How are you promoting <IR>? WBCSD insights

26 October, 2015

An interview with Rodney Irwin, Managing Director of Redefining Value and Education, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).

Why does your organization support <IR>? 

WBCSD has been a supporter of Integrated Reporting since 2012. Peter Bakker, the WBCSD President and CEO has been on the Board since 2012 and I joined the working group back in 2013 and managed a number of business focused consultations in Brazil, India, Japan and USA and in many locations in Europe during the public consultation period involving many of our members, non-members and global network partners. In total we solicited input back from 129 businesses.

The Framework was launched in December 2013 and shortly after the WBCSD launched Redefining Value (RV) in early 2014. RV is a long term project focused on WBCSD’s Vision 2050 which envisages a world where a company reports its true profits and costs and investment decisions are made after an assessment of its true value. Integrated thinking is therefore central to RV as getting to our vision requires major changes in the way a company operates and is viewed.

At a more concrete level we published a study on Lessons Learnt from Integrated Reporting in South Africa in 2014 and we have developed a day long training course that we have delivered to interested parties. We also have conducted research into value creation, we are developing tools to help business to measure their impacts and dependencies with their operating environments which will support the <IR> journey.  We are working on a paper on assurance and have worked with IIRC and other partners in this.

Going forward we remain committed to raising awareness of <IR> and supporting our members on their <IR> journeys. I am personally excited to be part of the Council and to contributing in a more tangible way going forward.

Why should your members get behind <IR>? 

Businesses set strategies and manage them based on information flows that lead to decision making. However, decisions made without full or complete information leads to sub-optimal or inefficient activities that could lead to unexpected outcomes.  Integrated Reporting and the journey it brings a company on is an enlightening process for a business.

Ignoring the external reporting part for a second, <IR> within a company if embraced and executed within the spirit of the Framework, will add significant insights and support the decision making process which could lead to new strategic opportunities and new sources of value creation whilst also helping risk management and mitigation. Going the step further and developing an integrated report in accordance with or in the spirit of the Framework should lead to more informed discussions with investors, other providers of capital and other stakeholders.  The WBCSD 2014 publication on Lessons Learnt from South Africa could be of help to businesses on or starting their <IR> journey.

Regulation from governments and stock exchanges is another factor that encourages our members and business in general to adopt a more integrated approach. The EU Directive on disclosure of non-financial and diversity information adopted in September 2014 is a good example of regulation that will rally our members behind <IR>.

What campaign or approach has given you the best response? And what tip(s) would you give to other organizations?

Two spring to mind.  The first is the WBCSD’s publication, Reporting Matters.  We started this in 2013 in partnership with Radley Yelder and we have been very pleased with the way it has been received and embraced by many of our members. Reporting Matters is focused on the effectiveness of reporting by reviewing our members reporting against 18 interrelated criteria and we have seen that effectiveness has improved year on year. We have observed more focused reporting on material issues, more concise reporting and increase in the speed reports are issued for example. Sharing good practice on integrating thinking and reporting helps companies further integrate sustainability into their business model(s) while sharing of experience can help companies get more insight into the benefits associated from adopting <IR>.

The second relates to the impact that education and awareness can have. In 2000 WBCSD started a leadership program to prepare next generation leaders for the challenges of sustainable development. In 2013 we decided to run a program targeting the finance community. We did the same in 2014 and I have been pleasantly surprised and encouraged by how a balanced approach of academic and experiential learning can have a profound effect on previously skeptical or unaware staff and the impact they can have on bringing finance skills to their company’s sustainability efforts.

Tips I would offer to other organizations are in the context of <IR>, 1) focus on what is important but be open to changing priorities, 2) learn from others and ask questions of those who have gone before, 3) get others within  your company involved.  In particular, get your accounting and finance function engaged early, leverage the experience your <IR> department brings.