At Greenstone, we are increasingly seeing organisations using sustainability reporting less as a necessary (and all too often stressful) annual process and more as a tool for analysing and monitoring ongoing performance. The merits of a sustainability report are well established and form an important part of an organisations’ communication with stakeholders about its past, present and future impacts on the environment and society. Underpinning this communication is data – data that needs to be robust, material and (most importantly) accessible.
When working with organisations to implement non-financial reporting software, the initial kick-off meeting will commonly involve us getting to grips with a large number of heavily formatted, formula-rife spreadsheets that have been pushed to their limits. Spreadsheets are the necessary evil of any sustainability professional, offering a required repository for huge volumes of data but storing it in a complex and lifeless way. Breathing life into this sustainability data and making it talk to you is what organisations are now waking up to and realising the power of their own internal big data.
Making data accessible
Making data accessible means it has to be easily retrieved, interpreted and acted upon by different organisational stakeholders. A single piece of data can hold a plethora of reporting opportunities and its value varies according to which audience it’s for.
As an example, an organisation’s annual electricity consumption is a valuable environmental KPI. However, whereas for an employee it may be communicated at a granular office level per employee as part of a behaviour change competition related to energy savings, for suppliers, information about their contribution to the overall impact is much more valuable. Clients and consumers may care more about the environmental (e.g. CO₂, resources or natural capital) impacts of the energy consumed and shareholders/investors might want to know whether a green electricity supplier or renewable energy certificate (REC) is associated and being reported to frameworks such as CDP.
At Greenstone, we always advise our clients that it is essential that, rather than spending life imprisoned, non-financial data is used to tell stories, set targets and report trends. All too often those providing the data for reporting are required to do so in the wings of their everyday roles – providing feedback on how the data is being used to inform decisions and progress against targets bolsters engagement with the value of the data and, from there, breathes life into the numbers.
The future – unlocked data!
In the last two years, materiality has put relevance at the forefront of non-financial reporting. Reports aimed to polish the corporate halo and that (ironically) take an hour to print are becoming a welcome thing of the past with leaders now eyeing up integrated reporting. Organisations are also increasingly carrying out verification to ensure their data is robust.
As the role of sustainability reporting within an organisation evolves, access to the data will become an increasingly important third pillar in best practice and key to ensuring that sustainability moves beyond just reporting.
On 18th May 2016, Greenstone will be hosting a Masterclass on ‘How to breathe life into your sustainability data’ at the 5th GRI Global Conference in Amsterdam. Click here for more information and to register.