Attracting and retaining investments can present myriad complexities for business, governments and local communities, as Africa’s doors of opportunity swing open ever-wider. In order to explore ways to maximise these opportunities in a manner that benefits all of Africa’s stakeholder groups, GRI is convening the Africa Regional Conference, on 12 and 13 May 2015, at the EY offices in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Robust and transparent reporting is one of the essential means by which businesses can demonstrate their commitment to operating responsibly on the continent and across the globe”, said GRI’s Director Regional Networks and Sustainable Development, Alyson Slater. “The GRI Africa Regional Conference will bring together hundreds of experts and provide a platform for enhancing the value of sustainability reporting and encouraging greater levels of corporate disclosure and accountability.”
On 12 May, attendees can take part in half-day masterclasses that will deliver specific practical guidance on issues such as supply/value-chain reporting, stakeholder engagement, materiality, integration and the boundaries of accountability.
On 13 May, there is an exciting programme planned; with plenary sessions featuring renowned sustainability specialists and parallel tracks focused on driving economic transformation in Africa through greater transparency, as well as reporting as a source of innovation, trade and development.
For more information and to register to attend the GRI Africa Regional Conference please visit the GRI website here or you can contact GRI’s Media Relations Manager Davion Ford (email@example.com). For any additional questions or media requests, please contact either Jane Appiah-Yeboah (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jeneth Ndlovu (email@example.com) or contact Russell & Associates on +27 11 880 3924.
Source: Just Means
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By Lloyd Macfarlane
UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPT OF FINANCIAL CAPITAL FOR CORPORATE REPORTING
Traditional accounting practices place large emphasis on the extent to which good financial capital man- agement is responsible for the economic success of the business – traditionally the main issue of concern for shareholders and investors. However, companies are increasingly required to take a more holistic approach to the many forms of capital in the business, and to do so with key stakeholders in mind. The corporate sustainability agenda is changing the way that companies contemplate and report on financial capital, so what is financial capital in the context of value creation and sustainability?
Financial capital is used by people, organizations, corporations, and governments, to build and maintain their livelihoods. This includes all financial assets, instruments, and resources (including loans, bonds, stock, expenses, assets, equity, and cash flows) used throughout the organisation’s activities. It could be said that financial capital reflects the productive power of all other types of capital in the business, although technically there may be exceptions to this Financial capital plays an important role in our economy, enabling the other types of capital to be owned or traded. Proper management of financial capital is crucial to maintaining effectiveness, efficiency and economic sustainability in the organisation.
Generally speaking financial capital has no value of its own (except if the company’s business is a holding company or a bank). It is not productive, for instance, in the sense that a manufactured product produces value. Instead, the value of financial capital lies in the facilitation of economic production. Financial capital controls ownership of physical capital and is a representation of the value of the other four capitals. In other words, money has to go out before more can be brought in.
Companies may have access to many forms of financial capital but little can happen without expendable cash as a resource (particularly in terms of operations). Financial capital can be obtained through earnings, banks (in the form of short or long term loans), private equity (and venture capital transactions) and grants.
The integration and management of all types of capital is essential if a company
is to target sustainability, and so any discussion about financial capital should reference this integration. The IIRC’s Integrated Reporting Framework <IR> tackles the concept of integrated thinking and sustainability performance by focusing on the ‘six capitals’: financial, manufactured, human, intellectual, natural and social.
There is mounting evidence that companies with strong sustainability performance deliver improved long-term financial returns. For example, a July 2013 Harvard Business School study found that “High Sustainability” companies significantly outperform their peers over the long-term,
in both stock market and accounting terms (Eccles, Ioannou and Serafeim, 2013).
Whilst there is still some discussion about what in fact causes this performance, these companies are generally managing risk more effectively and positioning themselves advantageously in their respective value chains – objectives that are ultimately linked to the corporate sustainability agenda.
If the primary objective of business is value creation then financial capital is the tool with which this takes place. Sustainable businesses create value for all key stakeholder groups and not just shareholders – this is where the direction of financial capital is becoming increasingly important. The returns on investments in employees or local communities for example can be difficult to quantify, however the risks of ignoring these investments can be meaningful and even critical for the business.
Although the way an organisation applies other forms of capital may be in stark contrast to the way it deals with financial capital, all these components are often connected to expenditure – investing in “any other form of capital usually requires good management of financial capital.
THIS MEANS THAT AN INVESTMENT IN RELATIONSHIPS WITH THE COMMUNITY OR OTHERS MAY BE GOOD FOR REPUTATION AND IMPROVED SALES, BUT ONLY UP TO A CERTAIN LEVEL, says Pieter Conradie,
Programme Director for Integrated Reporting at the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership (University of Pretoria). There is risk in expending too much financial capital in order to fund corporate social investment projects for example.
“This is of course a very pragmatic or instrumental way to look at investments, but in my mind this is also the way that most executives look at things, because proving a positive ROI from investments in social projects can be very tenuous because of all the extraneous variables at play,” says Conradie.
All of the <IR> capitals are connected to financial capital in some way. Conradie suggests that “the obvious challenge is to determine the causality between the other capitals and financial capital, especially in determining how an investment in other capitals may lead to returns in financial cap- ital.” This is the holistic aspect of integrated reporting and the relationship between financial and non-financial information. Everything about a company’s performance is intrinsically linked.
A company’s annual report has traditionally been enough for investors and shareholders who until recently haven’t been that interested in sustainability reporting. This is changing as shareholders realise the extent to which their investments are impacted by the stability and value created by the business for other key stakeholder groups.
Recently appointed Chief Executive of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Michael Meehan says that one of the reasons that organisations report is to understand their commitment to sustainability. “Over the years, for better or worse, GRI has become synonymous with the report. To me, that
is not what’s important.
What’s important is the process by which you understand the information, collect the information and communicate it,” says Meehan Corporate reports have historically been comprehensive but cumbersome and now the integrated reporting process aims to change this, by providing more focus and more relevance in a format that has more application. Even if the report is not written for, or read by other key stakeholder groups, it should at least deal with financial capital in terms of how it relates to the other capitals of the business.
Source: Green Economy Journal
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Even though more investors worldwide, particularly institutional investors, now say they assess corporate environmental and social performance in their investment decisions, most companies are still unsure exactly what these key stakeholders want to know and therefore what and how to report.
Similarly, while leading banks increasingly apply environmental and social risk management in their lending practices, it remains unclear how this translates into competitive advantage for their corporate clients who boldly adopt innovative solutions to environmental and social problems.
The importance of risk management remains high in the conversation about corporate sustainability. It will likely continue to be the key focus of sustainability-driven investor activism at shareholder meetings for some time to come. Major accidents, fatalities and environmental pollution are common causes for concern. And with shareholder activism on the rise, companies are seeing more shareholders requesting special meetings with the board on the issues that concern them most. Governance and executive remuneration currently top the lists of responsible shareholder concerns, but environmental and social issues are growing in visibility.
According to Ceres, 110 sustainability- focused shareholder resolutions were filed with 94 US companies during 2013. Many called for board oversight of sustainability and comprehensive disclosure of data through sustainability reports. Issues of interest were climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, supply chain issues and water-related risks.Investors withdrew more than 40 of the 110 resolutions after the companies responded affirmatively to their specific requests.
That said, investor activism on sustainability issues inevitably clashes with two entrenched business realities: firstly, the majority of shareholders still want to see superior financial returns, preferably on a quarterly basis; and, secondly, company executives manage a multitude of shifting priorities to maintain their companies’ competitiveness and profitability – with environmental and social responsibility being relatively new arrivals.
Consequently, there is still resistance on the part of companies when it comes to really innovating in the sustainability space, even though the massive rise in integrated reporting has brought more firmly to the foreground the real risks and costs of not doing so. Part of the problem may be that the stakeholders with the most leverage, namely investors and financial institutions, don’t yet systematically demand such innovation.
It’s not surprising then that the really interesting conversation between companies and investors – the one about sustainability and business value creation – still needs to get off the ground. For instance, first-movers in this space are testing if they can improve investment returns by focusing on sustainability leaders – companies with a track record of good environmental and social management, high-level commitment, and proactive stakeholder engagement. Research by RobecoSAM, covering a ten-year period, revealed superior long-term results. This confirms academic findings which tie sustainability leadership to good management, innovation and financial outperformance.
So why isn’t sustainability being adopted more systematically as a lens to identify well-managed, innovative companies with lower business risk? Fortunately, several major shifts in the financial ecosystems of emerging markets indicate this situation may be set to change.
Banks getting serious about sustainability
Currently 79 financial institutions in 35 countries have officially adopted the Equator Principles, a financial industry benchmark for determining, assessing and managing environmental and social risk in projects. It is estimated the Principles now apply to over 70 percent of international project finance debt in emerging markets. Ten African banks have adopted the Principles, including Nedbank, Standard bank, and FirstRand.
While the Principles apply to project finance above US$10 million, the community of Equator Banks are increasingly exploring ways to integrate sustainability into all aspects of how they do business, including green finance products and managing their own corporate footprints as a way to build brand visibility.
Nedbank’s journey is a powerful example. In 2005 Nedbank became the first African bank to adopt the Equator Principles. Since then, Nedbank has rolled out a green affinity program with WWF, funded projects under South Africa‘s Renewable Energy IPP programme, actively manages its own carbon footprint, launched South Africa’s first Green Index in 2011, created the Nedbank Capital Green Mining Awards, and most recently held the first Nedbank Capital Sustainable Business Awards.
Businesses can see this trend as a signal that banks are building capacity to take a market-based approach to sustainability. New products and screening tools will offer incentives as well as penalties to stimulate better sustainability performance by loan recipients.
Transparency is a first requirement to make this engagement between banks and companies work. So anticipate more interest from banks in the quality and details of integrated reports. As banks become more astute in assessing particular aspects of performance – such as energy, water use, waste management, and labour practices, for instance – expect to see more specific requirements in these areas. Bigger picture questions about license to operate and stakeholder support will no doubt take centre stage and quickly mature as a discourse.
Pension funds join the conversation
South Africa was one of the first countries to introduce a regulatory requirement for pension funds in 2012 to actively consider environmental and social risks and opportunities in their investment strategies.
New regulation 28 of the Pension Fund Act, in conjunction with the Code for Responsible Investing in South Africa (CRISA), triggered an industry wide response over the past two years to design a practical approach for pension funds.
Sustainable Returns for Pensions and Society, an initiative led by the Principal Officers Association of South Africa, the IFC, major pension funds, the Institute of Directors of South Africa, the Financial Services Board, Labour, and other key stakeholders, resulted in the publication in September 2013 of “Responsible Invesment and Ownership: a Guide for Pension Funds in South Africa”.
The guide provides a roadmap to introduce policies and systems that anticipate risk and inform proactive investment strategies.
As major investors in companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, pension funds could therefore be set to play a much bigger role in moving South Africa’s private sector towards more responsible business practices.
South Africa’s Government Employees Pension Fund (GEPF), with 1.2 million active members and assets worth R1 trillion, already has a responsible investment policy in place and engages directly with major listed companies on ways to improve environmental, social and governance performance. South Africa’s example is being closely watched by other emerging markets, and could signal a global trend. Other parts of the financial ecosystem are also likely to follow suit.
For the most part, pension funds are still in the early stages of incorporating sustainability issues into decision making. With policies and priorities in place, they will hand implementation to asset managers who invest on their behalf.
Businesses can therefore expect to see an increase in interest from the asset management community in a wide range of environmental and social issues prioritised by their clients.
Thanks to the naturally long-term view of institutional investors, the emphasis will be on issues that have a medium and long-term impact on investor returns, while still seeking to avoid any significant short- term losses. As pension fund beneficiaries become more aware of sustainability, special interests may lead pension funds to seek out specific types of investments that have social and environmental benefits, such as renewable energy and affordable housing.
Companies’ integrated reports should therefore reflect a mix of:
- appropriate sustainability risk management,
- resource efficiency to reduce costs and dependencies; and
- quantifiable positive impacts on people and the environment that can be shown to reinforce strong financial performance over the medium and long term.
Green building practices are one such example. With pension funds able to invest up to 25 percent of their assets in property, implementation of green building standards can reduce energy and water costs, improve the health and well being of occupants, enhance the urban environment, and increase property value and rent premiums . From a portfolio perspective the value proposition is clear.
A major role for regulators
Another strong signal that sustainability has taken root in the financial landscape is the move by banking regulators in emerging markets to introduce national policies and incentives that promote sustainable banking.
A key factor is the creation of a level playing field to ensure banks retain their competitiveness when taking innovative steps towards a green and inclusive economy.
China introduced a national green credit policy in 2008 and technical guidelines in 2012 which now apply to all Chinese banks and include requirements related to international lendin. Bangladesh introduced a similar policy in 2011 and provides incentives to proactive banks who the meet the new standards.
In 2012, Nigerian banks collaborated with the Central Bank of Nigeria to introduce voluntary principles for sustainable banking, focusing in particular on financial inclusion and supporting women entrepreneurs. These leading countries are part of a community of regulators who now meet annually to share their experiences in creating enabling frameworks for sustainable banking. Member countries are learning from each other and replicating successful models.
Still in early stages of testing and implementation for many countries, this trend is moving quickly. South Africa’s example in the pension fund industry and the presence of three leading Equator banks locally, make it well suited to adopt similar policies. Businesses can therefore expect more active participation by regulators in establishing monitoring and incentive structures to track and promote private sector sustainability. Rating agencies will assist this process by making data more easily available. Eco-labels and industry standards will become more common and nuanced to measure performance on specific aspects and help businesses position themselves in the marketplace.
Shifting the conversation
With these various trends taking shape, conversations between companies and their financial stakeholders are likely to get much more interesting in the near future. While this may mean an additional reporting headache for companies initially, it may also quickly evolve into a more collaborative partnership between companies and their investors or lending institutions.
There is a growing spectrum of business benefits from improved sustainability, such as reducing resource costs, improving employee productivity, reducing absenteeism and staff turnover, avoiding business interruptions, strengthening relationships with suppliers, adding market share, and protecting license to operate.
The main problem is that for too long these aspects haven’t been measured and the business case hasn’t be clear.
South Africa’s adoption of comprehensive integrated reporting opens the door to a much more informed conversation about the different ways sustainability adds value. While comparability and consistency of data are important, the links with value creation are going to be as diverse as the companies that implement them.
Consequently, it remains for companies to tell their story of sustainability well, to articulate what they have tried and what the results have been, to explain how sustainability is a driver of their future business success, and how they are preparing for a changing climate and shifting social and economic conditions.
As more success stories of value creation surface, there’s a good chance investors and banks will be first to promote replication within and across industries and to seek out clients that demonstrate sustainability potential. Some of the questions already front of mind for conscious investors include: • Are water or energy costs significant contributors to business overheads and how is the company managing them?
• Is the company getting left behind in terms of new technology that could dramatically increase efficiencies or even change the game in terms of market position?
• Is the company treating workers fairly, maintaining high standards of health and safety, and offering fair pay?
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Is sustainability reporting sustainable?
There are some that think it is. The practice is now more widespread than ever before, and legislation in different parts of the world is supporting increased non-financial disclosure. This would indicate that reporting is here to stay.
On the other hand, there are some that think it isn’t. There are those who subordinate sustainability reporting to the new financial reporting trend called integrated reporting, while others advocate online interactive disclosures instead of reports.
As we move into 2015 and face another year of corporate efforts to improve impacts, manage risk and engage with the new opportunities that sustainability brings, amid a flurry of surveys and reports that support the case for or against sustainability reporting, what can companies do to embed reporting practice in a sustainable manner? In addition to the predictable list of things we already know — focus, clarity, materiality, relevance, balance, frameworks, etc. — here are some more creative approaches that companies might like to consider.
Excite your board of directors about reporting
Reporting has often been considered an add-on, a project for the corporate social responsibility (CSR)manager, something that exists alongside the “real” reporting processes. Sustainability reporting has not really hooked the attention of the highest level of leadership and, in most cases, does not find its way onto the board agenda.
In order to make reporting more sustainable, directors must be excited about sustainability reporting. They must see it as an advantage, a benefit, a value-adding activity — and not something they tolerate.
Let’s be honest, how many company directors actually read the sustainability reports of the companies they are engaged to be accountable for? How many directors are actually consulted in the process of preparing the report? As key stakeholders, company directors surely deserve some acknowledgement, recognition and even voice in the annual sustainability report.
In order to excite your board of directors, engage them in the reporting process and have them approve the output, here are some things you can do:
- Empower your board members. This can be done, for example, through board workshops to build awareness, knowledge and engagement around relevant issues for each company. In 2014, the United Nations Global Compact launched an interesting Board Program to help align the board on sustainability matters and help directors demonstrate leadership on board adoption of sustainability principles. As board members engage in deep consideration of sustainability issues, they become empowered to embrace leadership and guide the company along the sustainability journey. This program looks like a good start, but it must result in something more than discussion in order to truly deliver change. Therefore, after education, comes action.
- Engage company directors in the reporting process. Help your board of directors own your sustainability report by asking them to contribute. Interview them individually or as a group, and include their pictures and their commentaries in the sustainability report. Stakeholders will be gratified by evidence of greater board commitment, and board members will be energized by their own involvement and declaration of what is important to them. Involving them may also help reinforce their accountability for the sustainability report and its contents. This kind of involvement is positive, but it is not enough. Involvement must be formalized.
- Establish and publish a formal board policy for sustainability reporting. This should describe board accountability for sustainability reporting. The policy should define board actions prior to report publication, including a board discussion and concurrence of the report content and agreement to publish. Following the report publication, the policy could require the board to conduct a review of whether the report has met its objectives and agree on new objectives for the next reporting cycle.
Make your reporting process cool
I maintain that sustainability reporting as a process is incredibly cool. The right process empowers people, challenges people, gets people listening to one another, sometimes even talking to one another, occasionally even agreeing with one another. This applies to both employees as well as external partners, organizations, suppliers, local authorities and consumers.
Rather than inviting people to a meeting about the sustainability report (yaaaaaaawn!), there are many ways you can involve people in activities that both interest and engage them, while at the same time, getting the information you need for your report. This includes competitions (send us a video of how your job contributes to improving the environment) or prizes (weekend for two for the first complete set of sustainability reporting information sent back to corporate) or ice cream meetings (roundtable discussions with internal and/or external stakeholders on sustainability issues, where the meeting leader brings [lots of] ice cream for consumption during the meeting). There are a million ways to make the reporting process fun, even if, at some point, there is a certain amount of actual hard work to be done.
Engage your employees around the published report
So, many reports go unnoticed by the very employees whose hard work made the report possible. That means all the employees in the company.
The minute the report is published is the signal to start the work of engaging employees around the report. Rather than just broadcasting an email announcement — we published our report (yaaaaaaawn!) — there are many ways to get your employees to sit up and take notice.
This may include quizzes with prizes (Who is quoted on page 34 of our last report? By how much did our GHG emissions reduce last year?), games (How far can you throw our sustainability report?) and feedback (cross-functional discussion groups — can be Web-meetings — each focusing on a single section of the report and analyzing the content together, with recommendations for the next report). You might even involve your employees’ children in preparing a poster about how your company makes a positive contribution to the world — requiring employees to explain the essence of the report messages to their kids. Prizes, of course, for the best contributions.
Each company can find its own way to be creative in developing an engagement process which both informs and interests employees. You might find employees actually enjoy reading the report and discover things about the company — and their colleagues — that they didn’t know. More importantly, they will be able to talk to stakeholders about the issues that matter in an informed way.
Drive your reporting throughout the supply chain
How many companies ask their suppliers to contribute to their reporting and engage suppliers once the report is published? More and more, the report of one company is both the start-point and the endpoint of the reports of other companies.
I am not aware of anyone trying to track a product through all the sustainability reports of the companies involved in producing it from raw materials to end-of-life — that could be an interesting exercise. However, suppliers are big enablers of any business, and their influence on the direct impacts of an organization may be quite significant.
Perhaps suppliers should have a bigger place in sustainability reports — strategic suppliers can contribute data, case studies and specialist perspectives — and may be grateful for the recognition their customers’ reporting offers them, thereby reinforcing the relationship with them. Once the report is published, reverting to suppliers, emphasizing the key messages, acknowledging their role and encouraging them to adopt sustainable practices in their own businesses is a critical step in maintaining the reporting momentum.
It’s so easy to criticize reports. It’s so easy to say that reports are full of irrelevant information. It’s so easy to dismiss reporting as some sort of activity that apparently everyone has been duped into doing for the wrong reasons and producing the wrong results. It’s much harder to stand up for reporting and talk about what it really is: a business process that adds value, engages people and empowers employees.
The folks that lead reporting in organizations have to address not only the hard work of reporting — and it is hard work — but they also have to overcome these notions that are bandied around saying reporting is worthless.
Reporting leaders in organizations should be celebrated. They have one of the hardest jobs around. Reporters play a critical role in helping organizations move forward sustainably and help shape the future of business. I have often said that reporting is a catalyst for performance, and great reporters know how to use the reporting process to drive change. Make sure the reporting leader in your organization gets the respect s/he deserves, has the resources s/he needs and gains the attention of management as and when needed. Ringfence your reporter and ensure s/he has enough ice cream to last through the entire reporting cycle.
Good luck to all companies starting reporting cycles about now. Let me know how you got on with this list!
Source: Triple Pundit
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