Guide to the essential elements of a sustainability report
Blog post from Principle Consultant – Rhodri Thomas
In the last five years I have read hundreds of sustainability/environmental policies, strategies and action plans. Some of this reading was undertaken purely as professional research; a lot was undertaken under the requirement of a Welsh Government contract, as the person who analysed and graded the annual reporting of signatories of the Welsh Government’s “Sustainable Development Charter”; more recently I have been reading the documents of Cynnal Cymru members and clients.
Here’s the headline: there is no one size fits all approach to sustainability reporting.
There are basic elements to a good sustainability strategy and report but what those of us in the trade call “materiality” is dependent on your particular circumstances.
Everyone should report their energy use. Why? Because it’s easy! Almost everyone gets gas and electricity bills. Even if the bills are paid by your landlord as part of a service agreement, you can still speak to them about the bills they pay on your behalf: what is the likely percentage of the bill that is attributable to your use? Can a building user’s committee make a joint commitment for all occupiers to use less energy?
Units of electricity and gas can be converted into units of carbon dioxide relatively easily. So with very little effort, your organisation can be setting carbon emission reduction targets. You can tell your public sector partners and the Welsh Government that you are doing your bit. Would this help with those responses to public sector procurement tenders?
Increasingly, the corporate social responsibility (or “CSR”) practices of big business are being extended out along the supply chain. The 2Degrees Network in London works with big corporate clients like Asda to help them improve the environmental and social impacts of suppliers and contractors. Any small business in Wales that hopes to sell into the supply chain of a global brand should get themselves into a position where they are able to draw off basic sustainability and corporate social responsibility data at will.
A simple, basic suite of metrics on energy/carbon, waste and staff well-being should be a basic for all businesses in Wales. Beyond that, it all depends on your size and the nature of your business.
A lot of organisations now have a basic environmental policy. This is encouraging but the concept of Sustainable Development recognises the interconnectedness of all things. It’s no good being the greenest company if you don’t treat your staff, partners and neighbours with respect. Outside the factory or office, there is a world of energy and material flow in which small changes in one thing that you don’t consider relevant can cause major fluctuations in something seemingly unrelated but which really matters to you. Grasping the concept of Sustainable Development is about realising this. It is about thinking in a long term, integrated way and spotting the connections so that small changes that you are in control of, can produce big benefits directly to you but also to the wider world, thereby improving your value proposition, your brand name and the personal reputations of the Directors and owners.
Most people who run a small business in Wales are so busy with the core business that they have little time to stop and consider the bigger picture. That’s where we can help. For a modest fee we can analyse your existing strategies and policies, and suggest some simple integrations to make planning and reporting more coherent. We can also provide basic training and facilitate discussions with your staff to help you better understand where you are and how you can plan and make changes that not only affect your bottom line but can add value to your organisation.
If you are interested in finding out how to get started on sustainability reporting or would like us to review your existing policy or strategy, please get in contact with Rhodri@cynnalcymru.com.
Rhodri Thomas is the Principal Sustainability Consultant at Cynnal Cymru, where he specialises in developing the sustainability skills of managers and the integrated reporting approach of organisations. Rhodri has worked with Melin Homes, Glamorgan Cricket Club and Public Health Wales to analyse and report on how they are meeting their sustainability requirements.
He also manages external partnerships, develops new projects, writes case studies and conducts research. He has a BSc. (Hons.) in Environmental Biology, an MSc. in Environmental Management and a PGCE in Adult Education & Training.