Sustainability reporting, minus the burden of reporting

Thinking of reporting on your sustainability efforts through an outlet like the GRI? Good for you.

That said, you may have encountered some opposition to the premise, or criticisms highlighted by Corporate Social Responsibility guru Mallen Baker, who has pointed to an oft-cited flaw in the GRI approach, namely the fact a report is essentially a company’s own narrative of its sustainability performance.

“All the current models of reporting expect the companies to provide their own narrative — to tell the story complete,” he noted on his blog. “And yet that doesn’t work, because the end user actually doesn’t read the reports, and doesn’t trust the company to provide its own context. There are no expert interpreters of this information. All the focus on assurance is about checking data — but that isn’t the real issue. People by and large don’t think the companies will lie about the data — but they fully expect them to paint the best gloss on what the data actually means.”

Yet, somewhere between GRI and friends’ overzealous focus on reporting standards and the noble spirit of making sustainability reporting as comprehensive and transparent as financial reporting, there is a golden mean that is arguably more passive, less resource-intensive, and — quite appropriately — completely sustainable. Businesses that implement a streamlined, electronic EMS featuring configurable reporting capabilities and real-time dashboards stand to benefit from two critical advantages.

Firstly, if all sustainability metrics are monitored and inputted across all business units on an ongoing basis and rolled up across administrative levels, much of the time spent measuring, collecting and analyzing data and generating reports that comply with reporting models will be eliminated. The time and effort associated with generating comprehensive sustainability reports has been a major gripe among participant organizations and critics, and a streamlined, software-based reporting process curbs the time and manpower required.

Secondly, with real-time dashboards indicating the status of sustainability KPIs (GHG emissions, for example), an organization is able to monitor the pulse of its sustainability performance and gauge the impact of new initiatives. In essence, instead of gauging and reporting on sustainability performance on an annual basis, an organization real-time dashboards and integrated reporting capabilities provide a means of perpetual monitoring and reporting.

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