Media group experiments with real-time assuranceSeptember 2009
A new form of ‘rolling assurance’ for online sustainability reporting is to be used by a leading UK media group.
The Two Tomorrows consultancy has been signed up by Guardian News & Media (GNM) to provide round-the-clock assurance of the company’s online sustainability area as it is updated with new figures and information.
The deal means Two Tomorrows will be regularly assuring data before it is uploaded, rather than on a one-off basis at a fixed point in the year.
GNM, which publishes the Guardian newspaper and the Guardian Unlimited website, moved most of its sustainability reporting online in late July, although it will continue to publish a summary printed report each year.
As a result, says Jo Confino, GNM’s head of sustainable development, the company wants assurance to move into ‘real time’ along with the content. Before the group puts new data on the site it will send the information to Two Tomorrows, and will expect a typical turnaround time of one week.
Once the data is assured it will be posted on the site with a logo indicating it has been verified – plus, in some cases, commentary from Two Tomorrows on the significance of the data. The first data likely to be assured in this way will be results from GNM’s employee survey, which are set to be published online later this autumn.
Two Tomorrows executive chairman Mark Line said the move was ‘an intriguing prospect for us as assurers’ and could offer a template for others looking at providing assured reporting that is more up to date than the ‘ancient history’ often presented to stakeholders.
‘Of course it will present challenges, particularly in terms of turnaround times, and we will be learning as we go,’ he said. ‘But it could signal a whole new approach to the assurance of sustainability reporting.’
Confino told EP that GNM research had been unable to uncover any company in the world that currently uses rolling assurance.
While Two Tomorrows will continue to carry out an audit of GNM’s fixed annual sustainability report using the AA1000 assurance standard, it says the standard is not suitable for the kind of ‘rapid response’ required by rolling online assurance. Instead it will use ‘core criteria’ agreed with GNM and to be made public on the group’s website.
Confino said the new arrangement might increase the amount of money that GNM has to pay for assurance, but not necessarily. ‘On the one hand we are asking them to assure on a regular basis throughout the year, but on the other hand when it comes to doing our annual report they will have assured much of the information already, so it could reduce costs in that area,’ he said.
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