Shell backs substantive approach to CSR

Adrift in the ocean of CSR information, I stumbled across Ethike recently (forgive the mixed metaphor -walking on water?...

January 13, 2005

Adrift in the ocean of CSR information, I stumbled across Ethike recently (forgive the mixed metaphor -walking on water? I think not!). It’s a great source of well edited, interesting developments, capturing only the interesting bits of CSR, not the waffle.

It’s not all good, however, as its appallingly organised.

A gem within the site, for me is a candid interview s between John Elkington of Sustainability, and the new CEO of Shell. It contains the following exchange:

‘JE: Shell has been a leading reporter for years, but other companies are making rapid gains. What do you make of the competition?

‘JvdV: Sustainability reporting is still in its infancy. We published only our seventh Shell Report last year. Our annual reporting meanwhile is now in its ninetieth year. So naturally sustainability reporting is still changing fast. I’m particularly pleased to see more substantive performance information coming into reports that in the past were mainly anecdotal — and welcome more use of the GRI. In that sense, I’ve never been particularly competitive when it comes to reporting. Our aim has always been to report transparently and honestly on the issues of most concern to our stakeholders, not to win a race.

‘On the negative side, most reports are far too long — and more or less unreadable for anyone but specialists. There is still too much ‘cherry picking’. Even amongst other reporting leaders, I still see too little willingness to talk about failures and too little input from credible, and sometimes critical, third parties. The whole area of information quality, including internal controls to make sure the data provided is reliable, is another area where further work is needed.

‘In short, it is time to pull sustainability reports out of the hands of PR departments and align them more closely with Annual Reports.’

Well, personally, I don’t think it matter who produces the report. What matters is that their motivation and integrity reflect a desire for dialogue, for transparency, and for accountability -not spin.

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