Sustainability as an innovation magnet

Opinion Elaine Cohen

CSR Expert

Elaine Cohen – CSR Expert

Elaine Cohen – sustainability reporting expert CSR consultant, winning (CRRA’12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict and author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices– wrote a little piece about our thesis on her blog.

Friday, 16 November 2012: Mind the Gap! in Sustainability Reporting

As a Sustainability Consultant and Reporter who is quite accessible here on the net, I am often approached by students from all corners of the world, sometimes corners which I didn’t know existed, to help them with their research and studies on many different aspects of CSR and Sustainability and Reporting. I do my best to respond to all – apologies if anyone has written to me and I didn’t. Such interactions both give me the opportunity to make a modest contribution to advancing sustainability thinking and also, invariably, help me learn new things. Occasionally, some of those who have asked for my advice or help, come back to update me about how their work has gone, which is always a delight.
Today, I got the fabulous news that a group of Masters students with whom I spent some engaging time in discussion on their research, have won the top award for their thesis in the area of Sustainability Reporting. Edwin Janssen, Selene Kfoury and Rutger Verkouw submitted their thesis for the completion of Master of Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden, and will receive a prestigious award from the Sparbankensstiftelsen Kronan later this month. Wonderful recognition for their hard work, and also the quality of their thesis, which is highly topical these days, as we debate whether G4 will be the Next Big Thing, or whether Integrated Reporting will serve anyone other than investors, and whether Sustainability Reporting is actually helping us to change the world.
The thesis is entitled: “Mind the Gap! Strategically Driving GRI Reporting Towards Sustainability”, and can be downloaded here. The writers make a case for an integrated process to support Sustainability Reporting.
Here is the abstract:  “Sustainability reporting is a vital tool to communicate an organisation’s sustainability performance to stakeholders. Sustainability reporting also allows an organisation to communicate its vision, goals and strategic plans. In order to be strategic towards sustainability, an organisation should have a vision of where it wants to go, and assess where it is today, so as to take the right initiatives towards its vision. This thesis focuses on how GRI sustainability reporting and strategic planning towards sustainability can be combined in an integrated process to help organisations move towards sustainability. The Integrated Process allows an organisation to gain a better understanding of its sustainability context; design resilient strategies in light of that context using a backcasting from Sustainability Principles approach; and report its sustainability performance and progress in bridging the gap towards sustainability, transparently to internal and external stakeholders.”

Doesn’t that sound compelling? There is a difference between Integrated Reporting and Sustainability Reporting using an integrated process. The former may be an outflow of the latter, but not necessarily. On the contrary, I can very easily buy into the integrated process concept, but I have a harder time buying into the Integrated Reporting concept.

The writers come down very strongly on there being a strong interrelationship between sustainability context, sustainability strategy and sustainability reporting and that sustainability reporting is most effective when driven by a strategic approach to sustainability. Sustainability strategy should be determined against a backdrop of four core principles articulated here:

In order to support the route to more strategic sustainability reporting, the authors offer a Framework which has four steps and uses the process of backcasting (identifying the vision and working back to determine what needs to be done to align with the vision) to help create strategic sustainability reports. The authors examine the GRI framework and how it makes a contribution, as well as creating some limitations.

As usual, it was a pleasure to engage with our new generation of committed future business leaders, and I am sure we will be hearing much more from Edwin, Selene and Rutger in the future!

Elaine Cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA’12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices. Contact me via   on Twitter or via my business website  (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).


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