United Nations

The UNDESA Division for Sustainable Development – Providing Leadership on Implementing Sustainable Development

By: Patricia Chaves, Senior Sustainable Development Officer, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs — Division for Sustainable Development

Sustainable development has been of fundamental importance to the international community for over 20 years. Agreements on the implementation of this concept or guiding principle has been reflected in work programmes, United Nationsnational policies, development cooperation frameworks, outcome documents, regional strategies, Secretary-General’s reports and resolutions of the UN General Assembly agreed at various intergovernmental processes and summits of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the United Nations.

The concept has evolved internationally from the time of the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED – Brazil – 1992), to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD – South Africa – 2002) and the recent UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 – Brazil – 2012).

The three dimensions of sustainable development: Economic Growth, Social Equity and Environmental Protection.

Sustainable development benefited from broad based discussions among Member States, civil society, including the private sector, regional organizations and the UN system through the UN Commission on Sustainable Development which offered a platform for engagement and dialogue during the 20 years of its existence (1993 – 2013). The Commission was abolished in September 2013 to be replaced by the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

During a time of high expectations, hopes, enthusiasm and attentive interest on sustainable development after UNCED, the Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) was established in 1993. It aimed to give operational meaning to the concept of sustainable development by providing leadership in promoting and coordinating the implementation of the sustainable development agenda of the United Nations at the global, regional and national level.

The Division translates its responsibility as the primary UN office in support of intergovernmental sustainable development processes into five core functions:

  1. Support to UN intergovernmental processes on sustainable development;
  2. Analysis and policy development;
  3. Capacity development at the country level;
  4. Inter-agency coordination; and
  5. Knowledge management, communication and outreach.

In addition, the Division houses the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Unit mandated to support the implementation of the Mauritius Strategy of Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States. The Division also extends its work through overseas offices in Republic of Korea, Japan, Colombia, Kenya and Zaragoza, Spain. 

Support for the UN Intergovernmental processes includes preparing all substantive and organizational aspects of meetings of the General Assembly and ECOSOC, the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development as well as several processes launched at the Rio+20 Conference considered one of the largest conferences in the history of the United Nations. In particular, the Division is tasked with supporting member states’ deliberations of the open working group on the sustainable development goals, discussions at the intergovernmental committee on sustainable development finance, dialogues on the possible options for the establishment of a technology facilitation mechanism and the preparatory process of the 2014 Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States.

The Division also supports related regional processes and follows Member States’ implementation of commitments on sustainable development since the 1992 Earth Summit.

Through the Division’s analysis and policy development work, it provides an analytical and scientific basis for intergovernmental deliberations on sustainable development. It undertakes assessments of long-term sustainable development challenges, both new and intensifying ones.

The Division supports member states in translating decisions of UN intergovernmental bodies related to sustainable development.

Through its capacity development work, the Division supports member states in translating decisions of UN intergovernmental bodies related to sustainable development, specially agreements reached at Rio+20, into actual policies and actions at the country level. In particular, the Division endeavours to assist member states to develop policies that integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development, i.e. economic growth, social equity and environmental protection. These activities in turn allow the Division to inform intergovernmental bodies on the relevance and impact of normative and analytical efforts at the country level.

Through its interagency coordination responsibilities, the Division mobilizes the UN system and other relevant organizations to support sustainable development strategies. In particular, the Division houses Secretariats for key inter-agency mechanisms namely UN-Water and UN-Energy, and contributes closely to the inter-agency process on Oceans. It also chairs an informal mechanism called the Inter-Agency Consultative Group on SIDS.

Through the Division’s knowledge management, communication and outreach efforts, it aims to support the effective participation of Major Groups or civil society in the UN political processes and its analytical and capacity development work. It also provides wide access to information and knowledge on sustainable development, through its online Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform and social media: http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index.html

The Post 2015 Development Agenda
new, universal development agenda centered on sustainable development.

At present the Division is concentrating its efforts in supporting the follow up of the intergovernmental processes launched at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20 – Brazil – 2012) as enumerated previously. Most of these processes will have a direct bearing in the definition and shaping of a new, universal development agenda centered on sustainable development, known as the Post 2015 Development Agenda. Member States have agreed to launch a process of intergovernmental negotiations on this new development agenda in September 2014 which will last for a year and will culminate in the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda by a summit of Heads of State and Government in September 2015.

The year 2015 will mark an extraordinary moment in history for the international community in which challenging agreements must be reached on (a) a single framework for sustainable development supported by a new set of sustainable development goals as well as (b) on a meaningful legal agreement on climate change. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework launched in 2000 extended its life until 2015 and thus a new development framework needs to be agreed to continue the important gains achieved in 15 years of the implementation of the MDGs and envision emerging challenges for the next 15 years.


Message from the Chair – Not If, But How: 3 Essential Best Practices in CSR for 2014 & Beyond

By: Wanda Lopuch, Chair, The Global Sourcing Council

We’ve come a long way from the days when greed was good.

According to the 2013 Cone Communications Study, 91% of consumers are likely to switch brands to be associated with a good cause. Given comparable price and quality, a mere 6% of global consumers believe that the sole role of business is to make money www.conecomm.com/global-csr-study; 2013 Cone Communication/Echo Global CSR Study.

Wow, only a decade ago, studies were showing that the highest return on capital was considered to be the dominant goal of business! Today, the conduct of companies matter. The values of companies matter. Today, it is not IF, but HOW enterprises will bring social and environmental values into products and services.

Moreover, it’s not just consumers who care. Impact investors, which account for one of every eight dollars of the global investment capital, make their portfolio decisions based on criteria incorporating social and environmental impact. Increasingly, institutional investors set sustainability filters, mostly to screen out “black sheep” with social liabilities. Values matter to a broad spectrum of constituencies.

Qualifications for strategic partnership or participation in a supply chain depend to some extent on sustainability credentials; in the case of Microsoft, “global citizenship” accounts for up to 11% of the total vendor/partner score. Regulators, especially those in principle-based regimes like in the UK, make inferences about organizational values using sustainability as a proxy.

Values matter to a broad spectrum of constituencies.

In this April issue of The Source, we share examples of unique approaches to global sourcing human values. We applaud and celebrate the success of diversity of the workforce, as shown in the case study of autistic software testers at the SAP operations in India. We also discuss the growing pains of the maturing field of reporting on CSR initiatives. As the emphasis on sustainable sourcing deepens across supply chains we take an in-depth look at some of the frameworks and contractual protocols which leverage the intentions of impact investing and shared value business models. With this issue we are pleased to launch, In Conversation, a monthly profile featuring people actively engaged in sourcing who share their unique perspectives into evolving trends.

As compelling as these examples are, the business question arises: how do we put business value on these unique approaches that go beyond traditional business efficiency matrices? How do we evaluate the impact of the first paycheck of an autistic young man testing the software in India, or operating a Walgreens warehouse in Chicago? Or a single mom from San Paulo’ favela, who was given an opportunity, and skills, which allow her to offer her young children a descent leaving conditions?

Gone are the days of superficial sustainability reporting based on glossy pictures of children playing against the background of the Amazon jungle, to be followed by pages of promotional anecdotes. Consumers, and other key stakeholders, expect and demand more now. Today, business and consumers alike demand materiality, transparency, and accountability.

We know that consumers consistently reward products and services with social values. So, the best practices in CSR in 2014 are: Measure-Report-Communicate.


CSR initiatives and programs in sustainable and socially responsible sourcing, or 3S programs, need both emotional engagement AND discipline in evaluating their impact, right from inception. When conceiving a new project, however emotionally we may be driven, we must incorporate from the start methodologies that assess the impact of these initiatives. We must be prepared to collect data, patiently, over time, adhering to accepted standards, such as the GRI – Global Reporting Initiative, which offers a roadmap of which data points should be captured.


Early days superficial, anecdotal CSR reports are being rapidly replaced by evidence-based reporting. Reporting standards for CSR, based on the ESG framework (Environment, Social and Governance) are being adopted rapidly throughout sectors and industries, giving substance and authenticity to CSR reporting.

However, in this rapidly developing sustainability and social responsibility space, new challenges present themselves. Lou Coppola, in his article “Supply ChainSustainability Data Requests Stop the Madness” discusses data proliferation, “hunger” for data and “survey fatigue”. Lou calls for a data-sharing approach across sectors and industries. It is easy to see how such best practice will bring efficiency into reporting, especially for global companies with a vast supply chain.


Understanding the impacts of CSR and 3S efforts, and returns on these efforts, is universally demanded by businesses, shareholders, and consumers alike. Expectations are high as businesses and consumers become more educated and more sophisticated.

Data in the reports can be complex, confusing, and still the numbers will not capture every aspect of a project. Yet this data, when well communicated, translates directly into consumers’ loyalty, brand value and reputational standing, which in turn creates real and material assets.

In the age of information overload, even those aspects of CSR initiatives that are captured by data, need to be re-emphasized; their complexities explained, important points underscored. It is the responsibility of owners of a CSR project, to design and execute an effective communication strategy, again based on principles of transparency and accountability. In the 2013 Cone Echo Study, 85% of respondents said this it is acceptable if a company is not perfect, as long as it is honest about its efforts. So, adopting transparency and accountability should be viewed, not as a burden but rather a brand-boost.

There has never been a better environment for creating a communication plan that will reach the hearts and minds of consumers and other influencers. Communication strategies can now incorporate a variety of channels, ranging from traditional marketing materials, package inserts, point-of-sale information, etc., to tools and techniques which allow engaging the audience through social media with not only factual information but also story-telling and experience sharing.

The best practices for socially responsible endeavors, based on principles of Measure – Report – Communicate, are here to stay with us in 2014 and beyond, as there is a serious work ahead of us. Just to name few challenges which will keep us busy in the months and years to come:

  • Defining materiality in evidence-based measurement
  • Bringing efficiencies into reporting
  • Adopting standards across sectors and industries
  • Safeguarding transparency

This focus on materiality, transparency and accountability not only injects rigor and discipline into CSR, but by benchmarking, enables continuous improvement and development of the sustainability and social responsibility space.

Fellow GSC community members – we invite you to review and reflect on this issue. We encourage you to share your experiences, thoughts and ideas for other community members to learn from and get inspired. You may contact us at: contactgsc@gsccouncil.org.

Editor’s Note: Unique Approaches

By: JoDeen Urban, Editor In Chief, The Source

Divining, designing or redefining – much of what humans do in creative efforts and solving problems is built upon the lessons of prior endeavors by others. “Plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose”. The more things change the more they stay the same. While French critic, journalist and novelist Jean-Baptiste Karr may have been suggesting disillusionment that new dynamics do not actually create sustaining impacts when he said this, another interpretation of his bitter wit allows more hopeful elasticity; that within each changing step the human element remains constant.

“Plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose” – Jean Baptiste Karr (1808-1890)

The human element, our humanity, is constant and embraces many attributes: subjective/ objective, rational/ irrational, emotional/ logical, judgmental/ analytical, pessimistic/ hopeful, resilient, creative, compassionate…the list goes on. Within each is potential to cause change. Thus, our “elements” must remain within every equation in order to effect and perpetuate change. Sustainable progress does occur.

In our world of sourcing and sustainability, we are witnessing an array of unique approaches to change. A few examples: the movement to embed shared values within our contractual relationships and thereby redefine relationship management; a lexicon shift to drop the words “outsourcing, near-sourcing and on-shoring” completely in favor of the universal term “sourcing”; the expansive impacts of social, mobile and cloud technologies on supply chains; and the integration of more people into economies from “the bottom of the pyramid”. The latter especially is significant and builds upon multiple efforts including micro-lending and diversity-motivated CSR initiatives.

“Hope is the Waking Dream of Man”Aristotle (384 BCE – 322 BCE)

Within this issue of The Source each of our contributors address unique approaches to sourcing, all of which represent the human element working at its best, all of which embody hope. It is said by historians when Aristotle was asked “What is Hope?” he answered: “Hope is the waking dream of man”. Not quite four centuries later, Pliny the Elder embellished this insight by adding: “Hope is the pillar that holds up the world. Hope is the waking dream of man.” A clear example of building upon the wisdom of others and a philosophic precursor to what we now recognize in Twitter as a modified tweet (MT). Plus ça change.

We welcome contributors to this publication. Please share your insight and opinions at contactGSC@gscouncil.org, or contact me directly at jodeen@gscouncil.org.

JoDeen Urban
Editor In Chief

JoDeen is an independent management consultant working with established companies as well as start-ups on strategy, organizational capability and business model innovation.

Changing Perspectives, Changing Lives – A Unique Partnership Between Project Prayas and SAP

By: Kavita Sharma, Founding Director, Project Prayas: A Computer and iPad Training Center for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Bangalore, India
Introduction By: Richard Billson, Guest Contributor and Member of the Global Sourcing Council Women’s Empowerment Committee


As the father of a teenage boy with autism, my perspective has evolved over the years since his diagnosis at the age of 2. I witnessed a baby developing in a typical way become, almost overnight, a boy with severe challenges, both physical and mental. I struggled for a long time to cope with the dramatic changes that impacted both my son and my family as a whole. What has helped me above all is the support that he has received from many individuals and organizations dedicated to changing his life for the better: seeing possibilities not obstacles, including him as a valued and valuable member of society, honoring his differences.

The work described in this article by Kavita Sharma, Founding Director of Project Prayas is a shining example of the innovative ways in which resources can be harnessed to enable individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorders to maximize their skills, enrich their lives and make a productive contribution to society.

The Global Sourcing Council is proud to spotlight her insights and commentary regarding German software company SAP’s initiative to recruit people with autism as programmers and program testers. Working with the Danish start-up company Specialisterne to help find, train and manage employees with Autism Spectrum Disorders, SAP is aiming to populate its workforce of 65,000 by the same proportion of people diagnosed as autistic in society. This would represent about 1% of its workforce.

This article also holds significance as World Autism Awareness Day was celebrated on April 2. The United Nations General Assembly adopted by resolution World Autism Awareness Day in 2007. On this day, people around the world celebrate the unique talents and skills of persons with autism. In many countries the entire month is devoted to Autism Awareness and by way of support we invite our readers to learn more about this very unique approach to sourcing.


Changing Perspectives, Changing Lives

This article will describe how technology equates itself beautifully with the exceptional skills of persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and how simple adaptations and communication approaches bring in success and add value to a business.

Leveraging the unique abilities of people with (ASDs) and to convert a disability into a special talent has been the main innovation for Project Prayas, an initiative of Autism Society of India together with SAP labs India Pvt. Ltd. Bangalore, India. How to bring in systemic changes while dealing with individuals who face social challenges was the uphill task that has been accomplished.

The Project Prayas Lab in Bangalore, India was visited by Ms. Anka Wittenberg, Head Diversity and Inclusion at SAP Germany, in July 2013. The Project Prayas team is shown with SAP volunteers.

The Project Prayas Lab in Bangalore, India was visited by Ms. Anka Wittenberg, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at SAP Germany, in July 2013. The Project Prayas team is shown with SAP volunteers.

SAP’s global mission is to reinforce and unfold the potential of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders towards a quality education and livelihood-inspired by Project Prayas, Autism Society of India, Bangalore, India. 

Testing software may be an activity with much repetition but it is a high-end skill and one that also needs precision. Since 2011, six individuals with ASDs have been employed at SAP Labs India Pvt. Ltd. Bangalore in this task, in a completely “open” employment situation. This means they work with no support from peers or anyone with respect to commuting, working, meeting deadlines, attending meetings, going for lunches and other similar activities.

“Be the change you want to see” – Mahatma Gandhi

ASDs are little understood in terms of their etiology as they are highly heterogeneous in nature, which leads most of society to look at them only from the therapeutic perspective. Mahatma Ghandi said: “Be the change you want to see” and this quote has inspired some parents of individuals with ASDs to bring about changes in the way autism has been depicted so far.

In the recent past, technology has brought hope for individuals with ASDs. Computers, iPads, iPhones, iPods and some other assistive technology-based devices like Alpha Smart and Go Talk together with some software, have made life easier for individuals with ASDs and their families. This is especially important because these solutions seem to be the non-threatening tools for individuals with ASDs where “Sensory- Defensiveness” issues need to be considered.

These tools, if used meaningfully during the earlier stages of intervention, help enhance cognition, communication and thus social skills. These technology-based solutions also open-up various avenues of employment, such as Internet-based activities, data entry, validation of software, development of teaching-aids like PECS, social stories and development of symbols/ clip art through appropriate animation software.

The condition of ASDs has been associated with a jigsaw puzzle. SAP along with Prayas and the Autism Society of India has made an attempt to solve the puzzle.

March 12, 2011 marked the beginning of the process of change that I was involved in, beginning with a series of iPad workshops which took place in a computer lab followed by iPad intervention in June 2011. The focus early-on was on skill development and was named ‘’Reinforcing Potentials through Computer and iPad Interventions’’.

As a mother of two sons on the spectrum I could see the need to address the sensory issues exhibited by individuals with ASDs, the need to teach in smaller groups, the importance of audio- visual media, empowering and involving parents in everyday training and providing them the additional knowledge related to the approach. I adopted all these in our work at the Prayas Center.

We sought to implement a continuous and consistent daily training where we prevented all those stimuli which would cause the behaviors described as sensory defensiveness to erupt. While the training was an evidence-based approach, it was clearly obvious that all individuals showed a keen interest and an ability to pay attention to detail along with an unerring focus.

We changed our modality from being concrete to abstract, increased the degree of difficulty, and we were happily surprised when we continued to obtain good results. We could see that the following abilities were very easy to equate with technology:

  • —Attention to detail
  • Photographic memory
  • Association of events to facts etc.
  • A Love of following order or structure
  • Learning in real-life situations
  • Use of repetition in achieving perfection
  • Unerring focus
  • Pattern recognition

An example of attention to detail exhibited by persons with ASD is shown below. The two drawings were done by my son Ujjwal Sharma, who is now a young 18 year old boy diagnosed as having Asperger’s Syndrome. He drew the first picture when he was 10 yrs. old, never using a ruler. The second picture was drawn when he was 12 years old; it is a production of his visual photographic memory.

Sharma Graphic 1

Sharma Graphic 2Being socially challenged, many individuals with ASDs have a preference for computer activities as they do not then need to interact with other individuals, such as colleagues in the workplace. This characteristic inspired SAP to look at the employment prospects for these individuals.

Prayas was approached by SAP’s Test Center Team to explore the opportunities of employing persons with ASDs. Prayas, in turn, contacted a handful of individuals with ASDs. After an initial screening process conducted using a checklist developed at Prayas, they were invited for an interview along with their parents. This happened.

An on-site training started for four individuals was given by four “buddy” testers for a period of 6 weeks. By January 2012, all four trainees were on board and continued to work with their four buddies for the next six months. During this period, parents were also involved on a regular basis. While training continued, I facilitated the process by orienting the staff of the Test Center through seminars.

Various experiments were conducted with a view to helping these individuals to be productive, an approach that had never been tried by any other organization in India.

What is outstanding about this initiative is that it is being done
in a completely OPEN employment situation!

What is outstanding about this initiative is that it is being done in a completely open employment situation! All we needed to do was to adopt the ‘’Social Adaptations’’ through a systematic change. These social adaptations do not cost money; they are attitudinal changes – the way that the condition of autism is viewed.

  • Understanding individuals with ASDs as being orderly instead of being rigid
  • Understanding them as being truthful and straightforward instead of being rude
  • Understanding their sensory needs instead of associating them with negative behavioral issues.

Many individuals with ASDs have a constant desire to engage in repetitive activity. For a neurotypical person, testing software can be a boring task whereas an individual with ASD can use their ability and enthusiasm to work on scheduled tasks in an orderly and productive manner. Finally what worked was Changing Perspectives by looking at ‘’Ability in Disability’’.

Currently, SAP now has five individuals working in open employment who have been in the company for more than two years and have been of great value to the business. This has encouraged SAP to take a global decision that 1% of their workforce will be persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders by 2020.

By the year 2020, persons with ASDs will represent 1% of SAP’s workforce.

SAP has taken further steps to mobilize this initiative across the globe and is collaborating with Mr. Thorkil Sonne from Specialist People Foundation of Denmark and the USA. SAP is also collaborating with the University of Cambridge, in particular with Dr. Simon Baron Cohen who will provide advice and assistance in enabling employment.

In India, while the initial work has been done with respect to employment, there are still several gaps in the education system. ASDs are still not considered to be a disability under the Persons with Disability Act of 1995. This prevents the individual from exercising their rights of education and participation. There has been significant work done by numerous advocates to amend the Act, with the consequence that ASDs will likely be recognized by law. The Act has now been renamed as “Rights of Persons with Disability Act of 2012” and is due to be passed by the Indian government soon.

While this happens, parents and many like-minded professionals and corporations continue their own efforts to reinforce and unfold the potential of individuals with ASDs to enhance their educational and work opportunities.

While creating appropriate employment was the focus of our efforts, we also worked on the technology-based early intervention approach to teaching. To enable this, an online free resource called www.learn4autism.com was developed with the help of SAP volunteers from the department of Custom Development.The prime focus of this resource is to develop skills related to computers.

We aim to have this resource as the largest repository of computer-based education for persons with ASDs. We have developed the content on a user-friendly platform and encourage parents and educators to contribute. This resource also addresses the need of those families who cannot afford Internet access but have been given laptops and desktops. All one needs to do is download and copy the entire content onto a CD and give it to the family in need.

SAP volunteers have also helped Prayas in developing an iPad app called Bol which addresses the communication needs of non-verbal children with ASDs. It also addresses the diversity needs of Indian culture by giving an option of customization.

The association of Prayas /Autism Society of India with SAP has been very objectively oriented and has enabled us to address issues related to awareness, accessibility and affordability.

At a personal level, it has been a very satisfying journey for me to see these individuals beaming with confidence and bringing hope to many parents.

About the Author: Kavita Sharma is Founding Director- Project Prayas an initiative of Autism Society of India. Ms. Sharma is also Founder Member, Responsible for Advocacy Issues related to Autism, at Autism Society of India. For more information about her inspiring work, you may contact her at:

60, Vittal Mallya Road, Bangalore- 560001 India
Telephone +91 (8826654911)

About our Guest Contributor: Richard Billson is on the board of The Hawthorne Foundation, Gallup NYC, and an advisor/fundraiser for Special Needs Activity Center for Kids (SNACK), in NYC.


Supply Chain Sustainability Data Requests – Stop the Madness

By: Louis Coppola, Partner and Executive Vice President, The Governance & Accountability Institute

Companies are increasingly asking their supply chain for data on Environmental, Social and Governance issues. This data is important and can have huge impacts on supplier relationships, the sustainability of global economies, the environment and society as a whole. There are existing globally accepted frameworks that have been used by companies for decades. So, why are organizations creating their own new and unique frameworks and questionnaires for collecting this data? Small and medium size companies are overwhelmed with hundreds of individual requests and have every limited resources to respond to each and every unique survey.

If customers would utilize these existing standards to collect data from their supply chain then the same responses could be used by multiple customers and other stakeholders including investors, employees, NGOs, government, academia, raters and rankers and so on. Let’s start getting efficient when it comes to asking for ESG information from suppliers so we can all be more effective and utilize our resources for real world impact and change.

Sustainability Maturing – Supply Chain Footprints

Many large companies have integrated Sustainability programs throughout their organizations. These companies have typically established ambitious goals for their organizations around important issues like diversity, water, carbon, energy, biodiversity, human rights, and many other social and environmental issues. In Governance & Accountability Institute’s 2013 study on the S&P 500 we found that for the first time ever the majority are now publishing sustainability reports and that companies not publishing a report are in the minority (and it’s a shrinking minority).

As these companies mature in their sustainability programs they are now asking their suppliers for sustainability data, recognizing that they are part of the companies’ footprint. Leading companies like Microsoft, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Dell, Ford, Cisco, Procter & Gamble and many others are creating their own metrics to measure and engage with their supply chains.

Overall this practice is creating a wonderful cascading of sustainability into many more companies and helping to move the practice from large multi-national organizations down to small and medium size businesses. It is causing new mutually beneficial relationships and synergies to be found between customers, suppliers and other stakeholders that otherwise would not have been possible.

Growing Pains – A Growing Problem – “Survey Fatigue”

However, the maturing of sustainability comes with some growing pains along the way. Many companies are now complaining about what I like to call “Survey Fatigue”. The problem comes into play when each of these companies or other stakeholders collecting environmental and social information creates their own unique questionnaires, forms, or surveys.

On a recent Social Investment Research Analyst Network (SIRAN) conference call, members of the Coca-Cola Sustainability team stated that they received over 300 questionnaires to fill out and each is unique and overwhelming.  From our conversations with other companies this is not uncommon at all and the numbers can be even much higher than this.

The same large companies that complain of Survey Fatigue from other stakeholders like NGOs, Media, Government, Academia, Media, Investors, Raters and Rankers are now doing this same thing to their own suppliers by creating their own questionnaires, surveys, and systems. The overwhelming number of questionnaires is often insurmountable by most organizations with limited resources for responding to these requests for information. Individuals in these organizations with small budgets and stretched resources must often make difficult decisions on who they will respond to and who they will not respond to. It is just not possible to respond to every one of these surveys even though much of the information sought after is on the same topics just requested by other parties in different methods and formats.

Globally Accepted Standards Are The Solution

This is an unnecessary problem. There are already many standardized frameworks for reporting on Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) data which cover the topics organizations are looking to measure in their supply chains. For example the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework for sustainability is used by over 3,000 global organizations to report on various ESG issues and has been around for over a dozen years. The GRI framework is being used by the majority of these large companies to report on their own sustainability journey.

We need more efficiency in our Supply Chain Sustainability practices
as we all become more mature in how we manage our company’s own initiatives.

The large companies going out to their supply chain already use GRI to report publicly, so it would make sense to request the data from their suppliers in the same format so that all of it could be seamlessly rolled up into their own existing systems. We need more efficiency in our Sustainability practices as we all become more mature in how we manage our company’s own initiatives.

Companies could be using GRI and other standardized frameworks to request this info from their suppliers.  This would lead to one report (or “survey”) that could answer the requests of all customers / stakeholder in the supply chain.  The key is standardization so we can make the process for all parties involved much more seamless and less resource intensive.

There is a gap here that needs closing and a simple solution to the number one problem that companies and their suppliers are facing right now.  The solution would enable collaboration and results that have real impacts for all stakeholders by freeing up the time of sustainability professionals in these organizations to enact new programs, initiatives, strategies and actions rather than worrying about answering the 300+ surveys.  We need action on this now.

Let’s Get Started – Efficiency in Supply Chain Sustainability Data

The Governance & Accountability Institute’s solution for this is a 3 day workshop for large companies that are actively pursuing data from their suppliers.  The concept for this workshop is to work with the customer company to develop a supplier data collection system that utilizes the globally accepted and tested GRI framework for Sustainability reporting. The company will invite their major suppliers to take part in this 3 day event either virtually or on-site. The suppliers will receive certification following the training event and take part in a variety of team-building and brainstorming breakouts with management of both the customer and suppliers – working together to find common mutually beneficial solutions. For further details: Contact me at lcoppola@ga-institute.com.

So let’s stop this madness right now and utilize what’s already tried and tested so we can concentrate our resources on impactful actions and initiatives instead of wasting our time filling out surveys.

About the Author: Louis Coppola is a Partner and Executive Vice President of the Governance & Accountability Institute. He provides advice to clients related to disclosure, transparency and Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) activities and serves as a member of the Sustainable Investment Research Analyst Network (SIRAN) research steering committee.

Lou coordinates the Institute’s research studies including the annual “Does It Matter?” report on the S&P 500, and the Institute’s study of Sustainability Assurance Practices in collaboration with GRI, Bloomberg, and the big four accounting firms. To learn more about G&A Institute: http://www.ga-institute.com