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Good communication with clear logical navigation

By Elaine Cohen (BeyondBusiness) on March 15, 2009 at 8:54pm.

Content:

Workspace Group is a wonderful reporter.  Perhaps this has something to do with their commitment to sustainability and impressive activities over the years. For a business with fewer than 200 employees, this is both uniquely progressive and totally inspiring. Workspace Group's clients are SME's in London, and the sustainability mission of Workspace Group is inextricably linked to the sustainability of London as a city and the Group's role in supporting that. This is one of the clearest "business cases" for sustainability that I think can be made. No London, no Workspace Group, right? I have followed this Group's reports with interest and admiration over the years, and the 2008 issue is no exception - a forthright, direct, what-counts report, presented with sensitivity and creativity.  The report structure has three sections – core challenges, performance and future plans. The challenges section selects 4 core issues around legislative changes relating to environmental issues, customer and supplier engagement and community involvement. In a concise way, the issues are explained and the responses are described. The performance section opens up with a full-page pie chart of % achievement of 2007 targets (75% achieved or nearly achieved, sounds like a good record to me), and then detailed metrics. The two nice things about this are that data are presented over a 5 year period, and each set of metrics has a short commentary. In most cases the data itself are pretty impressive too!  Three examples of "wider benefits" show that Workspace Group has got it – the meaning of sustainability and the indirect impacts and outcomes of their activities are well reported. Future targets are categorized by stakeholder group, and they are specific and measurable.

Finally, their consultant's statement , a sort of quasi assurance,  for dessert. What I am missing in this report is some connection to the business strategy and the financials – I get no sense of size and scope of the Workspace Group operations – not even a number of employees  (which I had to go to the financial report to find). Their website does contain lots more detail, as does the financial report including non-financial data, but I do like to see some business and financial context alongside the CSR content. Similarly a teeny weeny bit more on workplace practices would have been preferable. Another couple of pages wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Communication:

Those who read my reviews will probably recognize my professional bias towards the GRI reporting framework. I find this helps structure the report and navigate the content, as well as supporting a comprehensive scope. In the absence of a GRI index, I like to see another form of index to make navigation easier. Workspace Group produce a 21 page report with no index and a minimalist contents list. Bad? No. The report is so well structured and the relevant data so logically located that I find navigation no hassle at all.  This report is an example of outstanding communication. It's all aligned well, flows well and maintains a nice balance of what's important and what WG are doing about it. The report communicates primarily to investors, customers and the London municipality stakeholders.  As an employee of Workspace Group, I would be a little disappointed with the lack of workplace related content and reflection of the employee contribution to the overall sustainability efforts. 

Credibility:

Well, I guess by now you will know that I find this report to be a very credible piece of reporting by a very credible company doing very sustainable things. I get the sense that they have more to do in the development of their sustainability program, but so far so good, and achievements to be proud of.  The Advisor's statement is a nice touch, but it doesn’t add all that much to the credibility of the report, especially since they have been working with the Group for 8 years. Looks like they have had a positive influence, given the quality of the progress, but a lot of the statement is a repeat from the 2007 report, and it doesn’t really add new insight.  I think it's probably about time that Workspace Group took the plunge and got some external assurance: this might enhance credibility.

Recommendations:

1. Just a little bit more context
2. Just a little more on workplace impacts
3. Just more on stakeholder engagement and materiality
4. Just assurance

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, www.b-yond.biz, 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