The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) insists that the world’s leading companies not only embrace sustainability reporting, but move towards integrated reporting. One huge issue is the cost, both in time and money, to compile these reports. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) advocates and GRI fans may squawk that the reports will contribute to a company’s bottom line and that they are an unapologetic price of doing business, but such clamoring ignores a key fact. Even if a company is racking up record profits, that does not necessarily mean that a department tasked with such reports has the budget and staffing to take on such a project.
Gaia Metrics believes it has a solution. The Massachusetts-based company just released its CSR Quickstart tool, which promises to drastically reduce the time required to build a report while slashing the costs by 90%.
Gaia Metrics incorporates a semantic search technology to locate and extract key words and numbers necessary to populate a CSR report. The tool searches across a company’s resources, including publicly posted content, intranet, Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosures, and census data. Gaia Metrics claims that CSR Quickstart can process data that is compliant for GRI, ISO 14000, ISO 26000, Pacific Sustainability Index (PSI), and Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) reports.
If the system can perform as promised, the process of creating CSR reports could become more of an interactive exercise. Stakeholders from community groups to employees would be able to provide both data and feedback seamlessly, and could increase the speed at which these reports are written and released. One reason why SEC reporting has become more seamless over the years is because of automated systems, precedent research, and skilled professionals who can create the best possible (or as some critics sneer, canned) reports in a short amount of time. Automation, likewise, can help sustainability reporting become an easier sell.
As is the case with corporate strategy, CSR’s role within an organization’s structure varies by company. Sometimes there is a dedicated department, often it is a division of a function like marketing or finance, occasionally it is done by committee. Therefore, almost everyone faces a huge learning curve. For both managers and companies, CSR and sustainability is a new beast that they are trying to tame. Tools like Gaia Metrics must be encouraged, not frowned upon, and as this function matures, naturally there will be growing pains. After all, if a company tries to pass off dodgy data and content as a professional CSR report, there are plenty of us in the CSR peanut gallery who will call that company out.