The state of sustainability reporting in Africa

The perspective that meaningful and credible sustainability reporting is an essential requirement for any responsible business is increasingly becoming accepted by many companies worldwide. Yet reporting cannot take place in isolation. Sustainability is a critical aspect of business strategy and operational decision-making, which needs to be embedded in the corporate DNA through a transformative process.

That process takes time and requires strong leadership at the C-suite level, leading to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Profession’s emergence. Less than two decades ago, a Sustainability expert was a novelty. 

Cognizant of the crucial role of Sustainability reporting in accelerating business activities, in 2020, KCIC Consulting acquired certification to train sustainability experts. Comprised of coaches who are sustainability experts from some of the world’s most influential companies, the training aims to equip sustainability professionals with the skills to help drive sustainable stakeholder value.  

Read also: Is Sustainability Reporting Your Career Path?

Getting to grips with ESG risks

Sustainability reporting covers a widening set of mandates and duties amid organizations’ multiple sustainability challenges. Changes in the corporate’s external environment intensify scrutiny from stakeholders, fuelling an ever-greater focus on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) risks.

Despite these realities, which have only been heightened by the business resilience pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, sustainability reporting is still yet to be embraced evenly by all major corporations. Some are still at an earlier stage in determining why and how to integrate sustainability, as enabled by transparency, into their business functions and processes.

Against this backdrop, KCIC Consulting, a GRI certified trainer in Kenya, held a webinar on Wednesday under the theme ‘The State of Sustainability Reporting in Africa.’ Unsurprisingly, the findings of the session were an unequivocal ‘yes.’ 

Through up-close and personal discussions with the GRI CEO and three distinguished Sustainability champions in Africa, the webinar illuminated why Sustainability reporting is becoming indispensable. Further, panelists discussed the landscape of sustainability reporting in Africa and how companies can successfully embed the SGDs in the core business strategies. 

Eelco Van def Endem, the GRI CEO, debunked the myth that advancing sustainability comes at the expense of profitability. According to Eelco, the financial and non-financial performance and impacts are “interwoven by ESG analysis,” — and sustainability reporting enables companies to “add value to every function in the organization and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Sustainability reporting challenges the traditional understanding of leadership, according to Agnes Kariuki, Sustainability Officer at Safaricom. As she puts it, the top-tier management needs to set the tone from the top. As such, the CEOs have a critical role in helping companies to understand what is happening outside the organization, in support of decisions that “embrace disruption, innovation, and stewardship… The multifold tasks and hybrid roles can push a CEO to live both in the present and anticipate the future”.

Read also: Why GRI is an essential element of your organization

Judith Sidi Odhiambo, Head of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at KCB Group — reflected on key learnings from her sustainability journey over the past 20 years. In her view, sustainability reporting is a company’s journey and commitment to care about the environment and the community at large; companies must commit to a cause of doing good and doing well. 

Dr. Edward Mungai, the Lead Consultant at KCIC Consulting, emphasized that sustainability reporting is now a way of doing good business. As he puts it, unlike in the past when sustainability reporting was voluntary and a mere CSR stand, today, most investors and customers prefer companies that openly show their business impact and numbers.

Similarly, Eelco added that purpose and performance are equally important when it comes to sustainability reporting. Companies cannot perform well without a clear sense of purpose, and performance reinforces a company’s goal.

At the outset, embedding sustainability in the organization may entail some costs. However, according to Judith Sidi Odhiambo, Head of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability at KCB Group:

“In the long run, the cost of investing in sustainability is less than the cost of not investing in it. In its negative sense, the disruption would be a greater cost — environmental, social, or operational. Sustainability is essentially the opposite of disruption. Companies, therefore, need to invest in the present to sustain the future.”

The way forward for companies?

Companies cannot survive in an increasingly volatile, complex, and uncertain world without putting sustainability at the core of their operations. Yet accessing the right people with the proper sustainability skill set is not easy. KCIC Consulting, through its GRI course, intends to train ESG professionals to enable companies to report effectively on their impact.

A comprehensive understanding of sustainability performance is likely a growing requirement for many other senior roles — Chief Financial Officer, Chief Risk Officer, and up to the CEO. Indeed, the ideal situation will see sustainability effectively integrated throughout the company’s operations, practices, products, and services.

Access the webinar recording here.

About the Author

Pamela Okutoyi is a change-maker and impact storyteller with a key focus on climate change and sustainable development.