Three Ways NGO Tracking Can Help Your Sustainability Reporting

The social evolution of the business world is transforming the way organizations manage complex communications and marketing issues. Like never before investors, neighbors, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders are taking a more active role in shaping the way companies do business.

Earlier this week members of the Standing Partnership team participated in a webinar from Robert Blood, managing director of SIGWatch, an organization that specializes in activist and NGO tracking and issues analysis. (The SIG in SIGWatch stands for Special Interest Group.) He presented “Calculating Potential NGO Impact on Reputation,” which included a fascinating look at NGO activity as tracked by the firm during the past year.

Standing Partnership doesn’t use the SIGWatch services, but after the webinar we had a great discussion about how our issue monitoring activities help our clients and the benefits of NGO-specific monitoring.

The discussion made me think about how issues and NGO monitoring can help organizations do a better job of delivering and planning content for their sustainability reports. At Standing, we’re helping more of our clients investigate how to communicate about sustainability issues as well as plan and publish sustainability reports, particularly using the increasingly accepted standards established by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

Here are three ways NGO tracking could impact the way companies implement sustainability reports:

1. Finding partners to improve and validate your sustainability program: Not all NGO attention comes in the form of complaints. Groups will also give out praise and recognize businesses they see as making great strides or achievements in their areas of interest. Tracking these positive NGO interactions can help companies discover organizations whose research or partnership could provide third-party legitimacy to their sustainability programs.

2. NGO attention may not be a bad thing: According to SIGWatch’s research, companies with more positive reputations tended to get more attention from NGO campaigns and companies with worse reputations received less attention. Robert said that NGOs often target organizations they believe are open to change.

That’s important to note because many executives recoil at the thought of being more transparent through vehicles like GRI reports because they worry it will attract more attention that is negative. In fact that “negative” attention actually may be a sign that you company is doing a good job.

3. What readers want: One of the challenges of GRI reporting is deciding what to report on. It’s not just deciding what people want to hear about, but putting the tracking systems in place to get the statistics needed to meet the GRI indicators.

During the seminar, we got a look at SIGWatch’s NGO tracking of the energy industry during the last year. It indicated that NGOs were very concerned with nuclear power safety following the Japanese Tsunami disaster, but there’s also increasing interest in the social justice issues of oil drilling in certain countries and its effect on the indigenous populations of those regions.

Sustainability reports aren’t created as a way to answer NGO complaints and concerns; they’re a way to communicate directly with all of a company’s stakeholders. But the interests NGOs represent often frame public perception and discussion about these issues. Tracking NGO behavior can help companies understand what interests their stakeholders and understand emerging issues that will require increased attention from your executives in the future.