Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


New reporting regime takes off at Heathrow

June 2010

The company that runs the world’s busiest international airport has decided to switch from detailed annual CSR reporting to bi-monthly briefings on specific social and environmental topics.

Heathrow Airport Ltd, which is owned by Britain’s largest airport operator, BAA, says the unusual move is an acknowledgement that its annual sustainability reporting regime has been failing to engage stakeholders.

‘We spent a lot of time towards the back end of last year reviewing the stakeholder feedback from our annual sustainability report – as well as the lack of it  – and we decided that it just wasn’t turning the dials,’ said Iain Groark, head of sustainability at Heathrow Airport. ‘People were telling us they didn’t have time to read it. It just wasn’t working as well as we needed it to.’

From now on Heathrow Airport will produce an annual eight-page printed ‘sustainability performance summary’ allied to similar length briefings on various topics every two months.

Last month it published the first briefing, on climate change, looking at Heathrow’s impacts. Up to Christmas it plans to produce others on noise, air quality, employment, training and skills, and economic impacts. Thereafter it may look at biodiversity, water, energy use, and waste. Topics will be returned to on a regular basis.

Groark said the briefings will be ‘a bit more journalistic in style’, with more images but still with plenty of data. ‘They need to be something that people can flick through and get a rough idea of how things are managed but are also robust enough to stand up to scrutiny,’ he told EP. ‘That’s quite a difficult balance to achieve.’

He added that the key reason for the change was that existing reporting did not appear to be convincing stakeholders that performance was improving. ‘Our research showed that even though we are getting better on sustainability issues across most indicators, that’s not changing our stakeholders’ perceptions. They’re not hearing the message, and I think that’s the real driver behind this change.’

The briefings will go to exactly the same stakeholders, including headteachers of schools near Heathrow airport, residents associations, community groups, MPs, local authorities, and around 2000 suppliers. However, there are plans over the next six months to  find better ways of reaching passengers through messages across the airport on advertising spaces and in lounge areas. This will coincide with a revamp of sustainability information on the group’s website.

Heathrow has looked at the reporting regimes of many companies and been advised on the changes by the Context consultancy. But it found only one example of a company doing something similar to its new idea: Unilever, which has produced a number of briefings on various topics as part of its sustainability reporting strategy. However, Groark said the Unilever briefings take a broader view than Heathrow will. ‘We actually want to put performance data  in there rather than just looking at the issues generally,’ he said.

Some extra costs will be incurred as a result of the changes, but they are expected to be only ‘minor’.

BAA | UK & NI Ireland | Sustainability Reporting

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