By Hayes Knight – 17 March 2011

Recent worldwide events have the doomsayers up in arms, parading around the apocalypse or end of the world as we know it. Whether or not you prescribe to this belief, there is no disputing that the world is facing some pretty serious challenges at the moment – be it earthquakes and mining disasters in NZ, floods in Queensland, the triple disaster in Japan or the horrendous revolutions and political uprisings in the Middle East and Northern Africa – these are difficult times and the overall impact is almost impossible to measure.

For me, this has meant a renewed enthusiasm and more importantly a focus on sustainability and in particular what I can do to make a very small difference.

‘Corporate social responsibility’, ‘sustainability reporting’ and ‘the triple bottom line’ are all phrases which have become commonplace both in the media and professional publications, so when our year end rolled around for 2011 I was quite excited about the fact that Hayes Knight had made the commitment to prepare our first ever sustainability report.

In spite of the old accountant stereotype, and the misconception that our focus begins and ends with the numbers, the prospect of being able to construct a more diverse picture of our achievements for the year was one of our key drivers in making the leap into sustainability reporting. The move allows us to align our own annual reporting with our client service delivery and promise to always go “beyond the numbers”. We have built the structure of our report based on our own Six Capitals model which considers the key dimensions of Environmental, Social, Human, Economic, Infrastructure and Financial Reporting, with a focus on the areas we believe are most fundamental to our organisation.

Covering environmental initiatives, sponsorship and employee benefits through to changes in the business and governance structure of the company we were able to build a holistic view of our operational results for the year, as well as steps towards achieving our big picture goals. 

Launching into this new way of reporting, which is fundamentally different to what we are used to historically required some serious thought. We wanted to make sure the information we were reporting on met the same requirements as our traditional financial reporting. That is, the data included is useful, timely, meaningful and relevant. The report is balanced between financial and non-financial data reported, narratively, numerically and through graphical representation. 

For any organisation looking to implement some kind of ‘triple bottom line’ reporting the first and most important step is to consider the scope of your report and the purposes you hope to achieve. Identifying the users of the report (from customers and employees, through to shareholders and other key stakeholders) will be the first factor to consider when setting out the measures you want to report on and how your progress can be tracked. Building a structure which links the report to your vision, mission and organisational objectives is also fundamental to creating a meaningful and useful document. 

Our 2011 sustainability report serves as a baseline for future improvements, with the expectation that each year we will build on the initial structure with new initiatives and changes. As well as recording our historical achievements we have commented on the coming year and our goals and expectations. By committing our objectives for 2012 to paper we can increase our accountability and ensure that new projects don’t slip through the cracks or get forgotten about. 

I see our sustainability reporting as a journey rather than a destination, and expect that we will adapt and develop the report over time as sustainability becomes more ingrained in what we do, and as the landscape in which our business operates changes. Through this, our aim is to achieve a comprehensive and complete reporting structure that truly represents our achievements and progress.

It is all too easy to simply continue with what we have done in the past, however in an ever changing business world we must constantly challenge the status quo, and ensure we remain maintain agile and innovative. While historically we have been content to report on what can be measured and specifically that to which a dollar value can be attached it is now time to embrace a complete reporting mechanism that will truly represent business value and success.

Will our new reporting save the world? Definitely not, but at least we are measuring our impact and able to set goals on the little things we can do which collectively make a big difference.