Creating a Sustainability Report – lessons from Hanken School of Economics

HankenAt the 2013 PRME Summit – 5th Annual Assembly in Bled Slovenia, a number of schools were recognised for their Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) Reports. Produced by schools on a regular basis, SIP reports outline a school’s approach and activities related to responsible management education. Hanken School of Economics was one of the schools recognised at the Summit, because its report had a clear and coherent structure, readability, and detailed the evolution of their activities, along with the school’s future goals and plans.

As many schools have experienced, putting together a report that brings together all of a school’s activities around responsible management education is a challenging, yet rewarding experience. I recently had the chance to speak with Nikodemus Solitander and Martin Fougere at Hanken about their experiences and lessons learnt around putting together a solid report.

How did you go about putting together the report?
From the beginning, we had a clear three-fold aim with establishing a SIP reporting praxis at Hanken: (1) Approach the task the same way we would a research project. This means that, on the one hand, we draw on the critical research the two of us have conducted on Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and UN Global Compact reports, and on the other hand,  we do not outsource the collection or analysis of data to administrators or the marketing department, and we try to be upfront and transparent about progress as well as lack of progress and tensions.(2) Whenever possible, we try to create synergies with the data collection and reporting we provide to other organisations, such as AACSB or EQUIS, applicable research projects (as both myself and Martin conduct research on the implementation and pedagogy of PRME), and general development projects within the school. Finally,(3) we report on all principles even the ones where we do not excel.

How do you collect the information?
The data are collected from various sources, but the bulk of the information comes from interviews with the heads of each of Hanken’s units. The unit heads have the most up-to-date knowledge on projects, research, and various initiatives related to the PRME Six Principles that are addressed in their units – and are therefore in the best position to provide relevant information. The headmaster provides her contribution in the form of a letter where she discusses the ways in which PRME-related issues are worked into Hanken’s strategy, while interviews with deputy headmasters reveal how those strategies work in practice. We also look at our database of publications and identify recent research that relates to the topic area in a relevant way, and include these in the report. In addition, we talk to members of the administration and other staff to learn how sustainability goals are integrated into their jobs.

How has putting together your report changed over the past 3 reports?
For sure it is more systematic today. Now, we collect the data throughout the year and “reposit” it until we start writing the drafts. Usually we start working on drafts 6-7 months prior to our submission date. During the first year we made the mistake of not collecting data “outside” of the actual report production, and then it was really time-consuming to start collecting data about events and seminars retrospectively. You tend to forget a lot of things that are so rooted in praxis that they seem mundane – it becomes difficult to recall these in retrospect. These days, we start the actual writing earlier, for the first report we started 4 months prior, now its 6-7 months and it still feels rushed. For the most recent report, we wanted to develop the reporting on progress in a more clear and readable manner, so we introduced simple arrow symbols to indicate progress or lack thereof.
Is there a part of the report, or the report process that you are particularly proud of?
We’ve made an effort to be frank about lack of progress and things we have identified that need further development and work. Being reflective and transparent about your own organisation is never easy. The report has the feeling of being a report on our own organisational learning, and organisational learning is always something to be proud of. We’ve also made a very conscious effort to stay clear of marketing discourse with the reports, and we’re pretty content we’ve fulfilled that aim.

What have been some of the challenges you faced and how did you work through these?
In the last mile of the report we have been consistently late with the last parts of editing and fine-tuning the report – keeping the deadlines is really hard. Our finalising process is such that after our PRME assistant has collected the data and put together the draft (3 months prior to submission), the two of us edit and rewrite the draft on top of our “paid duties” as faculty – as with all editorial work, it is at times monotonous and tedious. Getting the report to reach the consciousness of all internal staff was another challenge, until we received the SIP reporting prize at the PRME Summit. This gave the report and reporting process a good soap box to stand on.

How do you share the report? How has it been received by the school’s community?
Once the report is finalised, a printed copy is sent to everyone who has been involved in helping us gather the information. Of course it is also made available in electronic form, and posted on the school webpage, where it can be accessed by anyone. After the success of the last report, we were asked to present it to faculty and staff, at a type of mini-seminar. Additionally last year, the school rector presented us with an award for advancing these sustainability principles at Hanken. We would say that the whole process of interviewing key people for the report, as well as the final resource of the report, helps increase awareness of PRME within Hanken.

What advice would you have for other schools putting together their first report?
Try to be comprehensive in regards to reporting on the Six Principles, rather than minimalistic – recognising the needs for development is more important than reporting only on success, in the long-run. Try to create synergies with other activities with regards of the collection of data. Keep track of your institution’s PRME-related activities throughout the year, instead of working backwards. Begin writing the report three months prior to your original plan – it always takes longer than you expect.

What are your plans for your next report?
To have time for a proper spelling and language check… Half-jokes aside, we will build on the existing report and its structure, and perhaps try to get more student input again for the next report.


Sustainability Reporting – 5 questions for Carol Adams from La Trobe University, Australia

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with Carol Adams, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability) at La Trobe University, Australia to speak about the release of their 2010 Sustainability Report Responsible Futures. The Responsible Futures report follows the Global Reporting Initiative‘s sustainability reporting guidelines and is the first university to have a GRI report that is externally assured.

1.    Tell us a little bit about your background and sustainability at La Trobe.

I started as a qualified accountant with KPMG and then moved into teaching. My research focused on social and environmental reporting, and I worked extensively in this area with multinationals. In 2009, I was asked to chair a sustainability task force on top of my role as deputy dean, and then dean of the faculty, because I felt that, not only it was an important issue, but also that La Trobe was the kind of university where it could probably work, because it has a history of a focus on social responsibility and a concern for social issues. So, I agreed to chair the task force (which has since turned into a sustainability management committee), and by the end of the year, we had the agreement from senior managers about the way to move forward. We also have a sustainability advisory board comprised of outside experts who give us good advice and keep us on track.

2. So why sustainability reporting?

Because of my background in this area, I know the value of reporting. Not everyone will read a report, but the process of preparing it, setting targets, defining the key performance indicators with the senior managers, and then reviewing performance against targets is valuable.

The report process was really important in focusing our attention on areas of poor performance. For example, there were two key areas of poor performance highlighted in our report; one was energy consumption and the other was the proportion of women in senior levels of management and, on both of those issues, we have achieved quite a lot in the last few months in terms of a commitment to action and also action itself. The report highlighted the issues and drove change. Collecting the data on energy consumption for the report and having that externally assured was really important in creating the buy in we needed to move forward.

3. What is happening in the area of sustainability reporting with universities?

When we published our report, only 26 other universities had also published reporting using the GRI framework, but ours was the first one to be externally assured. GRI is a network-based organization that produces a comprehensive sustainability reporting framework that is used by a range of organizations around the world, including most large multinational companies. There are many benchmarking exercises for universities around sustainability, but I don’t think they can surpass the GRI process. What does need to be added to the GRI is a way of measuring the core business of universities, – education and research and their impact on sustainability.

I’m on a working group of the United Nations Global Compact developing guidelines for academic institutions in implementing the Ten Principles. It recommends that universities could use the GRI reporting as a way of reporting against GC principles.

4. Any tips for other universities thinking of doing this?

I think this is a really useful tool for other universities. I think that it really does need to be centrally managed. We are linking operational projects with faculty and student research projects, but the overall direction and performance needs to be seen as something that the university is managing.

We looked at a lot of reports, both by universities and from other sectors, to figure out what to report on. Using a report that has already been published as a framework could save other universities a lot of time. Another piece of advice is that it is really important to involve the managers who are concerned with that particular area, so with carbon emissions, speak those responsible for your transport fleet and people responsible for operations and electricity measurement systems and buildings. All players really need to be involved in the process because, if it is done without their involvement, it is not going to get embedded.

5. Will you do it again?

We will continue to do it as long as we have resources allocated to do it, because it really does focus attention on what is important and what is not. It will help us reduce costs associated with, for example, energy, travel, paper use, etc. I think it will become easier and less resource intensive as we move forward. We are also very proud of our report and just recently won two awards for it, the Association of Chartered Account’s (ACCA) ‘Best first time report’ in Sydney this year and the Continuous Improvement – Institutional Change’ award at the 2011 Green Gown Australia awards in Adelaide for our centralized approach to sustainability governance and management.

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