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Subnational Reporting Conference

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Lincoln Memorial Photo by Gwen White

 

 

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Monika Kumar

 

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Lydia Habhab

Last week in Washington DC, I participated in a World Bank Conference  on Subnational Reporting: Strengthening Governance Systems through Nonfinancial Reporting. This event, which was organized by Monika Kumar  and Lydia Habhab, provided information about the importance of nonfinancial reporting for subnational governments units (e.g., cities).

My role involved writing a framing paper for the conference. In the paper, I discussed many of the relevant issues for nonfinancial reporting at the subnational government level. I want to share some of issues in this blog.

What is nonfinancial reporting and why is it important?

Nonfinancial reporting covers a wide range of areas such as performance measurement and sustainability reporting. Nonfinancial metrics are important because they complement financial reporting by providing a systems view of an organization. Financial reporting is essential but insufficient to assessing and addressing economic, environmental, and social risks. Reporting on social and environment impacts are keys to understanding progress toward sustainable development. Nonfinancial metrics such as a city’s greenhouse gas emissions or workforce composition can provide information that is relevant to assessing an organization’s opportunities and risks associated with its operating activities. Poor air quality is only one of the risks that cities face. The curbing of greenhouse gas emissions can go a long way in reducing health consequences for citizens in a city. Measuring and managing these emissions should be part of the governing process. These nonfinancial metrics provide information that has major consequences for financial resources. Prevention costs are usually much less expensive than cleanup ones.

Why are subnational governments relevant to this discussion?

Cities are becoming the focal point of addressing the effects of climate change, inequality, poverty, hunger, and problems for humanity. In 2014, slightly over half of the world’s population was living in urban areas with the expectation that it would be 66 percent by 2050.  Because of the resources they use and services they provide, city governments have the opportunity to have positive impacts on sustainable development. Problems that affect local areas may vary substantially within one country because of vastly different environmental and social influences in the different regions. City governments deal with local issues and can often identify needed services. The issues and problems need to be examined at the local level to be addressed most effectively. To assess the issues, there is a need for nonfinancial reporting at the subnational level.

What are some of the important factors that might be reported?

City governments depend on a variety of resources or inputs such as environmental capital (e.g., water, biodiversity), social capital (e.g., common values, reputation), human capital (e.g., people’s competencies, experience), intellectual capital (e.g., patents, software), and manufactured capital (e.g., buildings, infrastructure). Metrics that provide information about these factors can be useful in addressing global problems of climate change, human rights violations, poverty, and human development.

There are numerous useful reporting frameworks that are available for nonfinancial reporting. The CDP is an example of a nonprofit organization that collects environmental and social information from companies and city and national governments on single topics such as emissions, water risk, supply chains, and forests. Other organizations that provide city-specific sustainability reporting tools include the Compact of Mayors  and ICLEI. In addition, voluntary guidelines and standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Standards and Integrated Reporting <IR> Framework are continually updating their frameworks to keep pace with the demand for sustainability-related information. Both are adaptable to cities’ needs. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has published ISO 37120, Sustainable development of communities — Indicators for city services and quality of life. It is intended as a means “…to help city managers, politicians, researchers, business leaders, planners, designers and other professionals to focus on key issues, and put in place policies for more livable, tolerant, sustainable, resilient, economically attractive and prosperous cities.”

These issues were discussed at the World Bank Conference chaired by Samia Msadek, Director, Governance Global Practice World Bank.

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Samia Msadek

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Punji Leagnavar, John Morrill, Samia Msadek, Bill Baue

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Samia Msadek, Bill Baue, Monali Ranade

 

 

 

 

 

 

The panel of experts included the following people:

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Bill Baue is co-founder of several organizations including: ThriveAbility Foundation, Reporting 3.0, Sustainability Context Group.Bill has also authored several publications, including A Leader’s Guide to ThriveAbility; Hairshirts, Rattlesnakes, and Shoelaces: Toward A Net Positive Movement; and Raising the Bar – Advancing Environmental Disclosure in Sustainability Reporting. He teaches in the Marlboro Sustainability MBA, and serves on the Technical Advisory Group of the WWF / WRI / CDP /UNGC Science Based Targets initiative. He blogs for Huffington Post, Sustainable Business and Sustainable Brands, where he also co-curates the #NewMetrics Channel.

John Morrill is the energy manager for Arlington County, Virginia. Arlington County is a signatory of the Compact of Mayors and has established sustainability goals. John leads a broad portfolio of work in energy management and policy, including climate mitigation and resilience. In 2008 he won a Climate Protection Award from the U.S. EPA for his work on the Arlington Initiative to Rethink Energy (AIRE), the county’s climate action program that now implements Arlington’s Community Energy Plan. John serves on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council (VAEEC), and also the Virginia Energy Purchasing Governmental Association (VEPGA). Prior to joining the County, John held a variety of research and management positions during 17 years with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) in Washington DC.

Punji Leagnavar is the Manager of Sustainable Development Policy and Government Affairs at GRI where she leads GRI’s program on the UN Sustainable Development Goals and oversees GRI’s engagement with governments. She has over a decade of experience in sustainable development and mitigation, working for organizations such as the Global Environment Facility and the United Nations Environment Program.

Monali Ranade is Senior Operations Officer, World Bank Climate Change. Ms. Ranade focuses on Knowledge Engagement and Innovations to scale-up low carbon development and green growth and to strengthen participation of private-sector.Prior to this, Ms. Ranade worked with the Carbon Finance Unit of the World Bank developing methodologies and programmatic approaches to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Energy and Urban sectors. Prior to joining the World Bank, Ms. Ranade worked with United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and as a Consultant to the Ministry of Environment & Forest, Government of India. Ms. Ranade started her career as a small business owner, moving on to a social marketing company focused on rural consumers, followed by several years with the International Institute for Energy Conservation (IIEC) providing consulting services to government agencies. Ms. Ranade’s educational background is in Mathematics and Economics.

It was a great conference!

 

 

Sustainability Training in New York City

Central Park

Central Park Photo by Michael White

I have been busy and away from my blog for a while but wanted to alert you to the ISOS Group’s GRI G4 Sustainability Reporting training April 27-28, 2016. I will be one of the instructors along with Eric Dziedzic of CRx Solutions. In addition, Stephen Donofrio, Founder, Greenpoint Innovations and Monika Kumar, Environmental Specialist, World Bank, will be conducting the CDP training session on April 29

If you haven’t signed up yet, please consider joining us in New York City at IFF, International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. I can tell you from past experience that it is a great facility for the training.

I hope to see you there!

GRI Reporting for Cities

Chicago as night falls

Chicago as night falls
Photo by Michael White

Cities are getting a lot of attention for taking action on climate change. With cities having over 50 percent of the planet’s population and creating 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, this action is born out of necessity.

By 2050, cities will be even larger; it is estimated that they will have 70 percent of the planet’s population. With this expectation, cities are compelled to respond to increases in waste, housing demand, poverty, effluents, water demand, traffic congestion, and air pollution, just to name a few challenges. One of the ways they are responding is by sharing lessons learned with other cities. As a vehicle to share their stories, numerous cities are joining networks such as C40, ICLEI, and ANSI Network on Smart and Sustainable Cities.

In addition to joining networks, cities are preparing sustainability plans and progress reports. The plans typically state goals and targets for carbon emissions, economic initiatives, and waste management. These plans are assessed over time using periodic progress reports comparing actual results to targets. In most instances, cities use whatever reporting format they want. These reports are good for presenting what is working and what is not. Yet are unstandardized formats optimal for better management, transparency, and communication? 

I think cities  would be better served if they used the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Sustainability Reporting GuidelinesThe GRI guidelines are used by 83% of the 250 largest corporations. So what does this have to do with cities? As the most widely used framework, it is known by many investors, governments, and NGOs. This means more people would be able to understand the cities’ GRI reports.

At a recent World Bank Group Webinar, I presented how the GRI Sustainability Reporting Guidelines can benefit cities. What are the benefits? The GRI G4 guidelines focus on an organization’s economic, environmental, and social dimensions. All three are necessary to measure a city’s progress toward sustainable development. The GRI G4 guidelines enable a city to report only what is important to that city. Cities have many challenges in common, but not all challenges are equal across them. In some cities, social issues such as human rights are more pressing whereas in others environmental issues such as air quality need immediate attention. By using a well-known, standardized framework, cities and stakeholders can monitor their progress from period to period. Does using the GRI framework allow for direct comparisons across cities? I do not think any two cities are directly comparable but using a standardized framework would make it easier to share the lessons that have been learned.

Another benefit is that GRI sustainability reporting metrics provide input for an integrated report. Integrated reporting shows how organizations create value in the short, medium, and long terms. This is especially relevant for cities as they plan for the future. An integrated report is intended to connect an organization’s environmental, social, and economic concerns.  For example, if a city invests in electric buses powered with cheaper renewable energy, this investment creates value for the city in many ways. The city’s assets have increased because it purchased the buses. It now has a fleet of electric buses that will create value for the city by reducing yearly fuel and maintenance costs. Using electric buses powered by renewable energy reduces pollutants and carbon emissions which in turn improves air quality. With better air quality, the city improves the health of its citizens. As a result, health care costs are reduced. As shown by the electric bus example, an integrated report can explain how sustainability metrics are connected to creating value.

Cities need to prepare GRI reports as they plan for a sustainable future. Take a look at some pioneering cities that have adopted the GRI framework. The list includes Chicago, Atlanta, Melbourne, Dublin, and Warsaw.

Webinar – Sustainability Reporting for Cities with the World Bank Group

Join us for An Integrated  Reporting Community of Practice Event with the World Bank Group

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Sustainability and Integrated Reporting

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
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