Actually, numbers do matter

In all the talk about visionary leadership, let’s not forgot the daily reality that business is about ‘making the numbers’.

One emerging theme this month is the importance of accounting and reporting. Sorry, sounds dull, I know, but stick with me as I explain why…

This month’s guest writer, David Grayson – long-time advocate that responsible business is good business – makes a vital point that the best CSR managers of the future will be those that really understand the business. Passion to save the world, I might add, is not enough without learning to speak the language of business.

And that language is about earnings, production targets, investment pay-back periods, efficiency ratios and the like. In fact everyone’s favourite new business guru, Unilever’s Paul Polman, himself makes the point that no one would be listening if his company’s numbers – and its share price – were not on the mend.

Just look at some of the stories we highlight this month: Microsoft is setting an internal price for carbon, to improve decisions about resource efficiency; Nike is measuring 50% lower product defects from lean supply chains; Puma is putting a monetary cost of its total environmental footprint into its accounting system.

Meanwhile in the run-up to Rio+20, banks like Standard Chartered are pushing for the value of natural capital to be included in investment decisions, while insurer Aviva is calling with others for improved triple-bottom-line reporting.

Last month I extolled the virtues of the Millennium Development Goals in focusing on a few clear numerical targets and thereby succeeding in moving the needle on the dial – cutting infant mortality, improving access to safe drinking water, et al. And I called for companies to get behind the push at Rio+20 for a new set of Sustainable Development Indicators, so the vital contribution of business can be directly included, measured and reported.

By next month the Earth Summit bandwagon will have decamped from Rio, and hopefully we’ll have a better idea who is talking the language of “numbers plus vision” as the best way forward.

This article first appeared in Corporate Citizenship Briefing


This entry was posted in Business. Bookmark the permalink.