The pain and pleasure of sustainability reporting

Whew! Another EMC sustainability report out the door, much to our relief.

If you haven't produced a sustainability report, you should know that it's hard. Harder than you can imagine. And totally worth it.

You'd think it would get easier year after year. But I think I speak for everyone on my (extended) team when I say, "Not so." Yes, much of the content is about long term strategy and not only doesn't need to change year-over-year, but probably shouldn't be changing. (See, for example, Energy & Climate Change Strategy.) And no, we don't feel we need to completely re-design the layout every year either. So why doesn't it get easier?

I'm not sure I know all the reasons, but here are some of them:

  • We keep raising the bar. This is deliberate, but it means that there is more content -- new content plus content that is riskier and more exposed, requiring far more discussion and more approvals.
  • Our stakeholders' expectations keep rising.
  • We learn more every year — how sad if we didn't! — and so we have more to tell.
  • Our company keeps getting more complex through acquisitions, expansion and new offerings.
  • Future goals suddenly become present. We meet them — and need new ones. Or we don't — and need to understand (and explain) why.

Each year, more groups in the company realize the power of the sustainability report as a channel to tell their stories and get more engaged. This is a wonderful thing, and in fact is a better indicator of the progress of our journey than nearly anything actually in the report. But let's be honest: It is more work.

Let me tell you what this year's report took: 

  • More than 80(!) subject matter experts (SMEs) who provide data, submit to interviews, write and/or re-write narrative, review text, verify graphics, re-review text, re-re-review text, approve the final, approve the revised final, and copy-edit the layout. They provided input from supply chain, logistics, manufacturing, engineering, corporate quality, HR, Global Services, EMC University, IT, marketing, legal, government affairs, community involvement, EHS, facilities and real estate, the Global Security Office, the CTO's office, our COEs (Centers of Excellence), internal audit, investor relations, finance, virtually every business unit, our CEO — and, oh: the Office of Sustainability.

Next page: Reviewing the reviewers