Our Canadian partner, Sabrina Dias, President of Sabrina Dias Consulting (SDC) – a consulting firm specializing in bringing sustainability solutions to the extractives industry – navigates us through the often painful Sustainability Reporting process.
What are the main challenges faced by your clients in producing their annual Sustainability Reports?
For most sustainability practitioners, producing their annual Sustainability Report is a labor of pain rather than a labor of love. It is a hectic and complex task of juggling several balls while begging a long list of team members for data.
More than just data collection and analysis, producing a sustainability report is a deep dive research process to validate the numbers and uncover the company’s sustainability stories. The creative part of the process includes skilfully writing those stories and designing the overall layout, which is wide open to criticisms.
In the end, are many people going to read your report? Probably not, other than a few board members, some government reps, and some NGOs. Perhaps, those keen individuals who completed your stakeholder survey will read it, to see the fruits of their critical contributions of labor. After all, these people are valuable stakeholders who have taken time and energy to share their opinion.
What practices do you recommend with key stakeholders?
Effective stakeholder engagement is the first step in preparing for your annual sustainability reporting season. Engagement practices include anonymous online surveys, focus groups and one-on-one interviews conducted by an insider or a third-party. Here are some of my ideas and techniques for uncovering information during this process:
- Survey your stakeholders with earnest. Ask people what they most want to learn about your company and why. Be prepared to fulfill those requests and if you can’t at this time then provide a reason.
- Online surveys with the goal to reach a maximum number of stakeholders are perfect and efficient for high-level scans. Then drill down. Spend time talking with even a few key stakeholders for valuable perspectives: What do they like or don’t like about your company? What do they understand or isn’t clear about your company?
- Stakeholders fall into very specific buckets that are labeled with associated interests. So we never think to ask something as general as: “Why do you care about our company and what we do?”
- Craft the questions of your stakeholder engagement to understand their interests and concerns, rather than what they want to read about in the report.
- Touch base with your stakeholders more than once a year. Beyond the annual stakeholder survey, check in with key stakeholders formally and informally midway through the year.
Everyone wants to be heard and know that they have been listened to. If you are asking for their time and their opinion, validate your stakeholders by approaching stakeholder engagement with the intention of truly focusing your sustainability strategy.
The process of sustainability reporting is usually painful especially when it’s your first one. What do you recommend to make this process smoother?
It is wise to get your house in order; to identify your wants and needs for this reporting year and decide on the key messages you want to convey to your key stakeholders.
I recommend establishing a checklist of critical questions to get organized, and have all your ducks in a row for the reporting season:
- Management Support: Is your management prepared to include challenges as well as successes?
- Report Audience: How will you consult with key stakeholders to understand what their expectations are of your report?
- Report Preparation: Who will be responsible for preparing the text and illustrations and issuing of the report, will it be done in-house or externally?
- Budget: Do you have an approved budget?
- Scheduling: How will the preparation of the report be coordinated with the preparation of the corporate annual report which has a required completion date?
- Indicators: Do all your operations, be they headquarters or various sites have a compatible set of indicators?
A detailed checklist is available on the SDC website here.
Is the information gathered in a flurry at the end of the year truly valuable? How can an organization measure their sustainability year round and address problems as they arise, rather than collating out-of-date data?
For SDC, Strategy and Reporting are interrelated and mutually supportive. We advise clients in how to use the reporting process strategically to drive performance, maintain active engagement with stakeholders and achieve measurable goals throughout the year. By managing and reporting sustainability data throughout the year, at reporting time you are then collecting and analyzing data that is reflective of your current state and your corporate sustainability goals.
What role does automation play in Sustainability Reporting?
An automated approach to data collection and analysis relieves the burden of manually updating and calculating your information that standard spreadsheets require. This, in turn, frees up the time typically required by various staff members for other pressing tasks. Automation also improves the rate of consistency in quality of data across sites and offices.
We work with our clients to find more creative and revealing ways of reporting sustainability data. For example, a typical data point to report is the percentage of women in a client’s workforce. We might seek to break it down by site, and further by Health and Safety statistics and see how these performance statistics are related, depending on what the client seeks. Automation provides a forum for easily accomplishing these objectives.