Earlier this month I was honored to give the keynote speech at the Austrian Sustainability Reporting Awards (ASRA). I spoke about the importance of reporting, the challenges of reporting and the dynamic world of reporting and current trends. I likened publishing a Sustainability Report to winning the World Cup.

Here's a section from my speech:

"We often think of reporting as such a tough process, fraught with so many complex issues – organizational issues, emotional issues, collaborative issues, time pressures, different opinions, checking, taking out, adding back in, debating, encouraging, proofing, begging, crying, laughing…. publishing your report is like winning the World Cup. In other words, it's an almost impossible task.

Photo:Worldcupbuzz.com
It's a long process which represents much more than the written, or online, report you have as a result, or the cup which the team holds when they win. It's an individual effort but it's also a team effort. It requires lots of preparation, and you never quite know that you are ready until you get out there on the field and start to run. Once your report is published, once the referee announces the winning team, you breathe a big sigh of relief and look forward to getting some sleep. Deep down, you know, however, that the end of one report is the beginning of the next. Winning one World Cup is the trigger for winning the next.

With reporting, though, we always seem to dwell on the difficult aspects. We rarely think about reporting in positive terms. Working towards winning the World Cup has many benefits along the way. Everyone – the team and the individuals in it enhance their performance, learn new things, and achieve higher levels of dialogue, teamwork and effectiveness. Even if they don't win the World Cup, each team has gained through participation in the process. One of my favorite experiences when I am writing sustainability reports for clients is when, during the reporting process, people say to me: "We didn’t know that about our company!". Sustainability reporting is a journey of discovery and empowerment, not just a dreaded task that we must complete. With the World Cup, no-one ever asks – Why are we doing this? No-one says: Why on earth should we compete?

 And yet, with sustainability reporting, there is always someone who asks the inevitable question:

 

Who reads Sustainability Reports?
 
My answer, which you know by now, is: reports aren't meant to be read, they are meant to be used.
 
They achieve at least 50% of their value before they are ever published, because of the internal engagement that is required to develop the content for such a report. You cannot deliver a sustainability report without having conversations, or without asking questions. These interchanges are what make your reporting valuable. The more you dialogue, the better your sustainability performance and internal accountability will become, and the more compelling your report will be. Despite the fact that everyone bemoans the fact that no-one reads reports, more and more companies are reporting.
 
In Austria, there are around 100 companies which have produced Sustainability Reports over the years, but less than 15 which have been reporting consistently every year for the past three years. As Austria is one of the richest countries in the world, this means that a lot of wealth is being created through business, and Austrian stakeholders should have an interest in how it's being created and where it's all going. This is a good time to ask those questions, with probably EU legislation on the horizon, as well as several other fascinating developments in the world of reporting.

All of this is why the hard work of the Chamber of Public Accountants in Vienna, in collaboration with several other organizations, including respACT, the Austrian Business Council for Sustainable Development, an organization doing fabulous work to promote CSR in Austria, is so important. Through the annual ASRA awards, greater awareness for transparency in business and voluntary reporting is advanced. ASRA is an important tool in driving this market forward. Kudos to the winners, who were:

Large Enterprises:

Palfinger : GRI-checked A+ Report, 105 pages. Palfinger is a large group, with 47 companies in 23 countries and 5,600 employees. They make industrial cranes and forklifts (lifting, loading and handling solutions). This report is their fifth. Four-year comparative data is presented and Palfinger has more than halved CO2 emissions per ton of product in the past two years.

Verbund : GRI A+ Report, 96 pages. Verbund is Austria’s leading utility and one of the largest producers of hydroelectricity in Europe, operating 123 hydropower plants in Austria and Germany and employing over 3,000 people. Verbund generates around 40% of Austria's total electricity output. Verbund has been producing reports since 1997. This is an interesting report with much local color and context.

OeKB : GRI A+ Report, 85 pages. Oesterreichische Kontrollbank Aktiengesellschaft is Austria's main provider of financial and information services to the export industry and the capital market, employing 400 people. This report contains a specific response by OeKB to the first 27 Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

SME's

Austria Glass Recycling (AGR) : GRI A+ Report, 55 pages. AGR has 9 employees and organizes the collecting and recycling of used glass packaging throughout Austria. AGR is a non-profit company. In 2010, AGR collected 227,000 tons of glass waste of which 85% was routed for recycling.  This is an informative report with much information about the state of glass recycling in Austria.

Voeslauer:  GRI B+ Report, 40 pages. Founded in 1935 with 170 employees, Voeslauer has sales of around EUR88 million and produces natural mineral water. This is the first time the Voeslauer report follows the GRI guidelines.

Kaerntnermilch : GRI A Report, 50 pages. Kaertner, founded in 1928, employs 169 people, supplying milk and white and yellow cheeses, working with over 1,600 supply farmers in the Austrian region. This is the company's second report.

Integrated Reports

VBV Vorsorgekasse AG : GRI-checked A+ Report, 76 pages. This is the sixth integrated report from the Vorseogekasse, founded in 2002, which employs 32 employees, administering provident funds. The report contains a detailed stakeholder dialogue reported in the form of an interview with a stakeholder panel.

oekostrom AG: GRI A Report, 63 pages. oekostrom has 28 employees and is involved in the supply of energy production and trade as an Austrian investment company owned by approximately 2,000 shareholders. The company was founded in 1999 with the aim of building a sustainable energy future, to supply customers across Austria with "green" energy and the expansion of renewable energy sources in Austria. The report contains some great shots of oekostrom employees who are obviously having fun being green!

EVN AG : GRI A+ Report, 185 pages. EVN has 8,250 employees, of which 2,500 are in Austria. EVN is an energy and environmental services company, offering electricity, gas, heat, water, waste incineration and related services to more than one million customers in Austria and with additional operations in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Albania, Germany and Croatia, serving more than 3.7 million customers in total. The report is entirely online with chapter downloads.

(In addition to these nine corporate reports, the Vienna University of Agricultural Sciences won the public agency reporting category with an impressive report which you can see here. At GRI level A+ and 164 pages, this is a highly detailed report which even contains sections for kids!) 

Interestingly, all winning reports are GRI based, all but one at Application Level A. As with many markets, the line-up includes a predominance of energy companies (30%) and financial services (20%), with other sectors in ecological services, food and beverage and industrial equipment.

These are the companies that are leading the way in the Austrian reporting scene. I hope the fabulous attendance at the ASRA awards ceremony is indicative of an intention by more Austrian companies to take the plunge and report in 2013.
 
I would like to thank respACT, the Austrian Business Council for Sustainable Development for inviting me to speak at ASRA (and also run a workshop about the implications of G4 reporting for members of the Austrian network on the previous day). It was a pleasure for me to take part in such positive events, meet some fabulous people and, as always, learn something new.


See the summary report of the ASRA Awards Ceremony in German here.