March 31, 2004
Wisconsin Energy Reaps External and Internal Benefits from Social and Environmental Reporting
by William Baue
Wisconsin Energy won accolades for its Global Reporting Initiative-based report, which also raised
internal awareness of social and environmental performance.
It is readily apparent why stakeholders appreciate corporate reporting of social and environmental
performance based on Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. Among other things, GRI is very
comprehensive. Some companies, however, have yet to understand the value of social and
environmental reporting, much less through such an expansive platform as GRI.
benefits of sustainability reporting became evident to Wisconsin Energy (ticker: WEC), a Milwaukee-based Fortune 500
energy holding company, at the prompting of stakeholders.
"In the late 1990's, we started
to receive an increasing number of requests from stakeholders for detailed information regarding
social and environmental performance, as well as financial performance," said Richard A. Abdoo,
Chairman and CEO of Wisconsin Energy. "Many of these requests came in the form of very lengthy
surveys, which took literally hours to complete."
"We started looking for some mechanism
for reporting that was most widely accepted, so that we would be able to refer stakeholders to one
report that was user friendly and complete," he added. "It was in this way that we came across the
Global Reporting Initiative."
Much of the data required by GRI was already being gathered
for internal use or for reporting to external agencies. However, the information was not
consolidated in one place, and doing so proved challenging.
"Sometimes information is
readily accessible and visible--other times it sits on someone's spreadsheet in a private file,"
Mr. Abdoo told SocialFunds.com. "Data collection, alignment and verification can require
"As we started assembling the material to conform to the GRI
principles, however, we began to see a much greater value in this sort of report," Mr. Abdoo
which discloses not only social and environmental but also economic performance, has proven
valuable for disseminating this information far and wide. Since its December 2002 publication, the
Wisconsin Energy Performance Report Website has received over 300,000 hits from more than
12,000 unique visitors.
The 2001 performance report gained recognition by winning the
2002 Sustainability Reporting
Award from the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) for Outstanding First Time Reporting.
The 2002 performance report made the shortlist for the 2003 Sustainability awards, which will be
announced at the April 2004 CERES Annual Conference.
While the report proved valuable
for external communication of the company's sustainability commitments, internal communication was
a different story, at least to begin with.
"Internally, our first Performance Report was
not widely read by employees," said Mr. Abdoo.
In 2003, the company intensified its
internal communication efforts through meetings with employee groups to increase awareness of the
purpose and findings of the report. This outreach effort increased employee interest.
"The most common reaction, often from long tenure employees, was 'I didnít know we did that' or
'that's really cool!'" said Mr. Abdoo. "The report has worked as a way to sustain and improve
performance, and prioritize where to focus our improvement efforts."
The report team
identified some specific performance improvement opportunities. For example, at We Energies and
Edison Sault Electric (utility subsidiaries) employee safety performance fell below expectations.
In 2004, improvement targets were set across the entire organization.
report has proven to be very useful for internal purposes, goal setting, and even recruitment of
employees," said Mr. Abdoo.
What does the future hold for the report? As it stands, the
report is "too lengthy," according to Mr. Abdoo.
"We would like to streamline it and show
better linkages to other Websites," said Mr. Abdoo. "We will work with the GRI to better define
reporting boundaries and practices for electric utilities to more accurately/appropriately report
"We also will openly and regularly communicate with our customers,
shareholders, employees, and other key constituents, and seek their feedback on our progress," he