[Editor's note: Janet Voute, vice president and global head of public affairs at Nestle, writes here about the experience of issuing the first ever food-and-beverage global sustainability report to meet the Global Reporting Initiative's A+ requirements, including why the food giant decided to increase its transparency, what it took and some of the benefits that came our of the effort. To read about other companies that have gained advantages by collecting more data for corporate reporting, check out "Turning compliance into innovation and profit," "Are businesses missing out on a sustainability goldmine?" and "How Danone is pushing carbon further down its ingredients list."]
This month, Nestle has achieved a significant step toward greater transparency: We've met the A+ requirements from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) for our annual report on Creating Shared Value.
We know that other food companies have met A+ requirements for reports in certain regions, but we are the first to reach this level for a global report. It was a huge challenge, but we believe it has been worth the effort.
As you may know, the GRI has three reporting levels -- A, B and C -- aimed at encouraging companies and organizations to enhance the quality and transparency of their reporting over time. A "plus" means that reports that have been verified by an independent third party.
Why did we go for an A+? We strive for continuous improvement at Nestlé and this includes reporting on our activities to the most complete standard possible. We had already been reporting at the GRI B+ level for two years, so attempting A+ was the logical next step.
In aiming for A+, we had to provide new data on a number of criteria, such as human rights, diversity and gender, climate change, biodiversity and corruption, which have been published in our CSV report.
Of course, this wasn't easy. Putting the appropriate data collection systems and processes in place properly -- on a global level -- took enormous time and effort. It was a complex process that required timely and effective input from across the business, and we're still working on it.
For some criteria, our reporting is not complete. In other words, we are not yet able to provide specific figures or a fully-fledged policy relating to a particular issue. But this doesn't mean we are not working hard to do so. We plan to add even more data each year, meaning that you will be able to benchmark how we are doing in the above-mentioned areas and others.
To reach A+, we have had to set concrete action plans in certain areas, with time-bound goals. The process of reporting at this level has helped us to set ourselves even higher standards.
Collecting and reporting additional data has yielded some benefits: It has allowed us to analyze our activities in a very methodical way.
It also has helped us gain a deeper understanding of some of the issues people would like to see us report on. We see this effort as a broader part of our engagement with stakeholders.
Creating Shared Value
And that fits in with our ideal of "creating shared value" at Nestlé. For a business to be successful over the long term, we believe it must create value for society as well as for its shareholders. So we see CSV as central to what we do.
This video, from the consulting firm run by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer, the two "architects" of CSV, neatly encapsulates what it's all about.
At Nestlé we've embedded CSV in our core business strategies. But most importantly, we incorporate it into all of our business around the globe.
Some examples? We're training the farmers who supply us in order to help them become more productive and to make their communities sustainable. In more than 60 countries, our Healthy Kids programs teach basic nutrition and promote physical activity. We're producing affordable micronutrient fortified products for markets where there's a need for them. Throughout the world, reducing the amount of water we use, even as we make more products.
We will never satisfy all our critics, but I hope meeting the requirements for GRI A+ shows that we take seriously our responsibility to create shared value and conduct our business in a sustainable way.
Our report gives you the information you need to measure us against that standard. The work on preparation for next year's CSV report is already underway and we're already looking at how we can make our reporting even better.
Trophy photo via Shutterstock.