The core of IPIECA’s mission and practical agenda is the development of the sector as a social and environmentally responsible player. IPIECA’s most recent publication a couple of months ago was the Third Edition of Sustainability Reporting Guidance for the Oil and Gas Industry to help companies report across the industry’s most common sustainability issues in a consistent way and in line with shared stakeholder expectations.
The IPIECA approach makes for a simple and straightforward content index – see this one in Chevron’s 2014 report – it is somewhat less cumbersome than a full GRI Content Index as the sub-indicators – the different reporting elements – are not identified in the index.
In our workshop day, we discussed three aspects of reporting that are always fascinating:
- planning the reporting process
- defining and reporting materiality
- reporting climate change
9: Additional resources: You don’t have to cram everything into your report. In some cases, supplementary content can be added as an appendix or a web-page. Not everything needs to be upfront narrative.
8: Less is more: (ha ha, no further comment)
7: Tighten the timeline: In the oil and gas industry, companies are very large and complex and global data collection takes the time that it takes. Often this, together with other reporting considerations, can drag out the reporting timeline across several months – in a survey of IPIECA member companies before the workshop, we discovered that the average reporting cycle was more than 8 months. If you are reporting annually, this doesn’t leave too much time to go to the beach. I am pretty clear on this. Any report that takes more than 6 months to prepare from concept to publication is taking too long. And that’s generous. While there are often practical considerations that delay the publication of the report, the more you can compact the timeline, the more time you have for making progress rather than making reporting.
6: Give up the search for the perfect formula: This is so true. In preparation for my work with the sector, I reviewed 15 Oil and Gas Sustainability Reports from 2014. Despite the fact that all these companies are in the same industry, the reports all have their individual character, style, tone and content focus. Each company is at a different stage of development along the sustainability journey. So, while I was able to share insights on the different ways of defining, prioritizing and presenting material issues, and participants took away new ideas, one size does not fit all and there is absolutely no perfect reporting formula for all organizations, only one for each organization.
5: Balance the broad and the narrow: It’s important to find a middle ground between reporting at a broad level about complex issues versus increasing the resolution to report at a more granular level on specific issues. How do you represent that your overall carbon footprint reduction is made up of a thousand small actions and impacts, and which of those, if any, are worth highlighting? This is something worth thinking about as you plan your report process and content.
4: Get the design right: Everyone would agree that content precedes design. If you don’t have relevant content, even the best of designers will fail to make your report credible. Yet, getting the design right for your corporate culture and sustainability content can make the report come alive in ways that words alone cannot. Careful use of infographics, any photography other than stock photography and controlled use of colors, fonts and styles will only improve the appeal and readability of your report.
3: Stakeholders were not all born equal: Don’t let individual stakeholder groups dominate your content and do map and prioritize your stakeholders in advance and decide what you need from them and how you will represent their voices in your report. Giving stakeholders a voice – letting them tell your story – is often a proven route to credibility.
2: Link materiality to metrics: How many reports, especially with the fuller adoption of G4, now include a materiality matrix or list of material impacts. Yes, most or all. How many create a clear linkage (I call this the “materiality audit trail”) between what’s stated as material and all the rest of the report content – performance indicators, case studies, policy narrative etc? Oops. Rather few. So often, there is a gaping dissonance between what the report says it should be about and what it actually includes. But getting this alignment is not enough. The report user should be able to easily and quickly find the link between material impact and reporting content about that impact. I generally apply the “ten-minute rule” – if I can’t find something after ten minutes of trying, for me, it doesn’t exist. We have to make the link between materiality, content and metrics both available and quick to locate.
1: Have confidence: It’s tempting to get derailed in reporting – there are so many frameworks, guidelines and complex rules and requirements that you can spend forever questioning yourself on the right way to go and the best way to pull it all together. But this can lead to a spiral of indecision that can delay the report process and dilute the content. Often the best way is simply to make your selection of how to frame and develop your report, and then have confidence in your approach and make it happen. No-one knows what you might have done. Everyone sees what you do. Best feel good about it and present it with pride. There are no bad Sustainability Reports. There are only Sustainability Reports that can help us improve our sustainability performance and disclosure. Each report is a learning platform, but it’s also an achievement to be proud of.
And one more insight from me:
Even though we didn’t have ice cream throughout this day-long meeting :-), it was one of the best sustainability days I have had in a while: a dialogue with like-minded professionals who are eager to do their honest best for their company, society and planet. I didn’t even miss the ice cream!