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CDL: Reaching for the Skies

By Elaine Cohen (beyond Business) on September 28, 2010 at 10:59am.

Content:

City Developments Ltd (CSL) is a property and hotel conglomerate operating out of Singapore. The company is one of the biggest landlords in Singapore with over 7 square miles of leased and rented properties, and extensive interests overseas in a range of locations. This report covers Singapore only where the company employs around 300 people. The first thing that strikes me about this report is its pleasant design using pastel-shaded vines as the core theme. I love their bar charts of data designed in the form of leafy vines. Managing Director Kwek Leng Joo (brother of the Company Chairman) says: "The CDL Sustainability Report 2010 is aptly entitled “Grow”. The vines symbolically articulate the rapid expansion of the sustainability movement in our Company."  Indeed, this is one of the nicest designs I have seen – creative but not over facing, bold but modest, and one which blends perfectly with the spiritual undertones of this report, as in the opening sentence "We set our sights on higher standards, remain nimble and strive to reach for the skies". 

Beyond the aesthetics, this report is of high quality and claims to be the first Sustainability Report that has been assured using the AA1000 AccountAbility Assurance Standard (AA1000AS Type 2 Assurance) in Singapore. It is the Company's third report, complies with GRI application level B+ and has 5 main sections: Marketplace, Environment, Employees, Community and Governance. What is apparent early on in this report is that CDL targets to be somewhat of a leader in Singapore with a desire to spread the CSR message and drive the market forward. This is a declaration which we do not always see in sustainability reports, and several examples of how CLD put this into practice make this more than just an empty promise. This is the first company I have seen reporting use of the ISO 26000 framework as a guiding document for its CSR planning and development. I wonder if it offered them any new insight.

The stakeholder engagement section describes the channels of communication that CDL maintains with primary stakeholders, but with no real detail – the fact that the company has a new website, holds investor road-shows and issues press releases is not engagement. I believe this is an area where CDL could well benefit from a more structured approach. Indeed, CDL mentions this as an area for further work.

Green building and environmentally positive architecture should be high on this company's list of material issues and this appears to be so. The company boasts installing Singapore's first solar powered air conditioning system and a first building project that is carbon neutral. Properties erected by CDL maintain high environmental standards and are ranked high in local green building rating systems. A nice touch in CDL's shopping mall in Singapore is the use of screens to display real-time performance of energy consumption, carbon dioxide levels, solar energy usage, humidity levels and other metrics to raise shoppers’ eco-awareness, and labeling of eco-features to provide shoppers with an "eco-learning experience". I wonder how many shoppers notice? It would be interesting to know if CDL receives any reactions from shoppers on these points, whether they are viewed important by shoppers (via a survey) and whether this contributes to attracting them back to the mall. A "Let's Live Green" program encouraging shoppers to buy environmentally friendly products is a good approach to leveraging the indirect influence of this real estate company on the wider public, in line with their aspiration to spread the word. Similarly, homebuyers of CDL properties are given a Green Living Kit, containing tips on how to lead a green lifestyle and listing eco-friendly features in their new home and how to use them. Here, it is reported that 3,000 homeowners received these kits and many confirmed in a survey that they were happy with the kits. What, of course, would be more interesting to know is whether any of these homeowners are actually now living a greener lifestyle as a result of using the kits. Another area in which CDL spreads the message is with suppliers – builders and construction companies. CDL shares their ESH Management system with vendors, and conducts courses in ESH standards. As a result, many vendors have developed their own ESH management systems. For commercial tenants, CDL has established a paper recycling programme in all CDL buildings. All new tenants are presented with a Project Eco-Office Kit to promote reuse, reduce and recycling.

The environmental section is nicely written and includes a certain degree of context about the unique environmental challenges in Singapore. The total construction sector accounts for 16% of the local carbon footprint, for example. Most of CDL's performance metrics in this area show improvements in 2009. The employee section is a little weaker, rather declarative and offering little that demonstrates outstanding performance in this area, with the possible exception of Work-Life Harmony programmes showcased in the report. Community reporting covers CDL's employee volunteer platform, City Sunshine Club achieving double employee volunteer hours to 5,572 in 2009 and participation rate at an all-time high of 85%.  A range of community initiatives is described in the report.

Communication:

The report is nicely constructed and easy to read, presenting issues with clarity and focus. Although largely written from the corporate standpoint, case studies of specific achievements are presented in each section, offering greater perspective and depth and personal stories from employees. The GRI Index, United Nations Global Compact index , performance data tables , targets and charts all blend well to make this report highly navigable and easy to work through. Some of the language is a little ‘interesting’, for example, this sentence: "we aspire to continue pushing the envelope with a firm ear to the ground", but this just adds a little charm to this overall nicely paced report.

Credibility:

The report includes a six and a half page table of "CSR milestones, awards and accolades" that CDL has received since 1997! It's a long list, and certainly impressive (though perhaps 2009/2008 would have sufficed for this report). Quantified targets for 2009, actual performance and new targets for 2010 are clearly laid out in each section.  The assurance statement is comprehensive, and contains sensible recommendations for CDL. Overall, this is a good report demonstrating a responsible approach to direct impacts, and a good awareness of the more immediate possibilities to enhance indirect impacts on primary stakeholder groups. However, I do sense that CDL could go a little further in tracking the outcomes of its activities on the impact and quality of life in key areas in Singapore. There is something at more of a macro level that I might have expected this dominant player with "a distinctive imprint on the Singapore cityscape" to address, given the declaration relating to showing leadership. The company's CSR mission is "to be a responsible corporate citizen" which is good as far as it goes. I might have expected, looking at the scale of CDL's operations and intentions expressed, that "reaching for the skies" is more about enhancing the sustainability of Singapore and an improved quality of life for its residents, beyond the focus on responsible internal practices.  Maybe it's time for CDL to take an elevator to the top floor of one of its high-rise properties and review its CSR mission from a new height.

Recommendations:

1. Develop thinking to go beyond what CDL does to what impact CDL has, not just on the tenants of a particular building, but also on the quality of life in key neighbourhoods and on the sustainability of Singapore as a place to live and do business.
2. Sharpen up energy reporting: provide details of total energy use from different sources, and account for total levels of offsetting that drive overall carbon footprint position.
3. Improve workplace reporting to provide greater detail on practices rather than policies.

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