Accountability is not a new term or a mere trend of the day in the world of finance. Like a government that has to report on its use of public funds to its citizens, every company listed on the stock exchange must be accountable. But for companies that are engaged in sustainable development, there are currently no regulations regarding the disclosure of information. For us at Cascades, there is no question: transparency demonstrates the company is serious in its approach and shows a commitment to keeping stakeholders informed.
In my opinion, accountability is one of the most interesting aspects of sustainable development and my current work. At this writing, we at Cascades are in the middle of gathering all our data for 2011. I can report that there are people busy sorting through data and making calculations right now. More than ever.
Why? Because this is the first year that we will publish results for the 18 objectives (performance indicators) that make up our Sustainable Development Plan 2010-2012. Our plan was made public at the beginning of 2011, just slightly behind schedule.
This delay has not prevented us from making progress towards our objectives. 2011 was a busy year and there is still much to do. We have been ambitious and it isn’t until you are in the thick of things that you realize the magnitude of the job you have set out. That said, we remain focused and will soon unveil where we stand at the midway point.
As much as the concept of accountability is exciting for people like me working in the area of corporate social responsibility at Cascades, it can be worrying for some. What will people think if we do not achieve our objectives?
I’m among those who think all efforts are valid and every initiative to improve our methods is laudable. Some things we can control, others we can’t. The important thing is to do our best in the context in which we operate and above all to explain the cause of any deviation.
I also hear concerns about comparisons with the competition. What if a competitor posts better results than ours? My response is that it is necessary to benchmark against our own results. If a company drags its feet for years and suddenly decides to improve, its chances of doing so are obviously greater and its results will appear to be better.
Building a list of performance indicators is a complex process that for now is the individual responsibility of every company. Until standard indicators by sector or industry are established, comparisons with the competition are futile. What every company should strive towards is improving its own performance.
In a few weeks we will share our figures with you, in accordance with our goal of transparency. As we are at the midpoint of our strategic plan for 2010-2012, we will not be producing a separate sustainable development report but rather a summary insert for our financial report.
All figures will be reported to our employees through our usual internal channels of communication and will be accessible on our website.
There you have the Cascades approach to transparency. Now, what do you think of North American companies? Are they transparent enough?