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Sustainable Reporting

On 4 September 2010, in News, by Andrew Bennett
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Crunching numbers and working out price tags on Biodiversity

Written by Celeste Yates

Wednesday, 18 August 2010 11:30

Over 450 companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) will be required to produce an integrated report for their financial and sustainability year-end report. Currently there are no set standards, although an Integrated Reporting Committee (IRC) has been formed and aim to release a ‘good practice’ guide on integrated reporting.

South Africa is one of the few countries that are bringing sustainable reporting to the forefront of organisations and businesses. The good news is that sustainable reporting isn’t a new concept to businesses and a lot of major organisations, as well as smaller ones, have been doing it for years. The idea of bringing the two reports together in one is somewhat of a new concept. Although it does make logical sense – if a company managed to reduce the amount of waste by using technology rather than printing for example, there would be a cost save in the amount of paper purchasing.

Although sustainable reporting does take time and a fair amount of data capturing and analysing, the benefits seem to out-way the obstacles in most surveys. The one obstacle, however, that a lot of companies are having problems with is trying to put a figure and finger on their impact on biodiversity. It’s easy to slap on some measuring instruments on water pipes, electricity outlets and even work out the transport emissions on staff and freight use, but determining the damage on wildlife and the environment is not as easy.
But it doesn’t mean that it is impossible to do. Working out the biodiversity aspect of sustainable reporting just means that you have to stop crunching numbers and actually think for a bit how your company affects the outside world. The environmental indicators in the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) include ecosystems, land, air and water. They cover performances relating to inputs such as energy, water and materials, as well as outputs such as emissions, waste and effluents. Then there is biodiversity and environmental compliance.

In biodiversity they look at the location of land owned, leased or managed in, as well as surrounding areas that might be protected. The next step is to look within those areas and work out their ecosystems and habitats, including the wildlife and fauna.

For example, if your factory is right next to a wetland and you’re pumping polluted water into the water system, this has a direct (and negative) impact on biodiversity. To try and put a cost on this though is a slightly more difficult task. But before we look at that, a lot of companies don’t have ‘obvious’ effects such as the example above. Your company might work in an office and your product might not have an obvious effect. Or you company provides a service.

So let’s look at a few examples that might not seem that obvious, but do have an impact on biodiversity. Right now you are probably at your desk. See that lump of papers, or maybe if you look up you can see the office printer or fax machine. Think about the paper in the office as a whole and think about the books.

Examination pads, invoice papers, purchase orders, leave forms, order forms, bookings, statements, faxes, research, accounts, admin, lead forms, operations, every department uses paper in some form or other. All of that is coming from some tree – perhaps a tree in a plantation, or perhaps a tree in the ‘wild.’ Even if those trees are in a man-made forest, that forest had to be created on a previous ecosystem space. In theory this is part of the chain. Everything in the office has to come from somewhere and more than likely it probably came from an ecosystem.

Look at the supply chain of your product. It’s more than likely that your product has different parts. Follow them back to the origin. Packaging is something that companies often forget as well. If you are providing a service, do you use equipment or items in that service? For example a cleaning company use cleaning liquids. Even if you are an accounting firm, or an insurance firm, how do you communicate with your clients? How do you file client information? Even ink, both in your printer as well as in your pens, can be more environmental.

Look between your feet and outside the window. What was in the space you are currently sitting? What was in your neighbour’s space? Perhaps your office or factory space is next to a field, a forest or a wetland. In the Western Cape where we have 2 biodiversity hotspots, this is crucial.

How do you control pests in the office? Are there more environmental ways to deal with cockroaches? Are the pesticides affecting the air quality, or the urban biodiversity? Look at the facilities within your office – the water used to clean the 4 or 5 coffee cups, the water in the laboratory, where does the water go? You might think this falls under “water” but if that water is affecting the flora outside, or the wetlands down the road, that is having an impact on biodiversity.

Biodiversity simple put is all living organisms and the relation between them. Even as I sit here and write this, there is a sea-cable being constructed so that I can post this article and you can receive it. But that sea cable is probably damaging the ocean floor, a lot of rubble is probably being created and even though I like to think that by using online technology to reach you rather than a printed magazine is better, the fact is more than 500 hundred thousand PCs hit the dumping grounds each year in South Africa alone. And this was from a report a few years ago.

Now putting a figure on impacts on biodiversity is the tricky one. There are reports, such as the one from the IUCN and Conservation International who have put price tags on the effect of impacting biodiversity, but these generally relate to large figures such as the damage caused by natural disasters, especially now that there are no natural barriers from mangroves or wetlands. But it’s more difficult to put a figure on a particular company and their impact.

Looking at how current companies have done it, instead of trying to put a figure on the damage, they are using campaigns to counteract it. For example in Spiers Report, which is situated within the Cape Floral Kingdom, they created an Environmental Management Plan to assess the biodiversity within (and around) their property. Once they assessed the situation, they came up with strategies, such as developing green open spaces, clearing river corridors, and eliminating invasive alien species on their land to promote biodiversity.

Nedbank is another example were an organisation is promoting biodiversity. They have incorporated a ‘Green Trust” into their system for clients to have the option of giving back. They have also made their company carbon neutral by looking at themselves, internally and externally as well as created options for their clients to become environmental conscious.

There might not be a consistent way of putting a price tag on nature, but there are ways of counteracting and going beyond restoring damage that is being created. There are separate categories for air and water, but these are all linked into biodiversity, as well as land and ecosystems. While committees like the IRC and organisations like the GRI crunch the numbers, companies should be creative and innovative when they create their sustainability reports and should look at every aspect of their company and organisation, even after the guidelines are created, to ensure they have done everything possible in their power to evaluate their situation. In companies that have done this already, the outcomes generally show opportunities and cost-effective solutions.

Resources

Link to original Article from Bio-Zine

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