to the appropriate information related to key GRI indicators.  Symantec did a great job at balancing the detail required for a GRI report while still making it accessible and easy to digest.

Two Emerging Trends:  Materiality and Transparency

A key strength of the new report is the materiality section, which identifies the top six issues of concern to both the company and external stakeholders. Symantec worked with FrameworkCR and went through a materiality process that gathered input from employees, external stakeholders, executives and customers.  “The process wasn’t just me sitting in a room deciding what was important.  It was an effort of walking through what our stakeholders, employees and management felt was most material to report on,” stressed Joseph.

The report includes a powerful diagram that maps out the most important issues.  The six material issues that the report focuses on are: Climate & Energy, Customer Satisfaction, Securing Information , Diversity & Inclusion, Human Rights and Talent Retention.

I was also impressed by Symantec’s willingness to not only focus on the good news, but to also report its challenges.  In the new report, Symantec reports a global increase of four percent in CO2 pounds per square foot over FY09. They didn’t account for the incredible growth that they have seen at its data centers, as a result of its new cloud computing strategy.  According to Joseph, this level of disclosure was not difficult.  Wrestling with the challenge of how to set a target that is realistic, and meet that target, knowing that the company will continue to grow is the new challenge.

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Deborah Fleischer is President of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies just beginning to report create authentic communication strategies that educate, engage and inspire both employees and external stakeholders.  Check out our new green team tool, Corp Green.


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