Social benefits of sustainability accounting: how they are identified, measured and reported on in an official document and why they are important

Social sustainability comes about when interaction between the various subjects/stakeholders involved generates cultural, behavioral and economic relationships, actions and impact with respect to communities, both directly and indirectly. The quality of these dynamics is based on respect for social values such as wellbeing and happiness (health, safety, quality of life), equity/equality, accessibility, empowerment, active participation, inclusion, justice, knowledge and education (SocialFare, 2014).

Although each company has its own reasons and motives for being greener and more sustainable in business, here are a few of the primary benefits to becoming a more sustainable company, in term of social benefit.

Employees want to work with companies who are 'doing the right thing' and being proactive with corporate environmental and social programs. In the report “Advancing Sustainability: HR's Role”, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2011, companies with sustainability programs report 55% better employee morale, 43% more efficient business processes and 38% improved employee loyalty (SHRM Foundation, no date).

Moreover, sustainable performance includes a human element, and its cornerstones are passion and learning. When you mix these two ingredients, you have the drive and knowhow to make great progress and innovation. Leaders should strive to cultivate both within their work culture (Craig, 2018).

Sustainable companies also impact on communities. Those that have a significant direct impact on the natural environment in particular can bring positive effects: better quality of contractual relationships, more equal opportunities and greater investment in research and development, resulting in a greater number of patents and better training of personnel, and a reduction of the environmental impacts of the production processes. So, responsible companies add value to communities (SCS Consulting, 2012).

Human rights and labor relations also matter. Companies of all kinds have a role to play in ensuring that there is no discrimination in the way their staff are managed, promoted and trained, and that they have decent conditions of work. But all these impacts are much easier to identify than measure (Henriques, 2012). Various initiatives and global frameworks have been created to address this issue: the United Nations Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) (SHRM Foundation, no date).

The GRI helps businesses and governments worldwide understand and communicate their impact on critical sustainability issues and we will analyze some of the social standards that companies have to consider when they write a sustainability report.

Occupational health and safety are part of these standards, and refer to the prevention of harm and promotion of health that are required for an organization to demonstrate its commitment to workers' health and safety. They also require the organization to engage workers in the development, implementation, and performance evaluation of an occupational health and safety policy.

An additional important social standard regards local communities. Activities and infrastructure within a company can have significant economic, social, cultural, and/or environmental impacts on local communities. Where possible, organizations are expected to avoid negative impacts on these communities.

Then there are other standards used to report information on an organization’s impacts relating to social topics, such as diversity and equal opportunity, freedom of association, non-discrimination, socioeconomic compliance and public policy (GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards 2018).

Diagram showing a framework for social sustainability
Social Life (cited in Citymart, 2014) has created a framework for measuring social sustainability that aims to capture the physical and psychological aspects of what makes local communities thrive, or struggle.


 

References:

Citymart, Social sustainability auditing and action, 2014, https://www.citymart.com/blog-10/2014/12/10/social-sustainability-auditing-and-action

SocialFare, Centre for Social Innovation, "Sustainability", a choice that rewards, 2014, http://socialfare.org/sostenibilita-una-scelta-che-premia/

SHRM Foundation, HR’s Role in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, no date,https://www.shrm.org/foundation/ourwork/initiatives/building-an-inclusive-culture/Documents/HR's%20Role%20in%20Corporate%20Social%20Responsibility.pdf

Craig, W., The Importance Of Creating Sustainable Employees In The Workplace, 2018, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamcraig/2018/06/19/the-importance-of-creating-sustainable-employees-in-the-workplace/#6aaa545e7285

SCSConsulting, The contribution of the responsible company in creating value for the territory, 2012

Henriques, A., Understanding a company's social impact is crucial to sustainability, 2012, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/understanding-social-impact-business-sustainability

Global Reporting Initiative, CONSOLIDATED SET OF GRI SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING STANDARDS 2018