On Tuesday 27th February our West Midlands Programme Coordinator and Communications Lead, Sarah Milburn, attended the edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London.
Edie Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference 2018
Overall this was a really interesting day, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to attend. I was initially there from the perspective of looking at how we (and our partners) can increase our engagement with key stakeholders, and at first was a little concerned that it might be a little too report-focused for me, however, I got a lot more out of the day than I had anticipated.
There were parts that were useful about how important CR/CSR and reporting on your social impact is to a company, which is very useful for a social enterprise like us in terms of talking to current and potential business partners. There were plenty of networking opportunities, including a list of all the delegates and speakers which made it easy to speak to specific people. And, although we are an SME rather than a large corporation, there were also useful points to think about with regards to our own sustainability and impact reporting, from a data, communications and strategic perspective.
The venue was a good choice – edie and Cavendish Conference Centre are both very sustainability-aware, and there were some nice touches like a conscious choice to serve no meat, water filtered onsite in reusable bottles, recyclable displays and upcycled drink coasters.
I learned something from each of the speakers at the event – here are some of my main take-aways:
- Sustainability should be pushed into the mainstream. Eventually there should be no need for sustainability reporting because it should be a natural part of mainstream business. (Mario Abela, WBCSD)
This was a really important point, not least because our much-missed former Chairman Kevin Schofield was a big fan of this philosophy. We need to get to the point where sustainability is second-nature to us, and not something we have to try to remember to consider.
- There is an enormous awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in corporations now, but of the 60 major companies WBCSD looked at, only 6% actually aligned their policies and strategies to them. (Mario Abela, WBCSD)
- A lot of companies refer to things like anti-slavery and anti-bribery on their websites, but very few of them actually have clear policies that address these issues. (Juliet Markham, IIRC)
It seems that large companies have become much better at mentioning the SDGs, but are yet to really take them to heart and embed them into their corporate culture, so there is more work to be done with regards to policy- and strategy-setting that incorporates the goals.
- The EU Non-financial Reporting Directive states that all companies with 500 employees or more have to include non-financial reporting in their annual reports from 2018 onwards. (Juliet Markham, IIRC)
It seems to me that this is a great opportunity to ensure that companies focus on their sustainability and social impact, as they are obliged to report on such things now.
- It’s hard to report on social impact – how do you quantify it, what data do you record? Companies need to report better on the CR/CSR activities they as a business and their employees as individuals undertake – a lot of people do a lot of volunteering, community work, etc, but often this information isn’t recorded. (James Robey, Capgemini)
I think this is a really good point to think about – are companies recording their social impact, and how are they reporting that information? S4TP works with its business partners to ensure that all mentor volunteer hours are recorded and the positive impact on employees is measured and fed back.
- Think about who the audience is of your sustainability/impact reporting. The financial side is mostly read by senior management, investors, etc. – but to reach all your stakeholders you need to think about the social impact side of the report and creative ways of getting those statistics out to your intended audience. Arm people with the facts so that they can become a megaphone for what you’re doing.
- There is, understandably, a lot of public distrust of corporations, so a lot of good sustainability work and social impact is going under the radar. Customer expectations these days are high. Businesses need to change the narrative, start reporting what they are doing for others, not just for themselves. Perhaps bring in third-party assurance.
These speakers explored really creative and interesting ways of getting the information about the social/sustainability impact of a company out there to those who are asking the questions and looking for answers. Customers, consumers, employees and even investors are much more engaged in the non-financial impact a company has, so it was great to be given some useful tips on how to reach them.
It was a really great event, and I am glad I had the opportunity to attend. My only suggestion to edie would be that, for the next one, it would be great to hear from a couple of SME speakers. While it was really good to hear from a lot of big corporations, SMEs have challenges in terms of budgets, time and manpower that can affect their sustainability practice and reporting, so it would be really encouraging to hear from SMEs that are addressing the issues, making an impact, and reporting successfully.
I’ll finish by asking you all to think about ‘kyosei’. Stuart Poore, from Canon, mentioned it in his talk, and it is Canon’s corporate philosophy. Ryuzaburo Kaku (Canon’s first President), said that kyosei ‘can best be defined as a “spirit of cooperation,” in which individuals and organizations live and work together for the common good. A company that is practicing kyosei establishes harmonious relations with its customers, its suppliers, its competitors, the governments with which it deals, and the natural environment. When practiced by a group of corporations, kyosei can become a powerful force for social, political, and economic transformation.’
Working together for the common good – I think kyosei is a philosophy we should all be considering.
Written by: Sarah Milburn, West Midlands Programme Coordinator and Communications Lead
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solutions for the Planet Ltd.