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April 28, 2004
Sustainability Report Awards Reward Disclosure on Environmental, Social Performance
    by William Baue

Canada-based Suncor and Dofasco, Texas-based Dell and Kinko's, and Michigan-based Ford win sustainability reporting awards from CERES and ACCA.

Earlier this month, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) announced recipients of the second annual North American Sustainability Reporting Awards. Alberta-based Suncor Energy (ticker: SU) won top honors for the best sustainability report of the 32 submitted. Texas-based Dell (DELL) took home the award for the best environmental report of the 12 entered. Kinko's, a privately-held company that is also based in Texas, won the best first-time report.

The awards seek to "encourage better reporting on sustainability," "reward best practice and provide guidance" to others publishing sustainability reports, and "increase accountability for impacts and responsiveness to stakeholders," according to the judges' report.

"The aim is to reward transparency rather than evaluate performance," the judges' report continues.

"Sustainability reporting acts as a key driver of good corporate social responsibility performance and plays a vital role in improving not just communication, but also credibility and trust between organizations and their stakeholders," said John Ferguson, ACCA's vice president of communications in North America. ACCA is the largest international accountancy organization. "Sustainability reporting provides a clear framework to allow stakeholders, including investors, to compare companies on their performance--both good and bad--year on year."

The judges, who include Julie Fox Gorte, director of social research at the Calvert Group and Steve Lydenberg, chief investment officer of Domini Social Investments, rewarded reports that followed Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. The judges praised the Suncor report for its alignment with the GRI reporting principles and for providing an index correlating the report's content to GRI guidelines.

"Suncor's Sustainability Report is the first by a Canadian company to be prepared fully in accordance with the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which is setting new international standards for sustainability reporting," said Rick George, Suncor's president and CEO.

The judges also applauded Suncor's inclusion of both "absolute and normalized data, presented clearly, with five or more years of data for many indicators," according to the judges' report. Other exemplary aspects of the Suncor report was its external verification, and its excerpting from the Auditor's Observations.

The awards recognized Dell's innovative reporting structure, which it based on four stages of product life cycle: product concept and design, manufacturing and operations, customer ownership, and end-of-life. The awards also applauded the Dell report for providing "detailed information about materials used in products and processes, including goals for reduction or elimination of environmentally sensitive materials," according to the judges' report.

The Kinko's report represents a "pioneering effort by a retail services company," according to the judges, who also commended the report's use of "accessible" metrics to show energy savings or waste reduction in measures like landfill space or harvested trees.

In addition to these three primary awards, the judges also awarded two commendations: to Michigan-based Ford (F) for sustainability reporting and to Ontario-based steel producer Dofasco (DFS.TO)for innovative reporting.

The judges admired CEO Bill Ford's "candid" message introducing the Ford report. In contrast to the frustration experienced at the "user-unfriendliness" of many of the web-based reports, the judges lauded Ford's effective use of the Internet to present additional materials as well as indexing to where GRI-related material could be found on-line.

The Dofasco report integrated financial and sustainability reporting, a move the judges encourage other companies to do in order to establish the materiality of sustainability information.

"The judges recommend that, following a transparent process, reporters prioritize the issues most relevant and material to their business, rather than use the report to 'data dump' and overload users with non-significant information," reads the judges' report.

Finally, the judges recommend that reports demonstrate stronger links between corporate governance and sustainability issues, disclose companies' lobbying positions on key public policy issues, and have reports verified by external auditors.


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