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PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada released their third annual corporate responsibility report today. It’s nothing groundbreaking. But nor is it pages and pages of images and quotes from top leadership interspersed with hard-to-evaluate statistics.PwC_CR_Report_2011

In true PwC fashion, the report details commitments and achievements in 2011 only to quickly move on to highlighting challenges and the firm’s key plans for 2012 followed by an affirmation of the firm’s social and environmental strategy.

The pressure on firms big and small to report on their non-financial activities is significant. With the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) officially launching in North America last year, CSR and sustainability reports are set to multiply in coming years. What always challenges me are the motivations behind the reporting: Is it simply peer pressure or do firms learn something from the process? Moreover, is the act of reporting an exercise in external communication or more of an introspective activity to improve processes and strategies?

I caught up with James Temple, PwC Canada’s Director of Corporate Responsibility for some insights:

What was the most important lesson learned from the often stressful exercise of putting this report together?

Every time we work on our Corporate Responsibility Report, we’re reminded that this is an evolving journey and one that requires us to be open to adapting to changing ideas, personalities and approaches to developing the most transparent narrative possible.

When you involve such a large number of stakeholders in such a rigorous process, all of whom are passionate about their work and the cause, it can prove to be a balancing act that requires a balance of leadership, managing expectations, and the ability to communicate with empathy and effectiveness.

Most importantly, the process has helped us finesse a blended approach that respects standard reporting frameworks and our unique firm culture and structure to develop a narrative that is representative of the success (and the challenges) we face along the way.”

The report mentions plans for a new three-year strategic plan to guide the next phase of PwC Canada’s CSR program. Any insights you can provide into that?

Over the next few months, we will be completing our environmental scan and a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis to ensure that we are being thoughtful about our dynamic marketplace conditions along with gaining valuable input from our Global Network of Firms.

Philanthropy plays a crucial role in targeting social and environmental challenges through nonprofit partnerships but it’s often the strategy behind these donations that helps make them effective. Any insights on what works well for PwC’s B2B industry?

From the 2011 CR Report: “In 2011, PwC contributed a total of $2,533,000 in charitable donations and sponsorships to community organizations across Canada.”

At PwC Canada, we have adopted a strategy that focuses on educating employees and other stakeholders about the most effective ways to give back to their communities.

We encourage people to utilize our PwC Canada Volunteer Continuum that spells out how a person or organization can deepen their engagement with the charitable sector while developing their skills and experiences.

This could include the ways people use their skills to volunteer, how they look at sharing their community experiences, calling on their business networks for support, or how to allocate their personal or organizational resources in the most effective way possible.  Our approach is rooted in the regular feedback we receive from the not-for-profit sector and considers impact (not just dollars and cents).

What are some points of achievements from the report that you feel especially proud of?

In the fall of 2010, PwC hosted a series of roundtable discussions with representatives from the not-for-profit sector, public and private foundations and major corporations called the Capacity Building Roundtable Project.

The purpose of the project was to raise awareness about how corporate funders could better allocate their resources to help the not-for-profit sector become more sustainable and deliver lasting results within their communities.

The report concluded with a step-by-step process that addressed critical needs identified by the community that could have the most immediate and scalable impacts.

One of the critical findings was the need to encourage other corporations to provide not-for-profits support for core operational expenditures, and ensure they build time for grant recipients to reflect, take risks and test new innovations into grant proposals.

How do you define success in CSR reporting? Metrics? Media mentions? Or a set of internal goals?

We encourage our employees and other stakeholders to integrate a CR mind-set into their day-to-day business operations.  We want to inspire and empower people to look for ways to embed good CR practices into their decision-making frameworks.

A great example of how we’ve engaged our stakeholders in a CR dialogue was through the Citizen’s Reference Panel. PwC Canada brought together people from across Ontario to discuss their views on how to build a more sustainable and cost-effective healthcare system across the province.   We published a piece of thought leadership outlining the results, and it’s something that will help our business, the public and governments have better insights into the development of new healthcare strategies.

Our firm can play in helping to shape the debate on sustainability issues impacting businesses today.

Success means knowing you’ve done everything you can to help develop the CR conversation.

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary sectionTalkback on February 27, 2012..

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