The report is central to who we are as an organization – and we want it to reflect who we are, what our priorities are and what our vision for our future is.
It’s the Most Reportingest Time of the Year!
Those of us who’ve been involved with Sustainable Hamilton Burlington (SHB) for a few years, know that this time of year is reporting time. Reporting has always been at the heart of what we do, since our first frameworks based on the Global Reporting Initiative. As an organization we’re dedicated to change, to action and improvement – so why is reporting, and not action, at the heart of our sense of self? Why has our core program gone through name changes, priority shifts and refinements, but never moved away from being, at core, a reporting program?
Our founder, Sandi Stride, was fond of the expression “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” A certain amount of sustainable innovation is possible through the elusive principle of “common sense” (“turn the lights off when you don’t need them”) and so in that sense it’s possible to have sustainable innovation without measurement. But in the absence of measurement, of data, you’re stuck working with vague ideas like “it’s good not to have lights on if we don’t need them.” Once you have data to work with – once you understand the cost of running the lights, the times of day the lights run, who is using the lights – a host of conversations become possible:
“If half a space is occupied 90% of the time and the other 30%, could we put the lights on two separate switches and go from saving 10% on power to 40%?”
“If it costs X to keep the lights on while employees work over Y period of time, then this math shows that a more efficient lighting system would pay for itself in 14 months…”
…and so on.
Measuring not only brings into focus sustainable practices that we may already have an inkling of, it suggests new areas to think about (“while looking at lights I’ve noticed the air compressor is drawing a lot of power too – could we keep that off in the afternoon, when no-one’s using it?”), and can make us aware of whole new areas of inefficiency that can be addressed (“wow, these figures show that our fleet cars spend a lot of time idling – we could really save on fuel and maintenance if we cut that number down”).
You Are What You Measure
In May of 1862, US President Abraham Lincoln inspected a bridge over the Potomac Creek, built to replace on old one damaged in the American Civil War. Lincoln marveled that his engineers had “…built a bridge four hundred feet long and eighty feet high, across Potomac Creek, on which loaded trains are passing every hour, and upon my word, gentlemen, there is nothing in it but cornstalks and beanpoles.”
Lincoln’s awe was telling. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, the art of bridge design was undergoing dramatic changes. Some of this was due to new materials (iron and steel) but it was also due to better data. As engineers began to develop more comprehensive mathematical models, got access to better instruments to measure stresses, tensile strength, etc., it was no longer necessary to compensate for limited understanding by simply overbuilding bridges. Understanding their materials and their designs better, it was possible for engineers to replace what had been chunky stone bridges with precisely constructed trusses and trestles that they could be confident would support loaded trains – even if they appeared to an aging President to be “nothing but cornstalks and beanpoles”.
Bridges are just one, very highly visible, example of the efficiencies that became possible with better measurement and more refined data. Over and over again we see that better measurement allows for greater efficiency. It is no accident that, after a half a century of the Information Revolution that we now find ourselves in the midst of a growing Sustainability Revolution.
The Core and The More
But of course, having the data is only one half of reporting – there is also challenge of how to communicate it.
Since 2015 Accountancy Europe has been advocating a model for corporate reporting they call “Core and More”. In the summary and online introduction respectively to the 2017 paper “Core & More: An opportunity for smarter corporate reporting” they write:
In an era of fast technological change and information overload, corporate reporting must be agile and evolve to remain relevant…. Most significantly, traditional siloed reporting no longer meets the expectation of users.
Core & More aims to present corporate reporting in a smarter way… Information relevant for a wide range of stakeholders would be in the Core report, and supplementary details for a more limited audience would form the More reports.
The Works Design Communications The Best for 2018 Annual Review of sustainability reporting trends, identified one of the noteworthy changes in the way information was delivered in the best reports of 2018:
This included segmenting report content into “bite-size” pieces delivered through a variety of social media channels. Content was customized – through editing and delivery vehicle – to reflect the needs and interests of specific audiences.
Both speak to the need for reporting to not only record but to synthesize and clarify.
The Shape of Things to Come
This year we’re going to be taking a big step towards online reporting. Our reports have always been available online. But this year, we’ll be taking that a step further: this year the report will “live” online as set of webpages within our main site – fully available through any web browser, searchable by Google and fully integrated into the website as well. This will create a richer and more densely interlinked experience that will allow the user to drill down into the details they want, while still providing the larger context to make those details meaningful. One that will present the big picture and the details in a richer and more interconnected way than in the past.
But we still want to provide you with something that maintains the advantages of printed material – the instant accessibility (you’ll never need to worry about whether the browser on your phone has trouble with a printed page!) and the immediacy of print. So this year we’ll be taking a new look at the printed piece you’ll get when you come to our Evening of Recognition. You can look forward to a slimmer piece – as Accountancy Europe might say, the “core” of the main report, carefully and closely articulated to the “more” that will live in the web version of the report. Among other benefits, this will reduce the paper you’re walking out of dinner with by more than half. But our goal is not something that feels cut down, but rather like the key to a much larger world of information that articulates to our online report, our website, and those of our members and allied organizations.
These are the ways we hope to continue innovating in our reporting. The report is central to who we are as an organization – and we want it to reflect who we are, what our priorities are and what our vision for our future is. We want it to inform yes, but to be truly successful, it must not only inform, but invite and inspire.