Why sustainability reporting matters

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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 emerged as a valuable management tool, rather than a response to public outcry, reporting across all sectors and all types of organizations became more sophisticated. Now research indicates that at least three-quarters of all mid-large organizations report on responsible and sustainable business practices.

Ten years ago, we marked the launch of our environmental sustainability program with the formalization of our first carbon reduction targets and we have been reporting since. We have always believed that targets can drive organizations to higher performance. We recently achieved our latest global five-year-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, behaviors, 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 allows stakeholders to perform their own analysis of 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 organization 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 check point of our progress against all that we set out to do. With this, also come the 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 prospective employees. However, for us the one of the most important 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 whether our activities meet our agreed objectives. If gaps are highlighted, the program team engages with internal stakeholders to refocus on the desired outcomes. By constantly making sure our progress is on track, we can continuously adapt our program 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 organization, particularly today, as 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 face.

What next for reporting?

If the 1980s were characterized 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 investigate 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. Learn more about our environmental sustainability commitment and impact.

This article was first featured on Chief Sustainability Officer Magazine.

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