Rentokil Initial plc is a large business with a turnover of over $4 billion in 50 or more countries, employing 66,000 colleagues. Rentokil has traditionally been focused on eliminating unwanted guests from our homes, offices and factories, through pest control services. Starting in the 80s, the Company diversified and expanded strategically into integrated facilities management with service capabilities in catering, cleaning, security, buildings maintenance and statutory compliance. The 2010 report is Rentokil's 10th, presented in a similar format to previous reports, following what I call the "quadrant plus" framework (marketplace, workplace, environment community plus health and safety), with performance narrative in reasonable depth in each section.
At the outset, the Rentokil report looks and feels like an authentic report on performance, without understating challenges and setbacks, but devoid of a broader contextual link to sustainability and material issues. The page which lists the "potential corporate responsibility impact areas" is generic (waste management, water management, emissions, health and safety, customer satisfaction, community activity etc.) though in the section on environment, there is a brief discussion on what I would consider to be one of the most material issues for Rentokil: the environmental impacts of the use of pesticides and rodenticides (toxic chemicals, biodiversity, safety). Rentokil has reduced its Authorised Product List (APL) from 2,286 SKU's in 2007 to 96 in 2010, a massive achievement which ensures that pest control procedures avoid use of unacceptable toxic products, chemicals usage is controlled in line with regulations and excessive dosage (with the risk of leaving residue which may damage other species) is minimised. Rentokil supports the CRRU (the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use), to ensure responsible and effective rodent pest control while minimising negative impacts on wildlife, and the RRAC (Rodenticide Resistant Action Committee), which promotes using smaller quantities of higher toxic materials instead of larger quantities of lower toxic materials whose large volumes are likely to leave behind a resistant population of the target pests. This is the most fascinating aspect of Rentokil's sustainability impact. In the Product Stewardship subsection of the report, Rentokil mentions the development of new pesticide technologies such as a new chemical-free pest control process and Contained Atmosphere Technology (CAT), using high concentrations of nitrogen and carbon dioxide to kill insects. I would have welcomed more extensive discussion of the overall impacts of pest control by chemical means versus more environmentally friendly alternatives, or even an assessment of the absolute necessity of pest and rodent control, in what forms, at what level and in what circumstances.
Other aspects of Rentokil Initial's business relate to food sourcing (a large school catering business, for example) and textiles (laundry services), neither of which are given significant airtime in this report, though highlights, such as the Food for Life catering mark for the Company's school meals business and Oekotex certified fabrics sourcing are mentioned. A disappointment for Rentokil in 2010 was the company's safety performance which, despite continuous efforts, resulted in higher accident and lost workdays rates than in 2009, as well as one fatality. This section is treated well in the report with detailed explanations and plans to step up safety performance.
Rentokil's progress against 2010 targets is nicely set out and 2011 targets articulated, but all these are non-specific, contain no clear metrics and give no sense of ‘stretch’. In fact, this 88 page report, on the whole, provides very little data. There are a small number of KPI's (accidents, customer satisfaction, employee engagement, training, diversity, carbon emissions, and water consumption) for which data is provided, plus occasional numbers relating to one or other of the Rentokil operations. This makes it difficult to get a sense of overall performance from this report. I believe Rentokil would benefit from an expanded overall group strategy on sustainability with a more comprehensive set of group-wide metrics with more specific measurable targets in each area.
The Rentokil report includes an array of case studies, brief commentaries from employees and one brief external thumbs-up from Business in the Community (UK). There is a nice section called "Inside View" which links to a range of videos on aspects of sustainable performance - the next best thing in a static PDF to an online social media experience.
Broader external stakeholder engagement is lacking in this report. Rentokil notes that "We communicate with our colleague stakeholders on a wide range of issues", referring to engagement with the European Works Council on employment-related matters, but there is no evidence of dialogue with other stakeholder groups on sustainability issues. The report is not aligned with the GRI framework though it has a content index at the end, which assists navigation to some extent. The PDF design is not easy to read online with text covering only part of the page and multi- column layouts which fragment the reading flow, plus dark backgrounds in some sections.
Rentokil presents an authentic picture, albeit somewhat selective, of managing corporate responsibility and accounting for direct impacts and indeed, the Company should be commended for maintaining a commitment to high quality annual sustainability reporting over many years. The report itself presents a rather inside-out view, focusing on responsible practices, often strong on details but not on the overall picture. The explanation for this can perhaps be found in Rentokil's approach to Corporate Responsibility which "emphasises action to match the needs of individual businesses, while ensuring compliance with group wide policies in areas such as health & safety, conduct, environment and product management." This perhaps helps us to understand why the report is populated with isolated examples of practice from individual business units rather than overall coverage of the key material issues that Rentokil faces. Aspects relating to broader quality of life and sustainability impacts of services on customers and the general public, for example, are not addressed. I feel this makes the sustainability communication rather fragmented, often jumping between issues which have been addressed through only one brief practice example, making it difficult to gain a fuller perspective of the scale and scope of specific topics across the entire business. Additionally, the Rentokil report would benefit from external verification to add credibility and bring this company's reporting onto a more professional plane up there with global reporting best practice. Taken as a whole, this report does not really add up to more than the sum of its individual parts.
1. Revise and expand overall sustainability strategy as a basis for performance and reporting.
2. Restructure the report around material issues.
3. Deliver greater transparency.
4. Add external verification.
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.