Storage Informer
Storage Informer

Reporting In on Reporting Out

by on Jul.18, 2010, under Storage

Reporting In on Reporting Out

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Yes, I’m still here. And reeling from the gentle – and not-so-gentle – “dead blog alerts” coming my way. I concede I let myself be overwhelmed by all the activities and deadlines over the past six weeks or so and plead “occupational hazard”. 

 

H7215-coverOne of the more satisfying events recently was the publication of our newest Sustainability Report in June.  As with our 2008 report, this one is a substantial step forward from the previous year’s.  This is our fourth publication on the subject, though it’s the third – or arguably even the second – that can truly be called a “report”.

 

Our first attempt was a short brochure framed around a collection of largely unrelated good things we were doing – which is a fair description of the state of our program at the time. The second was organized around key priorities for the company, right around when we were kicking off the corporate sustainability program.

 

In 2009, our report evolved in several important ways.  The most obvious was the addition of concrete goals. Less obvious, perhaps, was that the contents were determined not necessarily by what we were good at, but what was most important. And it was our first report based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).  Mind you, I’m not claiming that GRI is the “be all and end all” of reporting, but it is an immensely useful framework for basic evaluation of your content, as well as a useful index.

 

In fact, this year we declared our report to be GRI-compliant (Application Level B, for the cognoscenti). We did that for our own purposes – to have a standard benchmark that we could use external guidance to help us achieve. (It wasn’t independent guidance; hence the “self-declared” application level. But it was very valuable help from a firm that’s consulted with other companies as well, and has high standards for meeting GRI requirements.)

 

But other improvements were far more important than the GRI level. Perhaps the most important is that the structure was actually designed for the web, and in fact was posted on our site before we published the pseudo-hardcopy (the posting of the .pdf, which I urge you to read on-line, since there are interesting linked references scattered throughout).   So instead of focusing on a linear story, we organized it to facilitate getting to the topic of interest. And then, in the spirit of Mark Twain, put in the extra effort to keep each section crisp and to the point.  More importantly, this will enable us to update the information on a much faster cadence (while maintaining the .pdf as an annual snapshot).

 

Other key developments included:

  • Expanding from actions (2008) to goals (2009) to results (2010), as represented by a scorecard.
  • Narrative that describes challenges as well as activities and successes (check out Supply Chain Emissions for a good example).
  • Clear identification of our priorities, and discussion of how our sustainability strategy relates to our business strategy (see Transformative IT).
  • Explanation of boundary and scope of the report, as we deal with ever-changing company boundaries.

Of course, long before this was published, our imaginations were well beyond what we could pull off this year.  While I’m very pleased with this report, there are several directions in which we could take it from here. Here are some of the things we’re thinking about, and I’d appreciate your thoughts:

  • Much better integration of social media. EMC has actually been a leader in social media in many other areas, and many companies are integrating social media directly into their on-line reporting as one means to collect stakeholder input. If you’re doing that, I’d be interested in how effective you find it (particularly if you’re primarily a B2B company, as we are).
  • More stakeholder feedback from pre-publication review of content.
  • Dynamic customization has been around for awhile – letting stakeholders build their own reports on the fly. It sounds like a great idea, but if the information is highly dynamic and all available on-line, I’m not sure how many people would make use of it.
  • Active content. There are some very sexy reports out there that really let the reader hone in on very particular data and see them in a way that is meaningful to the user. I admit to a little “eye candy envy”.
  • Delta reports. Given that Sustainability is largely about “long term thinking”, our story really won’t – and should not – change very often. I’m thinking that next year, the annual snapshot could just be a delta, with an updated scorecard. Would you feel cheated if we did that?
  • Integrated reports. Philosophically, I know this is where reporting has to go. If companies are to be accountable for environmental and social behavior, they need to report them with the same vigilance as for financial reporting. And if you believe, as we at EMC do, that these dimensions are deeply interdependent, then they need to be reported together. On the other hand… making the reporting interdependent will, in a purely practical sense, make coordination of input from two gazillions of people (instead of only one) that much tougher. Maybe the Annual & Sustainability Reports could be coincident in time, consistent in terminology, and continuous in story-line, but remain separate publications. Or maybe, when sustainability truly becomes ingrained in the corporate identity at all levels of a company, the separate sustainability report will simply become redundant. Or maybe cramming the reports together will serve as a forcing function and hasten the integration. My current thinking is to make them more consistent, but not worry for now about merging them. Feel free to argue.

We are all fond of pointing out that sustainability is a perpetual journey.   Most of the time, I’m thinking about what we should be doing next, and all too frequently,  I find myself overwhelmed. So forgive me if I take a few minutes to look back with some satisfaction on how far we’ve come.

And by the way – no discussion about our report is complete without pointing out that this report was the work of an amazing panoply of contributors, reviewers and producers; of one amazing woman (nope – not me!) who led the charge with patience, determination, and good humor; and of thousands of employees at EMC who are constantly working to raise the bar.

 

 

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