The International Co-operative Alliance has published a manual to help co-operatives report on sustainability.
Sustainability Reporting for Co-operatives: A Guidebook has been prepared by the Sustainability Solutions Group. It explores the different types of reporting frameworks used by co-ops globally, the process of developing a chosen framework and how a co-op can then communicate results to members and interested stakeholders.
“The Co-operative Values and Principles codify a particular concept of community wealth and prosperity – one that has recognised economic, social, and environmental criteria in symbiosis long before the coining of ‘the triple-bottom-line’,” reads the guidebook.
“It is a story that needs to be told and sustainability reporting can contribute to telling that story.”
Sustainability reporting is increasingly a default aspect of management for large corporations, and is widely viewed as inherent to being a “responsible business”.
But the report finds that, while some co-operatives have led in the development and deployment of sustainability reporting, the largest co-operatives lag behind conventional companies.
Sustainability reporting in the largest 300 co-ops increased from one report in 2001 to 22 in 2010 but dropped drastically in the last two years – and of these, only 5% commissioned external validation.
“In contrast, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability reporting framework has been adopted extensively by conventional business,” says the report, “with 82% of the top 250 companies of the Fortune 500 Index reporting.”
However, it adds that in some cases co-operatives have helped lead the development of sustainability frameworks or standards. Vancity financial co-operative in Canada has helped pioneer ‘integrated reporting’, and Co-operatives UK has prepared a set of financial and non-financial indicators specifically applicable to co-operatives while drawing on the principles and foundations of GRI.
As well as GRI, the guidebook provides an overview and analysis of a further nine frameworks that can be used by co-operatives, detailing how they could be used by a co-op, whether or not it has previously been used by co-ops, and assessing external costs – and compares them in terms of scale, scope, and target audience, among others.
“A meaningful definition of sustainable development is then a paradigm with the goal of improving the quality of life for people while recognising physical limits of the ecosystem, as well as cultural and societal limits in a framework of development,” says the report.
“This definition is compatible with the objectives of many co-operatives.”
It adds that while indicators are at the heart of most sustainability reporting frameworks, as best practice, co-operatives “should adopt a series of indicators that specifically address the Co-operative Principles and the Sustainable Development Goals”.
The process of developing a sustainability framework:
Step 1: Establish a steering committee with a diverse set of representatives from the co-operative and the broader community
Step 2: Identify stakeholders
Step 3: Identify material issues that are relevant to stakeholders
Step 4: Review existing frameworks
Step 5: Work with the steering committee to identify and propose the most appropriate sustainability framework
Step 6: Identify relevant indicators and clarify metrics
Step 7: Establish a data collection protocol and start collecting data
Step 8: Reflect on the results with the steering committee
Step 9: Prepare a report – a visually compelling synopsis of the results that could potentially use online interactive platforms
Step 10: Validate the results to provide additional level of assurance to stakeholders (eg internal audit of a third party audit)
Step 11: Identify targets for the indicators
Step 12: Develop a strategy to advance sustainability efforts.