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                                      Getting Started With Sustainability Reporting In A B2B Organization

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                                      Why we decided to publish our first sustainability report, plus tips and advice for how to get started with your reporting

                                       

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                                      As the solar industry continues to experience rapid growth,... we have a responsibility to ensure that solar development happens in a stable, scalable, and sustainable way… so that it can expand at the rate required to prevent the worst effects of climate change. 

                                      In developing this sustainability report, we want to lead by example and optimize where we can… and want our company to be a healthy and inclusive place for people to do their best work in helping make that happen[.]

                                      Rob Andrews, CEO of Heliolytics

                                       

                                       

                                      The Benefits of Sustainability Reporting

                                      As the solar energy market continues to experience unprecedented growth, Heliolytics recognizes that, as a leader in the photovoltaic (PV) health and performance space, we have a responsibility to help manage and guide the growth of our industry in a positive and sustainable direction. We are seeing explosive growth of the international solar fleet, which brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Without a strong foundation of sustainable industry best practices, the deployment of solar energy infrastructure risks becoming a net contributor to large-scale environmental degradation rather than a solution for countries to meet their international climate targets.

                                      At Heliolytics, a guiding principle of our sustainability philosophy is that you cannot control what you do not measure. This applies to both our external and internal processes and impacts. While our operations themselves do not have a large carbon footprint, we want to lead by example and optimize where we can. In developing our inaugural sustainability report, we aim to increase transparency and identify gaps and areas for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) improvement to allow us to set benchmarks for our company from the lenses of the planet, people, and governance. 

                                      It was important to us that we voice our true intentions for this report clearly and concisely to our stakeholders, which included both internal and external groups. We are eager to see the solar industry thrive, and want our company to be a healthy and inclusive place for people to do their best work in helping make that happen. Furthermore, we want to strengthen the communities we work in and look forward to expanding our public outreach around sustainability. Ensuring that our business practices are responsible and equitable is core to our sustainability strategy, and we recognize that all companies have a duty to benchmark and track sustainability targets. We are proud to be the first organization in our industry segment to perform ESG reporting.

                                      If you or your company is just getting started with its sustainability reporting journey, here are some additional benefits of developing and publishing a sustainability report (de Jager, 2021):

                                      • It allows you to address unmet stakeholder needs around “walking the talk;”
                                      • It can help gain access to capital, and lead to further financial success;
                                      • It fosters a sense of collective responsibility across the organization, and promotes internal operational efficiency and accountability, which can lead to increased employee engagement and retention;
                                      • It gains trust and improves relationships with stakeholder groups by facilitating open communication that aligns with key material issues;
                                      • It enhances reputation and improves brand loyalty;
                                      • It improves a company’s effectiveness at monitoring sustainability performance and taking corrective actions while managing risk and opportunities;
                                      • It allows companies to communicate compliance and sustainable development goals to the appropriate government and regulatory agencies.

                                       

                                      What we learned throughout the process

                                      The following are 3 key learnings from our experience with producing our first sustainability report, which we hope can provide insight into some of the most important steps in the reporting process:

                                      1. Choose the right framework. There are two globally recognized standards for sustainability reporting — GRI standards and UNGC standards - and selecting which framework to use will depend on the scope of your report, the goals and objectives, the purpose of the framework, and alignment with what you are hoping to communicate to your stakeholder audiences. Your selection should also consider what time, information, data, and resources are required. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards are the most widely used framework for reporting sustainability impacts on the key pillars of social, ethical, environment, governance, and supply chain. They are commonly mapped in alignment with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) standards are based on Ten Guiding Principles that address human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption pillars. In addition to these globally adopted frameworks, there is the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), as well as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), an ESG guidance framework specifically related to the financial impacts of sustainability. We choose to utilize the GRI framework in alignment with several of the SDGs.

                                      2. Conduct an ESG materiality assessment. Once we established what we wanted our report to achieve, and which reporting framework we would use, the next step was answering strategic questions, such as: What is most critical to use to report on, and how do we determine what is materially important to our company and stakeholders? An ESG materiality assessment is a tool designed to help you identify and prioritize the ESG and sustainability issues that are the most important to your organization. This involves looking at various factors through two particular lenses: potential impact on your organization and importance to stakeholders. For us, this process involved engaging client-facing staff and senior management to qualitatively assess which material topics were relevant to Heliolytics and its stakeholders in 2021. People, Planet, and Governance factors we considered included climate action, affordable and clean energy, occupational health and safety, increasing solar industry resilience, and several others. Results of the materiality assessment survey were plotted on a matrix chart to compare relative importance and value to both internal and external stakeholders.

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                                      3. Focus on the most important criteria for an effective report. Developing a sustainability report can take several months to complete. To avoid becoming overwhelmed or experiencing scope creep, ensure to keep the focus on the following critical qualities every sustainability report should seek to adopt:
                                        1. Strike the right balance between intention, commitment, and measurement of impact.
                                        2. Let the data drive your story
                                        3. Communicate with transparency and clarity, especially about what areas you still need to work on. This helps build trust.
                                        4. Be consistent. The reporting style, format, and content, including updates on progress made concerning benchmarks, should be consistent from one year to the next, and should also align with company brand guidelines.
                                        5. Be authentic to your brand and company values, voice, and strategy. Align these to the key material issues identified by your stakeholders as being important to reflect your commitment and build trust.
                                        6. Engage your stakeholders throughout the process to ensure that you foster collective responsibility and accountability for translating commitments into action. At the employee level, empower your people to identify tangible business improvements by engaging and integrating their feedback.

                                       

                                      Top tips to make your sustainability reporting successful

                                      The following are 7 tips you can apply to your sustainability reporting:

                                      1. Conduct data collection, verification, and synthesis thoughtfully. Consider both your internal and external stakeholders and interview experts in the industry to gain an unbiased perspective. Set up your data capture and curation processes early and use project management tools (boards, software, folders, etc.) to stay organized. Whatever system you choose doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does need to be organized! For example, we created a simple GHG accounting process and mapped out requirements for collecting aerial inspection and equipment shipping-related emissions, which we tracked in GHG calculation spreadsheets. Then, we worked with a carbon offset provider to develop accurate and transparent messaging around our GHG emissions and offsets.


                                      2. Stay on track with qualitative research sessions. We used these research sessions to collaborate and brainstorm with the project team. We found them especially useful when beginning to develop the copy and content about our organization and the industry. Qualitative feedback sessions were also helpful to solicit feedback on the overall project direction.

                                      3. Be inspired and inspiring. Draw inspiration from emerging and best practice reporting in your industry and others, but remember to maintain authenticity. The best reports use content and design to tell a captivating story. We took great care in selecting a professional graphic design firm to help with the design and production of our report because we wanted to ensure that the final result effectively communicates our sustainability journey, both visually and textually. R&G Strategic brought a wealth of experience creating and designing all types of reports, as well as specialized knowledge in the area of sustainability reporting. Not only were they able to assist with visually differentiating our sustainability report, but they also provided valuable feedback and advice on our content, reporting methodologies, and report structure, as well as useful tips for future reporting.

                                      4. Connect to something bigger. With Earth Day taking place on April 22, we knew this globally-recognized day would be the perfect time to announce our commitment to improving our impact on people and the planet. Leveraging the broader conversation around sustainability and the hashtag #EarthDay helped increase the success of our report launch on social media because of the relevance of the connection.

                                      5. Tailor communication channels. To ensure your sustainability report speaks to your various audience groups, use multiple channels and content formats tailored to each group. For instance, external stakeholders may prefer to read an executive summary and highlights while employees may benefit from an internal lunch&learn presentation. 

                                      6. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Keep with standard reporting requirements and best practices, but go for a competitive edge by experimenting with different content, structure, and integration. For example, we included within our report a micro analysis of key areas of improvement within the solar industry, “Environmental and Social Impacts of Solar Energy Brief,” as we felt it pertinent to address certain negative impacts of the solar energy life cycle on people and the planet. While this is not part of the standard scope of a sustainability report, we chose to include it because, as a leading voice in solar, we hold ourselves accountable for identifying gaps in the industry that impact its long-term sustainability and resilience. This is core to our company's Vision and Mission. The impact brief offers a broad summary of the 4 key topics we identified. If you wish to learn more, you can access the brief here.

                                      7. Create a sustainability reporting wiki. This will make sustainability reporting in future years easier and less time-consuming by clearly and properly documenting your sustainability reporting process. Your report wiki should include all details regarding the report’s processes, standards, and content, as well as any relevant links to document locations or other resources. Compiling this information is critical to the success of subsequent reports.

                                      “PV waste is perhaps our industry’s greatest challenge right now, but can also be a rewarding economic opportunity if the industry can find the right path forward.” (1)

                                      Embedding sustainability in your company

                                      Sustainability goes beyond implementing practices such as recycling and reducing your energy consumption or carbon footprint. It must be embedded in everything you do, as a mindset, from general processes and systems to specific and measurable sustainability initiatives. Only once a new activity has a positive effect on the local or global environment, community, society, or economy can it be considered a sustainable business practice (Chankova, 2022; Quelier, 2020).

                                      Sustainable practices can include:

                                      • Providing quality healthcare to your employees;
                                      • Implementing measures to prevent discrimination during the recruitment process and throughout their career;
                                      • Establishing a due diligence program to ensure information security;
                                      • Conducting regular CSR risk analyses of your supply chain;
                                      • Assessing your suppliers on their environmental and social practices (Quelier, 2020).

                                      Ongoing and open communication with employees and other stakeholders about tangible actions and demonstrated improvements can further help embed sustainability in business as usual. The result will be more engaged employees who are inspired to get involved in sustainability initiatives and embed sustainability across the company.

                                      Embedding sustainability can also help reduce costs and increase efficiency. For example, a solar site developer or owner that integrates sustainability into his/her supply chain by investing in durable modules and components rather than only considering short-term cost savings helps improve the efficiency of the entire supply chain while also increasing the life cycle of those materials, and that can directly lead to greater savings.

                                       

                                      “PV waste is perhaps our industry’s greatest challenge right now, but can also be a rewarding economic opportunity if the industry can find the right path forward.”

                                      Learn more about solar site decommissioning and recycling in our impact brief here.

                                       

                                      Final thoughts and conclusion

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                                      Sustainability is a continuous journey and we at Heliolytics have only just begun. We’re making progress on many of the areas we’ve addressed within our 2021 Sustainability  Report, but we still have much work to do to close all of the gaps we’ve identified, some of which will require ongoing projects or organizational support. At Heliolytics, we have a company-wide goal of “Walking the talk” as it relates to sustainability. Initiatives that support this goal are now being informed by the results of our report, and we are tracking these initiatives in a very transparent and intentional way across the organization.

                                      There are many benefits to publishing an annual sustainability report as part of your CSR or ESG governance. Regardless of company size or industry, a report is a critical tool for communicating your sustainability issues, achievements, and impacts to relevant stakeholders. More importantly, ongoing and transparent communication and updates on the progress being made toward your ESG goals and about what areas you still need to work on, build greater trust and engagement with all stakeholders.

                                      If you haven’t already, check out our full 2021 Sustainability Report, accessible for free download here.

                                      Chantelle Gubert, CX Specialist at Heliolytics

                                      and Sustainability Report project manager

                                       

                                       

                                      Sources:

                                      Chankova, T. (2022, March 24). Nexio Projects [Review of Nexio Projects]. Making Innovation Work for your Sustainability Agenda. http://blog.nexioprojects.com/making-innovation-work-for-your-sustainability-agenda

                                      de Jager, A. (2021, March 23). Nexio Projects [Review of Nexio Projects]. How to Write an Engaging and Inspiring Sustainability Report. http://blog.nexioprojects.com/how-to-write-a-sustainability-report

                                      Quelier, A. (2020, December 11). Nexio Projects [Review of Nexio Projects]. The ROI Of Sustainable Practices. http://blog.nexioprojects.com/the-roi-of-sustainable-practices