With admissions over emissions fresh in the mind we ask what is going wrong with sustainability reporting?
The world’s leading motor group included this statement in their 2015 report; “for us, being the most sustainable automobile manufacturer means that in everything that we do, we must act in line with the interests of the environment and of climate protection”. We know that this will have been drafted by someone, checked and approved by managers, and in all likelihood subjected to some level of external scrutiny either through third party writers or as part of an environmental audit. Yet the reality did not emerge. Until recently.
The same can be said for documented issues reported within the banking industry, or with supermarkets and their suppliers. Many of these produce a sustainability or corporate responsibility report, most of which will be written and vetted by external agencies whose job it is (and should be) to verify the copy they are being asked to produce.
The added dimension is that most of these organisations will have also subjected their reporting processes to an additional level of review. This could be compliance with GRI requirements or one of the finance-led indexes, or national programmes relevant to carbon emissions, community engagement or other activities. Either way, these institutions and processes were unable to unearth the truth just as the copywriters who would have interviewed employees and researched case studies were unable to.
It does pose the question about the value of these independent and trusted certifications as well as the reputation of some of these reporting agencies. Does the focus on highly-detailed reporting structures and metrics that contribute to the creation of huge annual sustainability reports offer too much opportunity to hide the wood in the trees (so to speak). The question we all have to ask is in this age of 140 character messaging, how can we convey our stories accurately with credibility and trust. And how can we guarantee the veritableness of these messages while still engaging and resonating with the people that matter most?