One stop shop for the Sustainability / CSR Report production? I don’t think so…

Chris Milton sent me this press release link yesterday published by a company called Gaia Metrics in association with CSRWire advertising a great new way to reduce your sustainability / CSR report costs by 90%. Wow, I thought. Lets check this out. Have they developed or found something new I did now existed?

This is what the first paragraph of the press release reads:

“Gaia Metrics announced today the availability of CSR QuickStart™, which dramatically reduces the time, complexity and cost of finding and assembling the words and numbers that populate a Corporate Social Responsibility or Sustainability (CSR) Report. By automating the process of collecting relevant CSR Report data, CSR QuickStart™ reduces the time to do so from months to just days, and cuts typical costs by 90 percent or more.”

I stopped reading after that paragraph to be honest. You know why? This product is simply useless in my view and experience working on these kind of reports. What quality can you expect by this automated process of information gathering? Not much is my answer.

My view of Sustainability / CSR Reports
Sustainability / CSR reports are so much more then just figures and words. Reports provide you with a view into the inner workings of the business, its values and so much more. This kind of report which would be produced with the above mentioned service in my view can only be a ‘rip off’ of a companies Sustainability / CSR practice.

Are we at this point in the Sustainabilty / CSR field where the practitioners try to lower the costs of a report with all tools available no matter how useless they are? I surely hope not…….

Picture Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/4850758742

No Comments

  1. Hi Fabian — we agree CSR reports are so much more than just figures and words. But you need the figures and words to get to the next step, which is insight.

    No need for you to speculate about it. We're happy to set up a demo so you can see how CSR QuickStart works, and then make an informed opinion of its value.

    Write me at rschettino@gaia-metrics.com and we'll schedule a demo for you.
    Robert Schettino

    1. Thanks for the comment Robert. I am not speculating but speaking from experience working on CSR reports from a organizational and consultant point of view. Your figure of 90% is absolutely unrealistic no matter how good your software is.
      I will be in touch.

    2. Automating the gathering of raw data can save time and money, assembling the data into a meaningful report will always be human function.

  2. Hi Fabian

    Only just seen this and couldn't agree more. Using software to virtually automate the report fails to address what lies at the heart of the reporting process and completely misses the point. . Archie Carroll broke down CSR to a four part framework, 'the economic, legal, ethical and discretionary', surely the inclusion of the ethical dynamic surely dictates a real input from the organization itself.

    My understanding of CSR states that the governing principal is one of accountability, That is, an organization accounting FOR ITSELF and shining a light on it's business practices.

    When Rob Gray defined social reporting, he wrote of "descriptive, non-quantified information". being involved, this inclusion of company culture into social reporting I believe is imperative if it is to maintain an ethical stance when reporting it's own activites.

    And if an organization doesn't even want to maintain an ethical stance when actually creating its own social report, then why bother doing it at all?

    David Collier, Tilles (#tillesuk)

  3. Hi Fabian:

    Wow, such strong and dismissive words for someone as thoughtful and creative as you.

    We don't know each other but I respect your work and read your blogs. I am the president of CSRwire and would like you and your readers to know that I have spent a good deal of time getting to know the very fine Gaia Metrics management team and their software innovation CSR Quickstart.

    I was happy to see Robert's comment below (he's the CMO of Gaia Metrics). Looks like he has offered to set up a demo, and that you have agreed to be in touch. This is great. I've had multiple demos and the experience left me excited about the flexibility and opportunity this technology offers as a starting point for some companies and a reasonable end-point for others.

    I was impressed by the opportunity to put this technology to work in very practical and useful ways. It will be valuable as a standalone reporting tool or with inputs from internal and external CSR experts, consultants, finance folks and regulators. I admit to being enthusiastic about making sustainability reporting available for all organizations and their suppliers. Many of our members tell me that the time and costs associated with preparing a quality CSR report is a huge burden, and therefore a deterrent to reporting.

    I'm cautious and deliberate by nature so CSRwire ordered an independent analysis of the concept, the patented software and the Gaia Metrics team. Before I would agree to co-market this tool to our members and friends I had to be sure there was significant merit. The report gave us the confidence to move forward. I think this technology will make a huge difference in making sustainability reporting more accessible and accurate.

    I sense that we are both after similar positive outcomes that are both substantial and useful. We are serious people who do good work. Your blog post startled me because it was so curt. I'm glad you will be giving Gaia Metrics the opportunity to demonstrate the strength of CSR Quickstart. I expect that the team will welcome your expert comments and feedback.

    Most sincerely, Jan

    1. Hi Jan. Thanks for taking the time to write this. My biggest criticism as I wrote in the answer to the comment above is that especially the headline and underlying meaning elevates this solution to a 90% cost cutter for reports. I think this is misleading for a company looking for a software solution.

      I am happy to review the demo, etc and change my view on this. I am always open about this. But my experience is that any kind of automated solution for CSR reports does not work. Quite the opposite really.

  4. Having worked as a consultant/technical advisor in the sustainable development/governance reform fields for over two decades, I would hope that a pre-requisite for any reputable professional in the CSR reporting domain (which is–lets be honest–a 'work in progress),' is to remain open minded to the introduction of new tools and techniques. CSR is after all, a potential and not a discrete outcome. In my view, new tools/approaches such as those offered by Gaia Metrics, which may bring us even a small step closer to this full potential, have value and relevance. Consequently, they should be more thoroughly investigated and evaluated before making throw-away statements such as 'rip off' and 'useless.' Of course, I can well understand what may be behind such defensive and overtly dismissive sentiments, especially when they come from consultants who have a vested interest in keeping the production of CSR reports a complex, proprietary and highly-priced activity?

    1. Hi Roman. What are you implying with your last question? If you would have taken the time to read some of my reporting posts you would have seen that I am a big fan of short and straight to the point reports. But a one stop shop for CSR reports is not possible in my experience. These reports are far to complex for this kind of solution.
      I am always keeping an open mind for new tools, etc but my biggest criticism here is that the marketing machine has ballooned something possibly useful into more then it really is from the sounds of it.
      I ready to be proven otherwise but I am not holding my breath. I know the IT area for CSR reporting solutions quite well. I can therefore make an informed opinion I believe.

      By the way, what is your background in this area if I may ask?

      1. Fabian-Thanks for your reply. I have read many of your posts which I greatly value and appreciate. However, if you'd taken the time to read the whole press release from Gaia and then, dug a little deeper (on their web site, for example) you'd discover that QuickStart is just that–a 'starting point' for report creation NOT a solution per se. It greatly reduces time and cost in raw data collection/collation and then critically, allows for substantial human filtering, intuition, validation and stakeholder engagement in the actual creation of the final output (report). Like you, Gaia firmly believes in a customized output for the client; they have simply tried to shorten the distance to target, and reduce the complexity (time and cost) of key parts of the journey. Gaia will also, Im sure, tell you that their approach has substantial gaps but as a consequence, this highlights important questions along the entire process, which beg further attention. Nothing wrong with that.

        Now I absolutely agree-marketing hyperbole is out of place and should be reined in, but it is a fact of life in every profession alas — including CSR, which after all exists in the corporate context – no stranger to all kinds of marketing hyperbole, misinformation, exaggeration, BS and worse. One stop shop? probably not. Creative starting point and innovative tool — certainly. But beyond this, Gaia have a vision for CSR reporting as a doorway to intriguing possibilities in how companies not only report but view/value the 'intangible wealth' that is in many respects, at the heart of CSRs greater potential. My suggestion is contact Gaia, talk to them, yes–ask hard questions (without being too prejudicial or dismissive) and you may discover something of real value, interest and wider application. After all, in the evolving domain of CSR, aren't we all in reality, experts is only some aspects but non-experts in most.

        1. Absolutely. I am in contact with Gaia and will report back over the course of the next weeks. Thanks for engaging Roman.

          1. Thanks for a fascinating blog. Wish you well in all your endeavours and may the valuable contributions and ideas continue to flow…best wishes

          2. Thanks for a fascinating blog. Wish you well in all your endeavours and may the valuable contributions and ideas continue to flow…best wishes

  5. Something I've often thought CSR could really promote is real time transparency. This isn't just publishing the metrics, but setting up the systems to be able to make those metrics available in real time on the web.

    It strikes me a system like Gaia's could have huge use in doing this.

    However it also strikes me that considerable investment probably has to happen before Gaia's solution can be effective. Not even the best bit of software can magic figures out of nowhere.

    On a different train of thought, Fabian's also said that what troubled him the most was the 90 percent cost reduction figure.

    This figure is marketing hyperbole at it's best. It doesn't give a typical, accurate or even optimal picture : it is over exaggerating a claim in order to grab the headline.

    And Fabian's right to be outraged by this figure. One of the basic features of CSR is that there's a certain honesty and straighforwardness in our communication with one another; hyperbolic marketing claims (eg greenwashing) are met with the derision they deserve.

    The offer has been made for Fabian to have a trial of the software and I truly hope he can take it up. However, I also hope Gaia will realise they can't be so sensational in their claims.

    Up to 90% cost reduction? Fine, but please put it into context. What's the average for your current clients? What's the average spend to (I presume) set up interfaces between current IT systems and yours?

  6. I read this post, the announcement and the commentary. A lot of good conversation. Raised numerous questions for me because I think ultimately the real framework for leading CSR and Sustainability that implies value is not every going to be described in a report or accountability framework. Given the chaos surrounding Accountability in the last few months, I began doing my own analysis. I think it was Elaine Cohen who recently pointed out that only 80,000 companies used the GRI framework. I believe report capture is an important ingredient in monitoring CSR, I do not believe it is an end to itself. If a software package is used to track, I also believe this is better than no reporting at all, but ultimately it is not the report that embeds sustainability in a culture.

    Lavinia Weissman http://www.thestoryofmeaingfuluse.com

    Sustainable Value versus Accountability http://thestoryofmeaningfuluse.com/2011/03/02/sus

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