Why Sustainability Reporting Matters?
Dr James Robey, Global Head of Environmental Sustainability, leads Capgemini’s sustainability programme across 40 countries and is responsible for the delivery of a programme to help Capgemini’s clients save 10mn tonnes of CO₂e through leveraging technology. In this column, he shares insights into why sustainability reporting is important, and what he sees to be the emerging trends in this field.
Sustainability reporting has come a long way since the 1980s, when only a small handful of companies in specific sectors, such as oil and gas, declared their environmental performance. As reporting has emerged as a valuable management tool rather than a response to public outcry, reporting across all sectors and all types of organisation has become more sophisticated. Now, research indicates that at least three quarters of all mid-large organisations report on responsible and sustainable business practices.
Ten years ago, we marked the launch of our environmental sustainability programme with the formalisation of our first carbon reduction targets and we have been reporting since. We have always believed that targets can drive organisations to higher performance. We recently achieved our global five year-target carbon reduction target two years ahead of schedule and we now have our eyes set firmly on our 2030 30% Science-Based reduction target. (2018/9 Environmental Sustainability Report).
This progress is the culmination of innovative approaches and efforts from across the entire Capgemini Group to embed sustainability into our operations, behaviours and business practices, facilitated by a robust reporting and management process. In this context, I thought it was timely to consider why reporting is so important to us.
At the heart of our reporting cycle, we have several key principles:
Firstly, we ensure we have the right targets that are both material and ambitious, and which will drive innovation and impact.
Secondly, we need ‘good data’ that is complete, granular and accessible (I explored this in a previous article). We also try to ensure our reports are precise, concise and easily navigable. This is about making them readable while still containing a wide breadth of useful information for different stakeholders. For example, including detailed performance scorecards at the end of our report enables stakeholders keen to perform their own analysis on our progress based on the raw data.
Finally, we work to ensure our reports are authentic: that what we report on presents a true reflection of our organisation both in terms of what we stand for and what we have set out to achieve.
Why do we report?
Reporting has many benefits - from helping us increase our own understanding of our material issues to helping us benchmark against others and track our own performance. It is an annual checkpoint of our progress against all that we set out to do. This also invites discussions with our senior executives on whether we have achieved enough. Are we doing the right thing? Should we do more? These questions in turn influence our long-term management strategy.
Reporting strengthens our stakeholder engagement.
The reporting process, as well as the publication of the report itself, is also a valuable tool. It facilitates communications with external stakeholders, such as our investors, clients, or even potential new employees. However, for us the most critical part of our report is the internal conversations it provokes. It reminds us how many people and teams are involved in our sustainability journey. We estimate that over 100 people were involved in just the creation of our latest report content, with thousands across the global business actively involved in driving the agenda forward. Each year, the report leads to the beginning of many new conversations and partnerships.
Reporting drives internal efficiency
Our approach to reporting brings a discipline to our sustainability and responsible business practices. It ensures we are aligning these activities with our business purpose and values.
Critically, our reporting shows if our activities meet our agreed objectives. If gaps are highlighted, the programme team engage with internal stakeholders to refocus on the desired outcomes. By constantly making sure our progress is on track, we can continuously adapt our programme to address emerging material issues, ensuring appropriate targets are in place.
Our reporting process builds trust for our business
Reporting increases engagement, accountability and transparency, which ultimately fosters trust. Trust is critical for any organisation, and this is particularly true today where Edelman’s Trust Barometer shows year on year that trust is an ever-increasing issue. True transparency requires true and honest conversations and an approach to reporting that highlights both achievements as well as the challenges we are facing.
What next for reporting?
If the 1980s were characterised by the emergence of environmental accountability, and the 1990s into the new millennium saw the rise of reporting against a wider scope to meet increasing recommendations of reporting frameworks, then what can we expect next for reporting?
At Capgemini, we recently published our second Integrated Report which sets out our move to reporting on the shared value we create for investors, employees, suppliers - as well as communities and the environment. This process is helping us define and deliver our purpose as a business.
With ever growing expectations from stakeholders, sustainability reporting is not without challenges, not least the question of whether it’s possible to meet the needs of all stakeholders through a single publication. That said, I personally believe that regular annual reporting will continue to be of significant value by providing one clear, structured and easily accessible source of information.
However, I am also anticipating a trend away from publishing only one, static annual report. I expect this approach will be augmented with more flexible, multichannel approaches to reporting moving forward. I would envisage that over time, we will see information more dynamically hosted on corporate websites, in a range of accessible formats. From engaging and interesting accounts of best practices to engage and inspire, to spreadsheets of environmental and other performance data ready for analysts to interrogate in any way they desire. I would also like to believe that the number of different standards and frameworks will reduce to enable sustainability practitioners to spend more time on the quality of their reporting and considerably less on reporting the same information in many different ways.