Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


Sainsbury’s jumps into quarterly reporting mode

February 2010

Sainsbury’s has begun to produce a quarterly corporate responsibility report alongside its financial trading updates.

The UK supermarket chain says the unusual step is intended ‘to make CSR even more central to the way the company does business’. Only a handful of other companies have taken similar action, including the US clothing retailer Timberland and the Australian bank Westpac.

The first quarterly CR update was issued alongside Sainsbury’s third-quarter financial results last month.The report, two pages long, includes information on record sales of Fairtrade products over the quarter, a pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from its fridges, and a new emphasis on encouraging customers to use left-over food.

Ben Eavis, Sainsbury’s corporate responsibility and ethical trade manager, said aligning corporate responsibility updates with financial reporting would help show how seriously the company takes social and environmental issues, while ‘illustrating the values that underpin our financial performance’. So far no extra costs are involved in producing the documents, but there may be if Sainsbury’s decides to replace its yearly CSR report with more detailed quarterly updates.

Oliver Dudok van Heel, head of corporate responsibility at the consultancy Radley Yeldar, said the decision was ‘very welcome’ and should be emulated by other businesses, adding: ‘If a firm has CSR integrated into its operations, and it reports quarterly on all other aspects of the business, then why wouldn’t it do this?’  

However, Dudok van Heel said he had reservations about the content of the update. ‘My thought on the first effort is that it tends to be a little bit good-newsy. That’s fine, but you’d like a better sense of how they’re really doing and some harder information would be good. Timberland’s reports are much more data-heavy, and are more interesting as a result.’

Simon Propper, director of the Context consultancy, also expressed concerns. ‘My initial reaction was that it’s a step forward for Sainsbury’s to be aligning CR reporting with financial updates,  although it’s the integration with business issues that appeals, more than the move to quarterly reporting. But the reality is a big let-down. The update is simply a collection of good news stories, with no data and no discussion of progress. It’s an opportunity missed to discuss the synergies and tensions between business objectives and sustainability. Credibility comes from the fundamentals, not the PR team.’

Few companies are even close to quarterly reporting, but Sainsbury’s action is part of a trend to more frequent dissemination of CSR data.

Jon Woodhead, group director at the Two Tomorrows consultancy, said: ‘There will be some areas of performance, such as long-term targets, where annual reporting is more appropriate. But on the issues of today, companies have to show what they are doing in the here and now, otherwise they risk being marginalized and ignored.’

Sainsburys | UK & NI Ireland | Reporting

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