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Non-financials deserve greater impact

By Elaine Cohen (BeyondBusiness) on February 10, 2009 at 4:33pm.

One-line summary: High level headline integrated report – but misses the social impact it deserves

Content:

Novo Nordisk has a strong reputation as one of the best integrated reporters around. Novo Nordisk pioneered the integrated report and does it artfully. There is also no doubt about Novo Nordisk's prowess and focused commitment in the field of diabetes research, treatment and impact. Even the lay reader can appreciate the scope of Novo Nordisk's involvement in the advancement of health care for those suffering from this condition. The opening statement from the Chairman and CEO is informative and relates to core elements of strategy, results, and key advancements in the last year. By no means apologetic, Novo Nordisk leaders relate to the financial crisis by saying: "it is with great humility, but also with pride and satisfaction, that we can report on a year that has been very positive for Novo Nordisk…". What a great sentence. The report covers the implications of the financial crisis extensively, one of the most material issues for the sustainability of businesses during this difficult period, and describes the lessons Novo Nordisk learns. Indeed, 2008 appears to have been a good year for this Company with underlying solid numbers across the board, all presented very clearly, by geography and business segment. Nonfinancial performance data is provided over a 5 year period which gives perspective. The GRI index is only in the on-line report and it's rather cumbersome, requiring quite a lot of effort to actually correlate data in the report with the GRI index. There is a subject index at the back of the report, but it is rather selective. Why not just use the GRI index? One area not well covered is stakeholder engagement – there is evidence of materiality thinking but no detail of stakeholder dialogue. Some areas of negative performance data are unexplained, such as increase in resource usage, and employee turnover.

Communication:

This is a clearly written report, no frills, little sentiment, after all it is also a financial report. And the nature of this financial report dictates a certain disjunctiveness in the social reporting approach. I find this report tough to navigate. I like to search reports by subject for interesting data, but I found myself unable to find an efficient way to navigate this report, without getting bogged down in financialese. For example, performance indicators. Data is listed in one page, narrative on another page, and commentary to the performance indicators in an appendix at the end of the report. Not easy to locate all relevant data on a particular subject. The report jumps around and leaves you with incomplete pictures as you read through the different sections. The language is crisp and business-like, and in many cases not so easy to understand for the lay reader. There are commentaries on selected issues by senior journalists and external opinion leaders. Clearly a report for the financial and investor community, and possible the medical community, with long and detailed descriptions of medical developments in the treatment of diabetes. If I were a Novo Nordisk employee, I doubt I would have the stamina to read this report, and I doubt it would excite or motivate me in any particular way. Perhaps Novo Nordisk plans on developing a drug to help digest long official reports. The Triple Bottom Line principle is clearly explained, though I remain with a question as to how Novo Nordisk integrates TBL thinking into core business strategy and what processes are in place.

Credibility:

PwC audited this report, both the financials and the non-financials. The non-financial section includes that beautiful phrase: "Nothing has come to our attention that would cause us not to believe that …." In response, I say, nothing has come to my attention that would cause me not to believe that there is not anything in this assurance statement that does not comply with a minimal level of assurance principles and practice that ensures that readers of the report are not able to gain assurance as to the credibility of the content. I mean, why assure? Which brings me to another point, why self-declare? The assurers did not address whether the report meets A+ criteria. Novo Nordisk appears to be such an impressive company in so many ways, they are on their 5th integrated reporting cycle, and 14th report, by my reckoning. Why stop 10 yards before the finish line?

However, this report really does offer the ultimate in transparency, from the details of which countries Novo Nordisk refuses to sell insulin because governments refuse to buy at "the policy price", to the number of mice and rats purchased for lab experimentation. Explanations of data-compilation processes are provided in great detail, as you would expect from a financial report. All expected reporting sections are clearly addressed, and present a very credible picture of consistent progress in many areas.

Recommendations:

1. Hire an assurance provider who can give a positive, comprehensive and reassuring statement about the report
2. Issue a short report which meets the needs for information of the average, non-accountancy trained stakeholder
3. Describe stakeholder dialogue processes more fully

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz/en, a leading CSR reporting and consulting firm in Israel, specializing in a wide range of consulting services for the development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses.