Balance sheet for the common good provides answers
Commerce is there to serve the people – and not the other way around. That sounds sensible enough, and companies are indeed making an effort to show they got the message – a certificate here, some community sponsoring there, and a sustainability report over yonder. But that’s not a solution that works for satis&fy. A nice gesture doesn’t quite equate with sustainability. In 2011, Nico Ubenauf came across a better option, the balance sheet for the common good. It originated with the Austrian activist Christian Felber, who developed an elaborate corporate check-sheet and spawned a movement called the Common Good Economy, CGE for short. However, this statement of assets and liabilities is not about revenues and profits; it rates a company’s sustainability practices according to 17 indicators. Taking everything from toilet paper to the work-life balance into account, it looks at waste management practices, employee participation policies and so forth to see where there is room for improvement. It’s also a lot of work, and unprecedented in an industry that is not exactly celebrated for being eco-minded. satis&fy’s CSR team went to work with wide-eyed idealism and missionary zeal only to find that this is a full-time job. It’s not something that can be done as an afterthought. Environmental scientist Britta May took on the project and methodically scrutinized the Karben location. A thick manual helped her to work her way through all the units. Supported by the 14 workshops’ intrigued and experienced staff, she plowed through the many questions posed by this audit. Ethical and environmental standards, utility and transparency – everything was put on the lab table for dissection. Where is energy- conserving technology used and where is it needed? Can logistics be made more efficient to shrink the company’s carbon footprint? Are external workshops following our example of using certified woods? Procurement proved to be particularly tricky. “satis&fy sources goods and services from 1,500 companies,” says Britta May, “Sorting all that out takes some doing.” Everything related to work prompted action; even working hours and workspace quality were topics of spirited discussions. This is where the difference between a balance sheet for the common and a sustainability report – apart from the depth of information – came to the fore. The former is all about internal workings, self-awareness and talking to coworkers rather than presenting a picture to the outside. When all the findings were in, they were summarized in a report, another major challenge that Britta May and Marketing & Communication’s Katrin Fougeray tackled with aplomb. The company assesses itself, and then external auditors come in for review. The result was rather gratifying: The auditors rated the company highly, giving it higher marks in almost every category than the selfdeprecating crew at Karben gave themselves. But this kind of work is never done. “We know now where we stand,” says Britta May, “Next we have to achieve the short- and long-term goals put forward by the balance sheet.” One can never do enough for the common good.