Monthly Archives: July 2011

Communicating Sustainability: The Indigenous Perspective (Part 1)

Corporate commitment to sustainable development has changed considerably and with it, the propensity to publicize sustainability reports on a regular basis. Sustainability reports have been seen to rise in recent years. The auditing giant KPMG conducted a survey and reviewed the sustainability/corporate social responsibility disclosures of 2,200 multinationals that included Global Fortune 250 and N100 largest companies (measured by revenue) in 22 countries (KPMG International Survey on Corporate Responsibility Reporting, 2008). Said survey found that sustainability reporting in 2008 increased by 35 percent from its baseline data in 2005. Seventy-four percent of the top 100 U.S. companies published corporate responsibility information in 2008, either as an integrated section in the annual report or as a stand-alone document. A bigger 80 percent of the Global Fortune 250 revealed that they have been reporting on their environmental and social performance. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the organization that created the widely accepted sustainability-reporting framework recorded a rise of 58 percent from 2007 to 2008. In 2010, there was increase of 22 percent sustainability reporters.

In 1997, CERES (Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) began working on a standard non-financial reporting framework akin to the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). CERES was able to catch the imagination of entities that eventually became partners in developing the Global Reporting Initiative index. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joined as a partner in 1999, the same year that an exposure draft was released. In 2002, CERES set up the GRI as an independent body with a mission to “integrate and unify the many standards in the marketplace into a single, generally accepted sustainability reporting framework, encompassing environmental, social, and economic performance” (GRI website). The GRI released its first reporting framework and guidelines in 2000, its G2 revision in 2002, and its current version, G3, in 2006. G4 is currently in the works and a new version is expected to come out in 2013. The G3 guideline is being adopted voluntarily by about 1,500 companied worldwide. G3 has core contents and are subdivided into three parts.  Part 1 covers reporting principles, including materiality, stakeholder inclusiveness, sustainability context, and completeness. Part 2 covers standard disclosures in three areas that should be included in a sustainability report: strategy and profile, management approach, and performance indicators. Part 3 covers the 79 performance indicators used in reporting the firm’s performance in the main categories of economic, environmental, social, labor and human rights sections.

The literature showed that research on corporate sustainability reporting has been conducted mainly on multinational companies. There is too little literature available on local companies. Much of the knowledge that we have about sustainability reporting is gained from the experiences of multinational companies. More often than not, their sustainability reports use the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework as the most preferred reporting guideline. GRI was developed by an agglomeration of international non-governmental and people’s organisations and could be argued that its international orientation may have neglected the unique reporting contexts of local companies. In the Philippines for instance, the first GRI-based sustainability report was first published in 2005. Since then only 13 other local companies have started producing similar reports. GRI-based sustainability reporting is a phenomenon that is obviously being observed in large multinationals. Yet, how do we also observe the experience of non-multinationals when it comes to the adoption of GRI? Why is it not catching up among local companies and how is this affecting the comparability of their triple bottom line performance when compared with that of the multinationals’?

In adopting the GRI sustainability reporting framework, what benefits accrue to the firm? Would the same benefits apply to both multinational and local companies? But before these benefits could happen, what are the challenges that the firm faces vis-à-vis adopting the framework. Again, would the challenges be the same for both multinationals and locals?

Aiming to shed light on the phenomenon of corporate sustainability reporting in general and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Framework in particular, this author has took on the challenge of conducting a research on why companies are producing sustainability reports and especially how the sustainability communication process is being implemented by non-multinationals. What is the experience of local companies as opposed to those of the multinationals, which have already generated ample attention in previous studies? The GRI guideline is especially interesting as it is a global guideline and there is a certain interest to see what the experiences have been so far from using the guidelines. This research also wants to know whether GRI is the way to go if the company is thinking about its Triple Bottom Line reporting.  Are the GRI guidelines useful for a company and for what purposes?

In the next six days, a Philippine-based company will publish a B+ GRI Sustainability Report that will undoubtedly be the country’s first ever corporate report to attain the highest level of application and comparability as far as the Global Reporting Initiative is concerned. This unfolding event highlights two very interesting facts:

1) A non-MNC from an emerging economy has embarked on one of the most rigorous reporting exercises quite unseen in companies of its kind before;

2) The local company has exceeded its reporting target by employing a more stringent set of indicators specific only to its industry or sector thereby demonstrating the ability to use indigenous approach to an otherwise predominantly Western business practice.

On the second installment of this article, I will be posting the details of that highly anticipated sustainability report on the day of its launch. There is a vast void of knowledge that is yet to be fathomed when it comes to understanding the commitment (or non-commitment) of non-MNCs’ sustainability reporting practice. By focusing the spotlight on this ground-breaking report, perhaps we can begin to rationalise the significance of such a practice especially for a country that is still grappling with the idea of sustainable development vis-a-vis business viability in the 21st century.

Stay tuned for the next sustainability update.

MBS Chronicles: A Leyteño in Manchester

As a public relations professional working in the renewable energy industry, the business environment tells us that we have to communicate a consistently sincere image in the industry and to build long-term relationships with energy consumers, employees, governments and anyone affected by our business operations. Unlike other sectors, our industry has faced a number of singular pressures that make reputation-building a significant challenge. Learning from the BP experience, we have come to understand that transparency, communication and participation will become key activities and may prove more effective reputation-building measures than sponsoring basketball teams or Formula One races. In this business era, energy companies will have to come out of their quiet position and engage with the public at large, taking a lead in providing comprehensive and relevant information to a diverse group of stakeholders. Most importantly, the company brand must be rooted in the business realities, reflecting the very nature of the company’s activities instead of searching for euphemistic branding solutions that could easily backfire when crises happen.

EDC is at the forefront of clean energy production, environmental management and community partnerships

It was against this backdrop that I found myself taking a year-long break from PR work to pursue a long-awaited dream. In the few months that I have been studying here at the Business School of the University of Manchester, I have come to realize that I am standing on the shoulders of giants. The University itself teems with youthful spirit inspired by the life-changing works of philosophers, professors, researchers and industrialists.

The Whitworth Hall of the University of Manchester

The Manchester Business School - home of the MSc Corporate Communications and Reputation Management program

The city of Manchester itself was the epicenter of the industrial revolution, which spawned some of the greatest inventions of the last century. Its position at the centre of innovation is mirrored and informed by its university, which was founded by local industrialists in 1824 as the Mechanics Institute – a place to help workers master the scientific basics required in the new machine age. It was within these laboratories that Ernest Rutherford began his experiments that would lead to the splitting of the atom; where Sir James Chadwick discovered the neutron and where Alan Turing bequeathed the world its modern-day computer.

Ironically, left-wing politics was also born amidst the flurry of capitalism, thanks to philosopher giants Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who figured prominently in the history of Manchester. The Chetham Library still houses the economics books that Marx read as well as the window seat that Marx and Engels used in their meetings.

Today, the University of Manchester can boast of a unique achievement in British academia. For the first time in living memory, this red brick university has more Nobel Prize winners on its staff than either Oxford (which has none) or Cambridge (which has two). This milestone came after the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Professor Andre Geim and his young protégé Professor Konstantin Novoselov the Nobel prize for physics in October 2010 for their discovery of two-dimensional graphene, a 21st century wonder substance which at just one atom thick is the strongest material known to man. Professors Geim and Novoselov join the roster of teaching Nobel laureates former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz, who won the economics prize in 2001 and Sir John Sulston, who was recognized in 2002 for his work sequencing the DNA of the nematode. Now with 25 Nobel laureates to its name, Manchester University – though still behind Oxford and Cambridge in total – has more than Austria, China, India and Hungary.

Whenever I scan the shelves of the John Rylands and Sackville libraries or walk through the corridors of Whitworth Hall, I can’t help but imagine that Rutherford, Turing or Engels also scanned the same bookshelf or walked the same halls as I did. Coming to this red brick city made a lasting impression on me. Far from the maddenning crowd of London, Manchester offers the amenities of a modern city with the ambience of bohemian culture. The city is like a perfumisto’s fragrance notes done right. The top notes would be a metallic opening reminiscent of its vibrant industrial past. The heart notes whip up a spritz of multicultural experience reflected in the international student composition. In my class, the Brits are the minorities and we Asians are the majority. The base notes give a distinct vibe distilled by the Mancunian way of life that is cosmopolitan and traditional all at once. Student life is both exhilarating and overwhelming. The parade of faces in the morning excites me to no end. The cold weather chills my bones but gives me a sense of wonder.

The MSc CCRM 2011 batch during the sem-ender party

Studying at Manchester is, to put it simply, refreshing. I like the laidback atmosphere and the provincial air that the city exudes. I love long walks and the university has alluring sceneries that change with the season. Academic life is daunting. Periodicals and case studies to be read can look sinister. Here, the truth is, I don’t know how to be a student anymore. It’s an embarrassment of riches. Coming here with solid experience from the work I did in the local energy industry provides me with a sense of deeper understanding of corporate communications as a profession and this has allowed me to write essays and projects that are grounded in the realities of business communications.

At the dissertation poster presentation (Research: Communicating Sustainability in the Renewable Energy Sector in the Philippines)

Greenwich: Birthplace of Time and the Tudors

When London overwhelms you and you prefer to escape to a quiet, easy, breezy spot, put on those sneakers and head towards Greenwich. It is after all, the birthplace of olden royals from another era, the Tudors from which Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were descended. But its most interesting offer is none other than the amazing Royal Observatory, the sole witness to the birthplace of time as we know it.

The Magnificent centerpiece painting of the Painted Hall at the Royal Naval College

Getting There

The fastest way to get to Greenwich is to take the Tube, London’s underground rail network. A bus ride will take about an hour from Central London.  Or you could take the ferry and cruise the 6.5-kilometer River Thames en route to Greenwich just like what King Henry VIII used to do. In fact, getting there via river cruise is more enjoyable because you get to see British landmarks such as the Tower of London, London Bridge, Millennium Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Tate Modern, Albert Hall and the HH Belfast moored on the embankment.

Some iconic London landmarks - Tower Bridge

The HMS Belfast

Greenwhich Royalties

Greenwich played a key role in Britain’s rise as a seafaring superpower. It was from its shipyards that the English naval fleet was built and sent off to countless expeditions and explorations. It was the Tudors that capitalized on this maritime blueprint and Greenwich was the center of it all.

Three of England’s monarchs were born here. Henry V built the Greenwich royal manor in the early 1500s. The manor was improved and became the Palace Placentia or Pleasant Palace, where Henry VIII was born in 1491. When he became king, he built a new chapel and a sprawling park where the Greenwhich Park now stands. It was here that Henry VIII, a young prince then, married the older Catherine of Aragon. His daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, were born here.  Each went on to rule England as Mary I and Elizabeth I.

Today, Greenwich continues to host to the British monarchy. The Queen’s House built beside the park is one of the summer residences of Queen Elizabeth II. On her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the queen herself will bestow upon Greenwhich a Royal Borough award. It will join London’s three existing royal boroughs – Kensington & Chelsea, Windsor & Maidenhead and Kingston. The award recognizes the close links forged between Greenwich and the royal family from the Middle Ages to the present day. It also recognizes Greenwich’s global significance as the home of the Prime Meridian, Greenwich Mean Time and its status as a World Heritage Site.

View of the London skyline from the Greenwich Observatory; on the foreground is the Queen's House

The Tulip Staircase - a cantilevered architectural design that highlights the Queen's House as one of England's finest legacies

Greenwich and the Creation of Standard Time

The Greenwich Mean Time or GMT is the basis of standard time throughout most of the world, and the zero point used in reckoning geographical longitudes since 1884. The naval countries at that time have agreed to hold a maritime conference that will determine the standard time to be used.  Forty-one delegates from 25 nations met in Washington DC for the International Meridian Conference. By the end of the conference, Greenwich had won the prize of Longitude 0º by a vote of 22 to 1 against San Domingo, with 2 abstentions from France and Brazil.

Straddle the Prime Meridian and you will "exist" in two sides of the world at the same time.

Why Greenwich? By the late 19th century, 72 percent of the world’s commerce depended on sea charts, which used Greenwich as the Prime Meridian. The decision, essentially, was based on the argument that by naming Greenwich as Longitude 0º, it would be advantageous to the largest number of people. Therefore the Prime Meridian at Greenwich became the centre of world time, and will be the official starting point for the new Millennium.

Now there is an amazing thing you need to do in Greenwich. Follow that steel line drawn on the ground across the observatory. Walk along with it until you reach the globular sculpture at the end. Turn around to face toward the digital clock and place your feet on either side of the steel line. Congratulate yourself for you can now say that you were able to exist in two different places at the same time. That line is the demarcation of the Prime Meridian that divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth, just as the Equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres.

A World Heritage Site

In 1997, the UNESCO declared Greenwich as a world heritage site. The Old Royal Observatory itself is England’s first purpose-designed facility.  It houses a 28-inch refracting telescope, the largest of its kind in the UK and the seventh largest in the world. Completed in 1893, it was designed to keep the Royal Observatory at the forefront of contemporary astronomy.

The Dome of the Old Royal Observatory which covers the 28-inch refracting telescope

Outside the Observatory, the tranquility of Greenwich Park perfectly complements the Italianate beauty of the Queen’s House. Built in 1616 and designed by Inigo Jones, the Queen’s House is a fine architectural structure that boasts of its cantilevered tulip staircase. The Palladian design is one of the unique royal treasures of England. Adjacent to the Queen’s House is the Royal Naval College, yet another architectural wonder built in the Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor. The four blocks that comprise the compound is actually the site of the old Greenwich Palace. The soft glow of the twilight sky added more character to silhouettes of the St. Peter and St. Paul Chapels, constructed in the Georgian style. But there was more to behold from the drama that the Painted Hall offers. It felt like entering a smaller Sistine Chapel with all the renaissance-like ceiling paintings greeting the visual senses with tableau-like imageries. Paintings made in the trompe l’oeil style, can be found on the columns, windowsills and in the Vestibule and each has its own story to tell.

A Timeless Experience

As we head back to the hustle and bustle of the city, I took one last snapshot of the pier to remind me of this one fine day spent in the outskirts. The majesty of its environs remained as timeless as the setting of the sun, as noble as the proud marble statues of kings past. “Time and space are relative,” Einstein said in his famous theory. For me, Greenwich captures the essence of that idea. It is massive yet subdued, grand but composed, both Baroque and modern at the same time. Indeed, a timeless, classic piece of wonder in this part of the world.

The Prime Meridian

The Georgian-styled chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul

Inside the Tube en route back to Waterloo

This article also comes out in the latest issue of Pulse Magazine, the official publication of First Gen Corporation and subsidiaries.