Real Simple Reporting, continued: Can web 2.0 help companies report on their performance?

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I recently ventured that "real simple reporting" could be the killer app for development 2.0. At that time, I had project reporting to donors in mind. But what about corporate social responsibility and sustainability reporting: Is there a role for web 2.0 there?

Simplicity, if we are to listen to the HBS folks, is what will drive the success of social media applications. They call for companies to develop "a dashboard of simplicity that is open to the whole Internet." As if heeding that call, Sun Microsystems recently launched a revamped version of OpenEco.org, a collaborative platform that allows companies to track their greenhouse gas emissions and, interestingly, develop a "top-level organization dashboard where users can track a broad spectrum of emission sources to provide a comprehensive view of an organization's carbon footprint." What is the incentive for companies to use this tool as opposed to (or as a complement to) their own internal reporting processes?

Benchmarking against peers and, indeed, simplicity: "Today, GHG [greenhouse gas] analysis is done primarily using proprietary tools and often requires significant investments in consulting services. Not only does this discourage many organizations from assessing their GHG impacts, but it also means that analysis results are rarely shared outside an individual organization". Compare OpenEco's web 2.0 approach, based on community building and data sharing, with a powerful, yet still fundamentally "web 1.0" tool like See-it.

As in the case of MapEcos, the disarming transparency of mash-ups and pressure from a community of peers - or external stakeholders who thanks to blogs are all potential publishers - can be a powerful incentive for companies to disclose their data and, as it were, tell their side of the story. The low cost of failure (by adopting a toolkit such as OpenEco, freely available on the web) also adds to the appeal.

Of course, one should not underestimate the cultural challenge of opening up for scrutiny. An interesting post on the Minter Dialogue blog, focusing on the common factors between web 2.0 and sustainable development, notes that one cannot be half-hearted about the two:

Implementing web 2.0 functionality necessarily means being able and wanting to listen because it is about two-way dialogue. If your client has something to tell you, you better have a plan as to how you plan to react. If not, the syndrome of the "fake blog" is quicky rooted out. Similarly, if a company trumpets its responsibility in sustainable development, but behind is wasting water (cf Starbucks nailed by the Daily Sun in the UK), the community bites back.

So, what do you reckon: is there a role for "real simple reporting" in corporate social responsibility?

Join the Conversation

Minter
November 19, 2008

I believe that simplicity and transparency are two very different notions when it comes to Sustainable Development. Making a Sustainable Development initiative, in a corporate environment, requires evaluating an often times complex grid of factors, pros and cons, etc. That said, one of the ways to make it simple is to measure; for example, putting in place the dashboard concept you write about. And, then with the measurements in place, transparency becomes a much easier operation. Web 2.0 is a great way to communicate & engage with the community and stakeholders; and transparency, at least in SD, is for me more powerful than simplicity. Simplicity can easily be mistaken for greenwashing. Transparency is more authentic by definition.

Dave Lawrence
November 19, 2008

Very interesting! I wonder if IFC and World Bank offices might use these tools for their operations in the field. Could enhance our credibility on the sustainability front!