CSR 2.0: Seventh Generation’s New Report Goes Beyond the THUD Factor

Seventh Generation’s new sustainability report, Corporate Responsibility 2.0 was released last week.  Those familiar with last year’s award-winning report (named by Ceres as best SME report), will be pleasantly surprised by the changes this year.  While the report still holds true to Seventh Generation’s reputation for a high level of transparency and great design, this year’s report has a new twist:  it is an entirely web-based, interactive report.

I had the opportunity to speak with Chris Miller, corporate consciousness manager at Seventh Generation, to get some insight into the report. Earlier this year, I wrote about the five attributes that go into a great sustainability report.  I’m going to use these five criteria as the framework for reviewing Seventh Generation’s new report:  materiality, stakeholder inclusiveness, target setting and tracking, completeness and ease of use.  Plus a new one I want to add:  transparency.

I’ve been recently criticized for not being positive enough in some recent reviews.  Well, I am breaking that trend here–this is a very solid report and the new format is a model I hope others will consider.

A Review of the New Report

Materiality:  Within the first few clicks, I got a clear sense of what issues are most important at Seventh Generation:  palm oil, packaging, transportation logistics, GHG emissions and engaging customers, consumers and stakeholders.

Stakeholder Inclusiveness:  I give Seventh Generation high marks on this criteria.  It has done a stellar job of engaging its consumers and retailers, as well as working with a stakeholder panel to get feedback on the report.  “We take a pretty broad approach to engaging our full set of stakeholders. They are given an opportunity to review the first draft of the report,” said Miller.  The panel, organized by Ceres, included other companies, NGOs, manufacturing partners and for the first time, a retailer participated as well as an employer.

They even go as far as summarizing the input they got.

Target Setting: Responding to feedback about its long-term GHG goal, Seventh Generation has added two new GHG emissions goals:

  • 15% reduction in life cycle GHG emissions in our products from 2007 baseline by 2015
    Seventh Generation conducted a life cycle assessment of its baby wipes in 2009 and will assess two more product lines in 2010. This goal was added to provide a more specific mid-term target to help the company reach its long-term 2050 GHG goal.
  • 100% renewable electricity at HQ
    Install solar PV equivalent to HQ use on site or as roof exchange.

Other key targets include a commitment to sourcing 100% of its palm oil from sustainable sources by 2012 and to a 80% reduction in virgin plastic use by 2014, which will involve a major redesign.  The Executive Summary of the report includes a nice table that shows its progress toward reaching goals in 2009.  Three bottles (hand dishwashing liquid, fabric softener and nonchlorine bleach) are 90% PCR, an industry first.

Completeness: For those few readers who want to drill down into the gritty GRI details, the site includes a GRI index which links readers to the related portion of the website. After writing a post last week on the CSR salary gap between men and women, I noticed that even at Seventh Generation, for the 13 top earning positions, men make 27% more than women.  I did not see this issue directly addressed anywhere in the report. The stakeholder panel also wanted to see more on supply chain issues.

Transparency: While some companies are still uncomfortable speaking to the elephant in the room, Seventh Generation’s culture supports a high-level of transparency.  They come clean about the baby wipe mistake and really hone in on the issues that matter around packaging, palm oil and human health.

Ease of Use:  I think this type of report will be much more accessible to a range of interested stakeholders.  Miller commented, “Our reports in the past have been primarily paper-based reports.  Those reports were meant to be linear.  The truth is very few people other than those in the CSR community and employees read the report.”

Wanting to go beyond an impressive “thud” value, Seventh Generation experimented with this new format, one that does not require one to start at the beginning, but allows the reader to quickly dive into small chunks of information and stories.  And dive deeper into data if one wants to do that.  It integrates links to blogs and video clips for those who want to learn more.

For stakeholders used to having a linear, printed report to look at, there is no PDF that goes with the Website.  The upside is that all the stories included the report are searchable on the Seventh Generation Website.  Personally, I think a short (2-4 page), printable pdf summary would be helpful.

“My hope is that it is much more accessible to customers and consumers than our reports have ever been,” said Miller.

What do you think about this new format and report?

Ed note: signups for 3p’s GRI certification in sustainability reporting close Tuesday Nov. 2nd!

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Deborah Fleischer is President of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies create authentic communication strategies that educate, engage and inspire both employees and external stakeholders. 

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at Deborah@greenimpact.com.