Being a sustainability professional, I worked with ‘like-minded’ people during the largest part of my career. I never needed to convince my co-workers on the importance of issues such as climate change and respect for human rights. They were already ‘converted’, so to say. When I worked with clients, I usually worked with the same type of people – think Corporate Responsibility Directors, Chief Sustainability Officers, CSR Managers, and so forth. It was easy – we spoke each other’s language and understood each other’s concerns. We could talk about the most recent NGO report on water pollution and how to respond to that in small meeting rooms. It was almost cozy. Now, the tide has changed.
As many of you know, Integrated Reporting is here to stay. It’s been buzzing around sustainability advisors for years, and now, we see our clients embrace it. We applaud them for that, as it is exactly what we preached for so long: taking sustainability to the heart of the company and integrating it in the core of the business. This is an exciting, very positive development, but very challenging at the same time: it requires a new set of skills and a different ‘language’ I needed to learn. I had to move away from being a content expert in sustainabiity issues to a facilitator of integration processes.
Integrated Reporting means more than reporting. It means integrated thinking and integrated managing. It means that departments, business areas and business units throughout a company have the same perception of value creation and prevention of value destruction. It also means that they have to talk to each other – continuously – about their impacts on society at large, an impact they jointly need to manage. And as a final step, it means they have to report on it. There is a great number of companies nowadays that have gone through this journey. Some talk about blood, sweat and tears, and some found it surprisingly smooth. Many used the IR framework of the IIRC as guideline, and some have been more successful than others in that. Some excellent recent studies on the adaptation of the IR framework where launched by IIRC recently, which I find are worthwhile reading.
Coming back to my journey as sustainability professional, what have I learned in the past few years? Well, I learned that sometimes, we need to look ‘inside the box’ – i.e. carefully and continuously work on making sure a company creates value – instead of leaping from issue to issue because stakeholders are calling for action all the time. I learned how to talk about these issues on C-suite level, but at the same time, not losing my activist heart – helping my clients balance the same thin line.
I am glad to announce that we are organizing three trainings on Integrated Reporting this spring – two in Stockholm, and one in Amsterdam. As Training Foundation Partners to the IIRC, we believe that the IR framework is a useful tool for companies that want to make the journey and adopt integrated thinking and management. I hope many of you will join.