How my GRI reporting journey started in Venezuela’s jungles a decade ago
As I was updating Prizma's sustainability reporting experience on CorporateRegister.com (now clocking 28 assignments), I was reminded of how it all started about a decade ago while working on an ESIA involving a large-scale mining project in the jungles of Venezuela.
Engaging with conservation NGOs and scientists, using CI's Rapid Assessment Program methodology, and generating more credible baseline studies for better decision making
At that time, I was using the experience gained at Dames & Moore, the European Bank (EBRD), and CoreRatings to contribute to the alignment of a bankable environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) for a mining project in Venezuela with the Equator Principles and the emerging IFC Performance Standards . Here are three lessons which continue to influence my sustainability reporting engagements today (all images from over 10 years ago).
First, capital project developers, such as mining companies, typically conduct extensive stakeholder engagement, pursue social license to operate, generate voluminous feasibility studies and ESIAs, adopt policies and systems, perform extensive monitoring, and submit numerous reports to diverse audiences when developing their projects.
Dialogue and surveys help companies understand, avoid or minimize impacts, and generate shared value
The resulting treasure trove of data provides an easy entry point into sustainability reporting. I realized this opportunity when conducted another site visit in Venezuela, and was contemplating how to explain the existing context (designated multi-use forest reserve, presence of indigenous people, un-related impacts of artisanal and small-scale mining, etc.) and the overlay of predicted project impacts (+/-) to diverse audiences (ranging from investors to conservation NGOs) without directing them to a voluminous ESIA.
Indigenous people expect participatory engagement aligned with their decision making structure and practices
Second, generating a company's inaugural sustainability report is not 'half as complicated' as some of the simplest studies which are typically completed by capital project developers, such as mining companies. However, like all other successful initiatives, sustainability reporting also requires a business case and purpose, a suitable methodology and approach, and organizational support. So, when senior management of the mining company I was working with decided to pursue and fully support the company's inaugural sustainability reporting, I knew the completion of this task was well within reach. I also realized that I needed to support various company-internal data/topic champions unfamiliar with GRI, which remains the most widely used sustainability reporting framework, to actively participate in the process (without getting frustrated by some of the quirks of the process along the way).
Engaging and supporting company-internal champions is a key success factor for sustainability reporting
Third, a sustainability report is not like a proverbial 'silver bullet'. It does not replace but is part of a thoughtful engagement and communication strategy. For example, local communities often expect an iterative engagement process leading to trusted relationships and shared value generation. A glossy sustainability report can't deliver or replace activities required to pursue, maintain and safeguard a social license to operate. However, a report can capture the context and process, showcase the status of relationships and trust, highlight associated challenges - such as presence of artisanal mining - and outcomes, and indicate future goals and plans.
Large scale impacts from artisanal and small scale mining in KM88 region of Venezuela
I am not fully sure why we are currently observing a decline in sustainability reporting in the mining sector. According to CorporateRegitser.com, the numbers of published mining reports has been declining steadily from 256 reports in 2014, to 245 reports in 2015, and 222 in 2016. No doubt, the declining and volatile commodity prices have contributed to this decline.
Where or how did you start your sustainability reporting journey? What are some of your lessons learned as a reporting consultant or a company hiring one?
A couple of my other articles you may find interesting:
About the author: Mehrdad Nazari (MBA, MSc), Director of Prizma, provides ESRM, ESIA and sustainability advisory services to clients ranging from developers and development banks. His projects range from gold mining in Central Asia to wind farming in Central America. He developed and delivered the first GRI-certified training program in North America, and directed or contributed to 28 sustainability reporting and assurance assignments. Learn more here: www.prizmasolutions.com.