Who really cares about sustainability data?

Mike Wallace

Like so many environment health and safety (EHS), and sustainability professionals, you are probably working hard to make sure sustainability is a core part of your organization’s overall business strategy.  This means integrating it into your company’s operations, providing a constant source of relevant information, continuous operational improvements and, of course, a return on investment.

But does anyone really care about all that effort? Fortunately, the short answer is, “Yes!”

We’ve seen significant changes in the public’s interest in sustainability issues, with more concern and media attention to issues like global warming, human rights, conflict minerals and corruption. For business, this has meant much closer scrutiny of environmental and social impacts, and in many cases, a demand to see disclosures on more than just the typical environmental metrics.

This has resulted in a multitude of ways for companies to be transparent about their activities, from publishing sustainability information right in their financial reports, to signing up for initiatives like the United Nations Global Compact or disclosing to initiatives like the Carbon Disclosure Project.  And in the past decade or so, producing more extensive sustainability reports. In this series of five blog posts for the Green Tie, I’ll look at who’s asking for sustainability data, what that means and how you can make sure your information effectively and efficiently reaches your intended (and unintended) audience.

The audience for sustainability information is much wider and more varied than you might think. Stakeholders come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from investors and business partners in the supply chain, to employees and even your local mayor. These stakeholders are analyzing and evaluating your company’s performance on a variety of levels, using data directly disclosed by companies, sustainability listings and an ever-growing number of rankings and ratings.

How do you distinguish good raters from bad, useful from useless? How do you make sure the questionnaires you answer give you an entry point to the right people?

All the surveys you’re getting are just the tip of the iceberg, hinting at the proliferation of rankings, ratings, listings, research tools and sustainability indices. Companies aren’t fully aware of how many entities constantly monitor, analyze and convey sustainability information about them and their competitors, entire industries and/or entire indices.

Mainstream investors are increasingly examining sustainability information (sometimes through the intermediaries mentioned above) and even stock exchanges around the world are exploring what sustainability means to their institution and to their listed companies.  Business decisions are no longer solely based on financial information.

It seems obvious that requests for disclosure are only going to increase and a GRI report is the recognized method of communicating sustainability performance.  More than 80 percent of the Global 250 are using the GRI Guidelines to report on their sustainability performance, and those are just the ones that we know.  You can see a snapshot of those in the North American GRI Reporters based on a review we did in January 2012. There is a clear upward trend in the number of organizations that are reporting across all regions and sectors.

In this sea of information, how do you keep it real? Efficiently gathering the relevant information and transforming it into a credible communication for the mix of interested stakeholders is key. To understand who is looking at sustainability information and how this information is being measured, take a look at my presentation Measuring Sustainability Performance.

In closing, there are a couple of key questions you might want to consider:

If you are using the GRI Guidelines for your sustainability report, does GRI (and the world) know it?  Search the global GRI database and register your report at – http://database.globalreporting.org/

Are you fully aware of the Application Level and how and why it is being used by reporters?  Get the latest at GRI’s Report Services https://www.globalreporting.org/reporting/report-services/Pages/default.aspx


About Mike Wallace

Mike Wallace is Director of the U.S. Focal Point for the Global Reporting Initiative and is responsible for supporting the growth of sustainability reporting in the United States. You can follow him on Twitter at @M_A_Wallace.

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1 Comment
  1. Annette

    February 24, 2012

    Mike, this is such a beautiful article. I’m writing a dissertation for my MSc and my topic is Sustainable Reporting and Accouinting which I’m finding very interesting as I research further.

    I wonder whether there are companies actually incorporating Sustainability reports and accounts in their year end accounts?

    Considering that CSR is now incorporated in financial statements of bir organizations, are there countries that have regulations enforcing this sustainability reporting?

    I look forward to reading your articles and hopefully I can also make some positive contribution. Thank you kindly.

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