How to Choose Case Studies for Your Corporate Sustainability Report

Here is a blog post from 2012 that we thought is still full of great information, and we wanted to share it again! Enjoy:

Let's be honest, sustainability reports can be...dry. Simply reporting facts and figures will make even the most stalwart reader begin to yawn. To combat reader fatigue, it's critical that your sustainability report tell a story. Here are some of the stories that your report might tell:

  • A scrappy entrepreneur starts up his new company by building sustainability into the core of business operations.        
  • A company grapples with worldwide economic uncertainty and struggles to understand what sustainability *really* means to its decision-making processes.        
  • A company commits to achieving true sustainability based on eco-system accounting, and measures for the first time its contextual impact on the natural world.        

Using your sustainability report to tell a story is an advanced practice -- many organizations can't identify their story, let alone talk about it publicly. (This is where the help of a sustainability consultant can help!) It's not completely an either/or proposition, however.

One easy way to begin the storytelling process is through the use of case studies -- a short "snapshot" that doesn't have to neatly fit into the rest of the reporting format. So if your organization is most comfortable following the standard (and often boring) format of the Global Reporting Initiatives, there is still an opportunity to add a bit of flash and interest through the use of strategically placed case studies.

But how do you choose a good case study? We've pulled examples from our 2011 Sustainability Report to demonstrate some of the options:

EXPLORE A THIRD PARTY STANDARD AND ITS IMPACT

Chances are good that your organization is using a third-party standard or guideline in your sustainability work. If you are a manufacturer, you may be using the ISO 14001 standard for environmental management systems. If you are a bank, you may be using the IFC Performance Standards. You might belong to the UN Global Compact, or use the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprise, or apply the Global Reporting Initiative's Sustainability Reporting Guidelines to your sustainability report. Choose one, and share what it means for your organization.

TALK ABOUT AN ORGANIZATION THAT YOU SUPPORT

Most organizations have some sort of charitable giving, employee volunteerism, or in-kind support. Rather than just reporting on the total dollars donated, why not share a little bit about one of the organizations or causes that you support? Pro tip: have one of your employees write the case study (e.g. "Why I Volunteer") -- or have the organization you support write the case study (e.g. "Why The Hotel Company is an Important Supporter of Domestic Violence Prevention").

WRITE ABOUT YOUR WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVES

It's a secret among sustainability professionals that the REAL audience for your sustainability report is your employees. (Ask first-time reporters where the unexpected benefit was and they will nearly all say that it was a boost in employee morale and engagement.) Why not take an opportunity to highlight one of your workforce programs?

HIGHLIGHT ONE OF YOUR PRODUCTS OR SERVICES

While a sustainability report generally includes a high-level overview of the work that your organization does, most reports don't take the time to dive deeply into specifics. But if you offer a particular product or service that has a positive sustainability impact (or has been improved to reduce its negative environmental impact), take the opportunity to explore it in more detail through a case study. If you can quantify the impacts, all the better!

Remember: a case study doesn't necessary need to be tied to a particular sustainability metric. Instead, think of a case study as a sneak peek for readers, a glimpse into the stories of sustainability that make your journey meaningful.

Be sure to check out all of SSC's case studies here!

Athletic Wear Brands and Their Products – How Sustainable Are They?

Two weeks ago we introduced SSC’s latest peer benchmarking analysis, and last week we introduced an in-depth look at three of the six dimensions – governance, environment, and workplace This week we will finish our analysis of each dimension with the  focus being on product:

Creating a sustainable product plays a pivotal role in a company’s overall sustainability. During SSC’s benchmarking process, we seek to ensure that a company’s products are designed, manufactured, and used in a safe, healthy, and environmentally responsible way. We give points to companies that have robust customer satisfaction programs in place, adhere to relevant marketing and advertising requirements, and incorporate “design for environment” into their research and development “R&D” processes.

Overview of the Product Dimension 

Points

  • Nike – 12
  • Adidas – 12
  • Puma – 11
  • Lululemon – 5
  • Under Armour – 1

The product dimension is the weakest dimension overall. The only category to be addressed by all four companies was the life cycle management. Product safety was either a big hitter,hardly mentioned, or not mentioned at all. Only two companies, Nike and Adidas, received four points in all categories. They were also the only companies to report on packaging and product quality.

Life Cycle Management

While the life cycle management category includes all five companies, there was a large gap between the top reporters (Nike, Puma, and Lululemon) and the two companies that had minimal information (Adidas and Under Armour). The top companies all had strong policies and programs for life cycle management and reported a few performance metrics as well. Adidas and Under Armour only reported one program and a brief policy, respectively.

Product Quality

Nike and Adidas were the only companies to address address product quality. While the information  in their reports and websites was not thoroughly detailed, both companies mentioned a brief policy and supporting program for product quality, with Nike providing data as well. 

Product Safety

Product Safety was only addressed by three companies: Nike, Adidas, and Puma. Puma did an excellent job in the category by receiving maximum points, while Nike on the other hand had a brief policy mention in their sustainability report. Adidas had a strong product safety policy, with a handful of supporting programs and some brief performance metrics.

Packaging

Once again, Nike and Adidas were the only two companies to address packaging either in their reports or online. Nike and Adidas both mentioned a policy, program, and supporting data, with Nike having the stronger policy and Adidas having stronger performance data published. 

Click here to catch up on the governance dimension, environment dimension, workplace dimension, and community dimension.

4 Things Your Company Needs to Know About the Carbon Disclosure Project

In 2012, we posted a blog focusing on what companies should know about the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). We thought this information is still useful today, and if you are one of the companies that uses CDP (or plan to add your name to the growing roster), here's what you need to know:

#1. Participation in the Carbon Disclosure Project Is Voluntary (Sort of)

No company is required by law or regulation to disclose their carbon emissions or climate change strategy via a CDP Report. However, many large retailers (like Walmart) and institutions (like Bank of America) are now asking their suppliers to participate. Additionally, investors are using the data generated by CDP to evaluate climate change preparedness and commitment to disclosure. In these volatile economic times, it pays to be uber-responsive to customers and investors. So if you're hearing rumblings about CDP, you'll want to make sure you allocate enough time and manpower to crafting a good response.

#2. Information You Submit to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Is Publicly Available*

The fact that “disclosure” is in the name of the organization should tip you off, but it bears repeating: anything that you submit in your CDP Report will become publicly available. That means people can download your full report, look at industry-aggregated data, or look at specific value chain impacts. Some of this access requires a paid subscription, but the key thing to know is that nothing you submit should be confidential, proprietary, or violate fair disclosure laws. (Fortunately, you can choose which questions to answer. While “the more the better” in terms of your overall score, you can skip over anything that is too sensitive for the public.)

* 5/24/2012 Update: (Thanks to CDP for reaching out with clarification.) There *is* an option for companies to choose to make their CDP reports "not publicly available." If that option is selected, your information will be added to other companies' responses and used for aggregate analysis, but your individual answers will NOT be available to the general public. An important caveat: if you are responding to an investor request or a supplier request (e.g. like Walmart) -- your individual answers WILL be made available to the requesting organizations -- even if you choose not to make your CDP report publicly available. So, it bears repeating that you should carefully review your answers (preferably with your General Counsel) to ensure that you are abiding by your legal disclosure requirements. For more information about who gets to peek at your report, check out CDP's helpful guidance page.

#3. Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Is Not a Carbon Calculator

About half of the questions on the CDP Assessment are related to your organization's carbon footprint. It asks you to enter in amounts for your Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions (including the data, the sources that are included in your calculations, GHG emissions factors, and the overall GHG accounting methodology you used). The assessment, however, does NOT tell you how to go about calculating your carbon footprint--you will need to undertake that project as a separate task. So if you're just getting started with this whole CDP thing, make sure to give yourself several months in advance to get your data in order. (If you need assistance with calculating your carbon footprint, we can help! We have a streamlined process that will get you up and running in as little as 60 days, including third party validation and review!)

#4. Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) Is More Than Just Numbers

Your carbon footprint information is just the start of what's included in the CDP Assessment. In addition, you'll need to answer questions about the opportunities (positives) and risks (negatives) associated with climate change, including (but not limited to):

  • Impact of changing weather patterns
  • Geographical impacts
  • Impact on products and services
  • Supply chain impacts

Depending on which category you fall into (e.g. Walmart supplier, Investor, etc.), your deadline may shift--most are around June-July. But one thing is for certain: if you don't have a game plan for CDP, you need to get one immediately. Don't wait until the last minute!

We can't tell you how many frantic phone calls we field at the end of May and beginning of June--so may we suggest that you take a few minutes this month to figure out what needs to be done, who needs to be involved, and what resources you'll need to deliver a great CDP response? If you'd like a helping hand through this planning process (or want to hire us to help you calculate your carbon footprint and prepare your organization's CDP report), then contact us today. We'd love to hear from you!

Want to learn more about CDP and other reporting standards? Check out our blog post here!