It's reporting season again and, as a reader interested in corporate social responsibility (CSR), you have no doubt seen many press releases announcing various companies' latest CSR reports. Let's face it: issuing a CSR report is not really news any longer. In fact, as of May 24, 2013, CorporateRegister.com was tracking 48,152 reports across 9,937 companies.
It wasn't always this way. When AMD started CSR reporting in 1995 (I'll save you the math -- that was 18 years ago!), there were very few companies voluntarily disclosing this kind of information. Now it seems that transparency around environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is an essential part of business. And, as more and more companies report ESG information, these disclosures have become (more or less) standardized. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), whose mission is to "to make sustainability reporting standard practice..." just issued the fourth iteration of their reporting guidelines. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) is working towards integrating ESG information along with financial disclosures. And the Global Initiative for Sustainability Ratings (GISR) is working toward "a future in which [sustainability] ratings...drive markets toward sustainable outcome."
So, as CSR reports become the new normal, what lessons can reporting veterans like AMD share? In other words, what has a company with 18 years of CSR reporting experience learned along the way?
- Less is more: When AMD issued its first report in 1995, it was a short booklet focused entirely on environmental issues. As the scope of CSR issues expanded so did our report. Today our newly released 2012/2013 "full report" weighs in at over 110 pages. You don't have to be a communications genius to know that this format will turn off most of audiences. Since we want people to actually read our content, we now issue a short summary of our CSR performance in addition to the full report. AMD's CSR summary is available as a 24 page magazine or a (paper-free) tablet application for iOS and Android devices.
- It can be like filing your taxes: While the summary is an effective communications vehicle for most of our audiences, we still need to report on the full scope of CSR issues as defined by the GRI for the analysts that follow our company. So, like filing taxes, each year we work hard to address each of the key performance indicators and, for the last two years, have achieved a self-reported GRI grade "A". (see AMD's full CSR report)
- The report is not a substitute for dialogue and communication: It's tempting each year to go into hibernation after issuing our CSR report. Producing it is a huge amount of work and, after working on it for months, candidly...we need a break. But in the world of instantaneous information, a static report based on last year's performance doesn't cut it. To ensure we have ongoing and fresh dialogue on CSR, AMD also issues an update newsletter twice per year, posts frequent blogs, hosts meetings with our stakeholders and employees, and posts near constant tweets! (follow @TimMohinAMD)
- You still have to respond to surveys: The CSR report and all the other forms of communication mentioned above are still not sufficient. Soon after the report is finalized, we start filling out in-depth questionnaires for the various CSR and sustainability ratings and rankings. As an example, the Dow Jones Sustainability Index relies on a survey that is now 96 pages long.
- Reporting drives performance: Each year we learn this lesson again: while reporting may seem like a surface level activity, it actually drives results. Just by asking each department within our company for CSR data, we find that many of them respond by developing new programs and processes that advance AMD's performance. I saved this point for last because, in my opinion, it is the most impactful benefit of reporting. A few years ago, I wrote about this aspect of CSR reporting in a blog post titled "Is Your CSR Report a Window or a Mirror?" -- The post shined a light on how CSR reports can, and do, drive improved performance -- ultimately, this is what matters most.
Tim Mohin is Director of Corporate Responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and the author of the book, Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations (Greenleaf and Berrett-Kohler). His postings and comments made in his book are his own opinions and may not represent AMD's positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third-party sites, and references to third-party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third-party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied. Follow Tim @TimMohinAMD and check out AMD's latest Corporate Responsibility Report - the summary is available as a tablet app.