Sustainability reporting is rooted in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), specifically target 12.6 under goal 12 - Responsible Consumption and Production – which encourages companies to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.
Southampton Business School (SBS) is the first UK University to be accredited by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to deliver sustainability reporting training. It is being embedded into the curriculum and involving students and academics working with businesses. Sustainability reporting at Southampton has been led by Prof Venancio Tauringana, together with a growing team of academic colleagues.
The work with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) has built on the learning and engagement with businesses in Uganda. So far, 15 SMEs in the UK and 1 in China have benefited from and applied the training, and we are now working with universities in Zambia (Africa) and Jordan (Asia) to help more SMEs produce sustainability reports.
Achieving sustainable development
Sustainability reporting by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is key for the world to achieve sustainable development and, in particular, reduce global warming. According to the UN, sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the current generation without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs.
Sustainable development is a trade-off between economic growth, protecting the environment and social inclusion. Since SMEs constitute 90% of the world's businesses, account for 40% of the national income (GDP), employ 50%-60% of the world’s population and contribute 70% of global pollution, they are critical to sustainable development. Globally, there are currently very minimal requirements for SMEs to measure and report their impacts on the economy, environment, and society.
Although SDG 12.6 encourages companies to adopt sustainable practices and integrate sustainability information in their reporting cycles, this mostly relates to large and transnational companies. Given that what is measured gets managed, it is critical that the SMEs measure, report and manage their economic, environmental, and social impacts. Sustainability reporting is, therefore, a vital step in identifying the sustainability impacts and setting targets for reducing the impacts.
Although many initiatives are likely to be required to encourage SMEs to adopt sustainability reporting, our research-informed model for incorporating sustainability reporting in the university curriculum and supervising students to help SMEs prepare sustainability reports is impactful. For example, our work allows SMEs to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and provide them with a comprehensive overview of their sustainability progress and performance.
Sustainability reports also allow SMEs to track how they measure against stated goals, identify areas of improvement, and build trust with stakeholders. More importantly, producing sustainability reports means that SMEs will manage their negative environmental impacts and hence contribute to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and SDG 12.6. and improvement in human health.
Our model of encouraging SMEs worldwide to adopt sustainability reporting will, therefore, contribute significantly to the UN sustainable development agenda.
We have helped the following small and medium-sized companies to produce their first sustainability reports: