The concept of sustainability centers on a balance of society, economy and environment for current and future health. Responsible resource management in all three areas ensures that future generations will have the resources they need to survive and thrive. One way that companies can consider sustainability and social responsibility is by focusing on the triple bottom line, which is an expanded baseline for measuring financial, social and environmental performance. It is also referred to as “People, Planet and Profit.”
The advantages enjoyed by an organisation that implements sustainable management include higher efficiency and competitiveness, increased financial returns and reduced risk for shareholders, attraction and retention of employees, stronger community relations, enhanced brand value and reputation, and improved customer sales and loyalty by responding to market needs (e.g.: including environmentally conscious consumers in your target market by providing environmentally or socially superior products to your competitors).
One certain way to prove that business is serious about doing “what’s right” is to publish a sustainability report. It shows the global community that it is serious about keeping its commitments and holding itself to a higher standard. In a world increasingly dominated by rankings and ratings, writing these reports has never been so critical; reading them has never been so revealing. Reporting, transparency, and accountability are signature issues. They illustrate integrity and build trust. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) has pioneered the development of the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting framework and is committed to its continuous improvement and application worldwide.
Sustainability Reporting in the Middle East
There are some encouraging signs that sustainability reporting is beginning to take root in Middle East business landscape. In Jordan, for example, Aramex was the first company to issue a GRI checked report covering everything from staff training and salaries to promoting road safety and reducing poverty. The Jordan River Foundation became the first NGO in the region to produce a GRI checked report, thus spearheading the movement for NGOs to issue sustainability reports. NGOs that can show they’re accountable and transparent are more attractive to donors, and are more viable partners for corporations and government.
The Arab Bank recently issued its annual sustainability report for the third consecutive year, which was evaluated at a level ‘A’ by the GRI, the highest evaluation level they grant, thereby exceeding the Bank’s previous reports. The report focuses in detail on the internal programs adopted by the Bank, such as the integration of certain environmental and social criteria in the project financing process, in addition to the implementation of a number of initiatives that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also increase internal awareness levels of the sustainability concept.
Also covered in the report are Arab Bank’s social contributions which exceed financial support to include services that allow customers to donate to a number of non-profit organizations, in addition to the participation of the Bank’s employees in volunteering activities and capacity building programs for non-profit organizations to help them maintain their operations.
Another notable example is that of Zain Group, the leading telecommunications provider in eight countries across the Middle East and Africa, which recently published its second sustainability report entitled “Dedicated to the Promise of a Wonderful World”. The report was prepared utilizing the GRI G3.1 guidelines and the principles of materiality, inclusivity and responsiveness taken from the AA 1000 Accountability Principles Standard. Focus was given to workers’ rights, human rights, the environment, ethics and governance, community involvement, supplier relation and gender disparity.
The United Arab Emirates is also keeping abreast of the sustainability reporting trend. The Centre for Responsible Business, which was formed in 2004, is the longest standing center promoting corporate responsibility in the UAE. The Centre not only assists Dubai Chamber members to apply responsible business practices that enhance performance and competitiveness but also offers a variety of educational, professional training and consulting services that are designed to build individual companies’ capacity to implement broad CSR programmes including business ethics, sustainability reporting and corporate governance.
In 2008, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD) and the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi set up the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Group (ADSG), a membership-based organisation whose mission is to promote sustainability management in Abu Dhabi by providing policy support, learning and knowledge sharing opportunities for government, private companies and non profit organisations in a spirit of cooperation and open dialogue.