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Fundación Xochitla: the (not so) recent journey towards sustainability reporting

By Francisco Sandoval on January 28, 2011 at 10:39am.
Content:

Fundación Xochitla (a pre-Hispanic name which means “place of flowers”) is a non-profit organization which runs the Parque Ecológico with the same name. Located to the northwest of Mexico City, it is a 70 ha site with a mission to preserve green urban space. It started operations in 1989, and celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2009. During that year the organization produced its 10th report on their activities, programs and services, especially about environmental education and natural preservation. The 2009 report is stated to be the second according the GRI G3 guidelines (p. 9), although the 2008 report doesn’t mention anything on the matter. The application level of the 2009 report is undeclared.

The report tries to follow a structure according the GRI G3 guidelines, around four major themes: the organization’s profile and three aspects of sustainability: economic, social and environmental. However, the report’s contents page doesn’t help to understand the structure; every section is at the same level. Maybe it should be grouped in the four themes mentioned above.

The report starts with a statement from the most senior decision-maker of the organization, its General Director. It declares that the main action accomplished during 2009 is an alliance with Universidad Iberoamericana to bring lessons from that university to the park facilities. It’s a charming welcoming letter, but fails to deliver a complete strategic picture on the sector’s trends, risks and opportunities, as well as any other main actions and achievements during the year.

The profile section covers most of the standard strategy and profile disclosures of a GRI level C. It covers all of the disclosures of the organization profile, and many of the report parameters and governance. Some of the missing ones are easy to cover, such as the contact point and the GRI content index. Nevertheless, some others are fundamental, such as the process for defining report content and the list of stakeholders and the basis for identifying and selecting them. In this respect, it’s evident that the report doesn’t fulfill the principle of stakeholder inclusiveness. On the materiality side, it needs a prioritization of key issues, as it seems to include aspects that have been reported traditionally in other years, but doesn’t show a materiality test according to its current stakeholders.


Communications:

Xochitla’s report has a very nice format, with plenty of beautiful nature pictures. It’s a concise 35 pages, with clear language, accessible to what they see to be their main stakeholders: visitors, donors, sponsors, employees and surrounding communities. It highlights their key messages clearly.

On the other hand, more charts would improve the comparability of figures between years; many are only in the main body of the text. Another improvement could be summarizing in a single table the targets for 2010 that are found throughout the document.


Credibility:

On this regard the report delivers a very nice picture, but maybe an incomplete one, omitting the principle of balance for defining the quality of a report: reflecting both positive and negative issues. Surely the organization has faced some difficulties. The epidemic of influenza that forced most business to close their doors for some days is mentioned, but that was a challenge faced by everyone. What about individual and specific matters? The park is surrounded by industrial and residential areas, and must surely face some challenges from this. How do the Fundación deal with these? The donor and sponsor list has been reduced from their 2008 level. Can the Fundación provide an explanation for why this has happened? How is it responding to this challenge? Giving answers to those questions, or others that are relevant to their stakeholders, would greatly improve the credibility of the report.


Recommendations:

Fundación Xochitla has learned a lot about the reporting and management of sustainability issues during their ten years of reporting, including two under the GRI guidelines, but may find the following recommendations useful:
1.    To start the next reporting process with an exercise of determining the stakeholders that would use the report, and the materiality issues that matter the most.
2.    Look for a GRI G3 application level for the report, not as a target in itself, but as an internal challenge to improve its sustainability approach. Level C seems perfectly achievable for the next reporting period.
3.    Consider undertaking external assurance to add credibility to the report.


Francisco Sandoval is a consultant for BSD, www.bsd-net.com, a specialized consulting firm for sustainable business development with an international network of locally active offices in Switzerland, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, Portugal, Spain and China. Francisco is currently part of Mexico’s office, and can be reached at f.sandoval@bsd-net.com.