It’s becoming difficult to dismiss corporate sustainability as just another fad. Seventy per cent of all companies on the S&P/TSX composite index now report at least some information about their impact on environmental, social and community affairs, according to a new study by Stratos Inc., a sustainability consultant in Ottawa. That’s roughly twice as many as five years ago. Stratos identified 114 Canadian companies that also publish sustainability information in annual or stand-alone reports.
Traditionally, resource companies have been at the forefront of sustainability reporting. This is not surprising, given their environmental impact. What’s new is that such reporting is becoming more mainstream, says George Greene, chair of Stratos. Sectors such as financial services and telecommunications now surpass their industrial counterparts in terms of the quality of information they disclose–possibly because customers might want industries with negligible environmental impact to be more socially responsible. Indeed, credit union Vancity and Telus top Stratos’s benchmark survey of 30 of the 114 companies.
Overall, Greene says some of the biggest improvements in sustainability reporting are in social areas, including community and stakeholder relations. Human rights details by companies operating overseas remain sketchy. “That’s a gap for us,” says Greene. Six of 15 reporting resource companies with overseas operations provided no information on human rights issues, illustrating they are neither able nor willing to disclose such information.
That’s too bad. A business strategy perceived to include human rights abuses is likely to create security and labour risks–not to mention public relations nightmares. If the disclosure trends reported by Stratos continue, customers and investors are increasingly going to want to know what companies are doing to other people, as well as to Mother Earth.