Sustainability Reporting: reaping the benefits of transparency

July 25, 2016

Globally and within Canada, we are faced with a multitude of challenges.

We face environmental issues such as climate change, fresh water, and biodiversity; social issues related to human rights, health and safety, and gender equality; and economic issues such as fair pay, meaningful employment, and bribery and corruption.

With a global population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, what is the role of organizations in ensuring that everyone will live well? How can organizations contribute to ensuring sustainable development?

The first way is through transparency. A sustainability report is a voluntary, public report published annually that gives readers information about an organization’s positive or negative impacts on the environment, society, and economy.

More specifically, publishing a sustainability report can create value in numerous ways. Some of the most widely recognized benefits include:

  • An improved reputation through greater transparency
  • Enhanced brand value
  • More meaningful customer relationships; and
  • A deeper sense of employee pride and loyalty

Research increasingly shows that people want to do business with, and work for, organizations that share their values and that promote corporate responsibility as part of organizational DNA.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has emerged as the de facto authority on sustainability reporting offering organizations with guidance on how to publish a sustainability report. 

Since 2000, the global number of sustainability reports has increased dramatically from 44 to over 4000. A steady increase in Canadian companies producing sustainability reports has also been observed, with over 120 Canadian companies now reporting. This has led to noticeable improvements in the comparability and quality of sustainability reporting over the last 15 years.

Quadra Chemicals: How sustainability reporting can bring about positive organizational change

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Quadra’s water treatment solutions

Quadra Chemicals is a Canadian chemical and ingredients distribution company based in Montreal Quebec. Quadra’s British Columbia facility is located in Delta, and serves the greater Vancouver area. In 2015, Quadra was a recipient of Canada’s Best Small and Medium Employers award.

Quadra published its first sustainability report in 2012 and gained valuable insights from undertaking the sustainability reporting process. To begin, Quadra carried out an assessment where the company examined sustainability issues according to their importance to Quadra’s key stakeholders and their importance to the company’s overall business success. This helped the company prioritize sustainability topics, and validated that issues such as health and safety, regulatory compliance, supply chain management, product stewardship, employee engagement, and green products were highly important to stakeholders.

The process also uncovered that waste was the company’s most important environmental issue. As a result, Quadra began shipping its food ingredient waste to a biogas producer, thereby diverting it from the landfill. But Quadra didn’t stop there – it amended its annual supplier questionnaire to include a sustainability section, implemented energy-saving measures at its facilities, and published a focused and concise sustainability report in accordance with the GRI guidelines. The process reaped several benefits including an enhanced reputation, deeper employee engagement, cost savings, and of course, a reduced negative impact on the environment overall.

Next steps for getting started

The sustainability reporting process begins in different ways for different organizations. Whether it’s a top-down initiative from senior management, or a grassroots initiative being driven by an enlightened team of employees, the first step is to get the conversation going. Identify ‘champions’ in key departments and begin to take stock of the organization’s activities and impacts. What surprises many organizations is the discovery of the many initiatives already in place or underway, but are perhaps not being viewed as related to ‘sustainability’.

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