What does corporate responsibility mean to a company? Is profitability the only key performance indicator (KPI) for its shareholders? And why should the community surrounding a business operation also be considered a stakeholder?
These were some of the questions raised during a recent corporate responsibility and sustainability course conducted in Singapore by certification and sustainability advisory firm DNV GL.
Lively interactions between participants and trainer Tracy Oates were a regular feature throughout the five-day course held at Singapore’s Furama City Centre in May. It is typically conducted twice a year.
With over 17 years of experience in sustainability consultancy across a range of sectors and countries, Oates shared her insights on how high profile organisations addressed sensitive issues to implement and gain buy-ins for their sustainability strategies.
Participants at the course - a diverse mix from private sector, NGOs and the media - exchanged ideas on how corporate responsibility should be managed. Questions from Oates steered the learning process and she also led the group through analysing sustainability reports.
Sustainability reporting has been on the rise across the globe in recent years as investors seek transparency about the economic, environmental and social impacts caused by a company’s daily activities.
In Singapore, for instance, the Singapore Exchange (SGX) has now made it compulsory for listed companies to publish sustainability reports from financial year 2017 onwards on a ‘comply or explain’ approach.
Oates said that this process should not just be viewed as an additional requirement or a “tick-box” exercise; making the company’s risks and opportunities transparent can also help the organisation promote its values and governance among its stakeholders.
Among the sustainability reports studied, participants could see how multinationals such as Rio Tinto, Nestle, Singapore Airlines, Vodafone, Novo-Nordisk and BP (British Petroleum) are using their sustainability reports to engage with various stakeholders and to define what issues are material to them.
Participants were also introduced to tools and standards from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a non-profit organisation whose sustainability reporting framework is the most widely used, in order to critique these sustainability reports.
Many of the discussions also focused on defining sustainable development, which largely refers to “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations”, and how it relates to business.
Besides case studies and exercises, the course, which was divided into modules, also included training on how to conduct sustainability assurance, which is independent verification of the information contained in a sustainabiltiy report.
Oates explained that external assurance or verification can provide both readers and internal managers with increased confidence in the quality of sustainability performance data, making it more likely that the data will be relied on and used for decision making.
Auditors from the assurance provider will look at the data in a report and write a published statement on the degree of confidence on various aspects of the information in the report.
Armed with all these information – and tools – to sieve through the nitty gritty of reports, participants were then put in the hot seat, taking on roles of managers in corporate responsibility or sustainability departments of a coal mining or telecommunications company.
At the end of the course, participants walked away with a deeper understanding of corporate responsibility.
Participant Sharmine Tan from the Singapore Environment Council said: “I used to think that corporate social responsibility is like employees going on outside-work activities like coast clean-ups.
“Now, I realise that corporate responsibilities involves tracking their performance in their social, environmental and finance performance.”