Greener Horizons Toronto: Building credibility with third party certification

Credibility is becoming an increasingly important issue in the sustainability space. Several global institutions are finding a receptive audience when it comes to expansive climate commitments, but the expertise and organizational resources required to meet them can seem daunting. How can businesses recognize new standards of global sustainability leadership without creating a credibility gap for their own CSR programs?

Bullfrog Power, Canada’s leading green energy provider, brought together a panel of business
leaders to discuss the business case for verifiable sustainability targeting. The panel was moderated by Megan Leslie, President & CEO, WWF Canada, and included:

Introduction: A sense of purpose
Megan Leslie, WWF Canada

Leslie sees the need for companies and institutions to tackle the issue of low public trust in business and government. “Society is increasingly turning to the private sector to see action taken in response to societal changes,” she says, adding that stakeholders are also measuring a company’s positive contribution to society in addition to its financial performance.

“There is no greater purpose than to respond to the issue of climate change,” Leslie concludes, “and without a sense of purpose, no company can truly succeed.”

The power of third-party validation
John Coyne, Unilever Canada

When large corporations such as Unilever strive to meet sustainability goals (such as those outlined in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan), Coyne stresses the importance of third-party validation in reconciling internal sustainability targets with realistic progress, as well as legitimizing these targets in the eyes of stakeholders both inside and outside the organization.

“Sophisticated measurement systems help us tell the world that not only do we aspire to achieve our sustainability targets, but that we are willing to be held publicly accountable,” Coyne says. “Our communications are much more important and genuine if people outside the enterprise are affirming our progress.”

From product numbers to stories
Marcelo Lu, BASF Canada

BASF Canada, which produces chemical-based solutions for customers around the world, encountered the challenge of telling its sustainability story through its products.

“Before, we used to sell our products as article numbers,” says Lu. “Now, we tell environmental stories through our products, which are used to reduce water consumption, burn fuel more efficiently and reduce emissions in cars. The more you tell these stories, the more our customers understand the sustainability contribution of our products. They’re able to say, ‘This is something good that we’re doing.’”

Lu also emphasized the need to build environmental trust as a B2B-focused company in the chemistry segment. “It’s our license to operate,” he concludes.

The value of tangible targets
Cindy Chao, Deloitte LLP

For Deloitte’s Sustainability and Climate Change practice, which offers strategic advisory and auditing services to support the sustainability aspirations of major Canadian corporations, setting tangible sustainability targets means the difference between an abstract goal and realistic progress. “Five years ago, announcing a ‘blue sky’ sustainability target resulted in positive media coverage and reputational benefits for a company, but there was limited data to back it up or track its progress,” Chao explains. “Now, there is increased focus on the relevance of the targets to the sector’s major impacts, the data backing up targets, as well as linkage of carbon reduction targets to science-based methodologies.”

Because rating agency and sustainability index methodologies are continually evolving to become more performance-focused and new certifications are constantly being introduced, Chao explained the need to clearly communicate these shifting expectations with internal stakeholders. “Re-engaging and educating upper management on evolving sustainability performance expectations is a constant process,” she says.


Overcoming the barriers to disclosure

During the discussion of data-driven sustainability measurement, one particular challenge was raised: with the ever-increasing number of reporting mechanisms, how can companies continue to report and disclose data and targets in a meaningful way without succumbing to reporting fatigue?

John Coyne:

“It’s up to larger corporations to institutionalize these targets in an accessible manner that applies to a broader range of businesses. This challenge of communicating sustainability goes far beyond any of our businesses, but it is up to us to adopt a more assertive posture and bring our expertise to a wider area.”

Marcelo Lu:

“As disclosure methodologies evolve and new standards are introduced, we run the risk of eroding the trust our work has garnered. We need to transition to a common denominator so that not only all of us are speaking the same language, but that we also make our work more accessible to the laymen. One of our current solutions is to assess our work according to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Cindy Chao:

“As sustainability disclosure expectations and guidance evolve, so must our methods of communicating sustainability performance. We need to make our sustainability reporting more accessible to different stakeholder groups. We used to publish sustainability reports in the hundreds of pages to ensure our clients were disclosing against every Global Reporting Initiative indicator, but the focus is now more on stakeholder and context-driven communication. Now, some of our clients create brief stories and publications to engage with clients and customers. The underlying quantitative data is maintained on a different part of a company’s sustainability website for investment analysts.”