Monday, May 27, 2013

Re-post of a review by Clive Margolis of How to Account for Sustainability written by The Happiness Initiative's Laura Musikanski

Corporate sustainability blog

- Laura Musikanski
Reviewed by Clive Margolis

This little book is a very good introduction into the scope and content of sustainability reporting. What is sustainability in practice? The book attempts to answer this. It’s a quick way to educate yourself about sustainability and broadly what it entails. I learned a lot, in a format that was easy to assimilate.

Inside are contained some gems of information – if somewhat disturbing. For example that only 7.6% of top positions in Fortune 500 companies are held by women (women hold 4% of Fortune 500 CEO positions, according to I was also astounded that by some estimates a total of $250 billion in asbestos-related damages have been claimed.

There is a chapter on each of the six areas of sustainability as defined by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): environment, economy, society, products, human rights and labour practices. Each chapter is split into challenges, examples and opportunities. The challenges present a realistic scenario and ask the reader to come up with ways to deal with it. The ‘challenge’ is often the next step for the company in the frame. For example, in the Environment chapter the ‘company’ has achieved sustainability successes, but now has to deal with challenges from advocacy groups.

I particularly found the non-environmental chapters enlightening – perhaps because I am more aware of environmental issues than say, social issues, and can see the connections to sustainability more clearly. For example, what is the connection between corruption and sustainability? You have to think a bit.

But when it comes to the chapter on human rights, it is easier to see the connection between dangerous working conditions – perhaps the use of banned chemicals – and environmental degradation.

There is a cleverly-entitled conclusion: “you get what you measure”. The book concludes with a practical section on how you can begin to assess your business profile on the sustainability landscape, with helpful tables to guide you. It is the start of a self-assessment and measurement process.

But I was not wholly convinced by the claim that the book gives you “ideas how business practices can provide profitable solutions to sustainability challenges”. I only wish the business case for sustainability were that simple. The picture that does seem to be emerging is that startups may find it much easier to turn sustainability into profitability, and there are plenty of examples in the book.

In sustainability reporting what is missing is in many ways as important – or perhaps more important – as what is captured, as what is missing helps you identify where more work needs to be done.

This would be a good book for those starting to report on sustainability, or even to learn quite a lot about it

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