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Swiss companies: Experts share their Top 10 tips for better sustainability reporting

Swiss companies are under pressure when it comes to sustainability and the climate reporting landscape. Companies are now subject to a wide-ranging alphabet soup of standards and regulation. A Swiss Federal Government study in 2023 estimated that 50,000 companies in Switzerland are indirectly affected by new sustainability disclosure regulations.

On May 17th, GreenBuzz, CelsiusPro and Pelt8 gathered a diverse audience at SIX ConventionPoint to discuss reporting and its bigger goals at the second annual Swiss Climate Reporting Forum (SCRF). For many companies, the focus right now is on transparency and ‘getting it right’ in terms of data collection, assessments and reporting. Yet, as companies grapple with the regulation (and resources), it is important not to lose sight of the bigger picture – that is, the wider transformation goals, with climate-built in.

Keeping the big picture in mind

There’s no doubt that regulation is driving sometimes difficult conversations within companies and sectors about climate-related risk – more than ever before – whether that’s talking about reporting, avoiding greenwashing, or a company’s human rights and nature impacts.

Yet it’s important that Swiss companies avoid adopting a myopic view of sustainability and climate risk. The regulation must drive the process and inform the strategy – but it is not the ultimate objective. At the same time, a generation of employees now have high expectations of business to show its purpose and positive impact on society.

As many companies focus on compliance, speakers offered some nuggets of insights about how to keep the big picture in mind:

1. Companies need to be concerned with creating impact and becoming resilient, not just reporting, said Magali Anderson, from the board of directors at Anglo American and formerly at Holcim. So, assign your head of sustainability (CSO) to a strategic role in the company and give them a place at the top table.

2. Sustainability should drive the strategy – the data acquired for reporting can inform this. In the words of a panelist, “the data should drive the strategy – it doesn’t end with the data”.

3. Purpose matters and is driven from within the company. “People don’t buy brands, they buy into a brand,” said Oliver Brunschwiler, former CEO of Freitag and Chief Innovation Officer at EBP.

4. Building a movement works, as Jonathan Normand, Founder and CEO of the non-profit, B Lab (Switzerland) has demonstrated. Switzerland has the biggest community of certified B Corps in the world per capita.

5. Companies should participate in the UN COP process – the annual global climate change meetings, said Nathalie Flores, Vice-chair of the UN Climate Change Science & Technology Body. The private sector should formally have their voice heard in the negotiation process at the next UN COP, via their country representative.

Data and reporting across operations and supply chain

The evolving landscape in reporting is prompting a change in the role of the sustainability teams, as reporting gets finance, compliance and audit teams involved. A key topic for businesses is data accuracy, particularly as it relates to an organisation’s supply chain.

1. Disclosure is better than nothing. Rosa Sangiorgio, Head of Sustainability at Pictet Wealth Management stated that there’s a big difference between estimations and real data – estimations are often based on sector averages, not the actual policy of the company, which as has an impact on financial reporting.

2. When business focuses on its contributions to nature and biodiversity, it’s also contributing to its net zero goals. Stephanie Feeney, Chief Growth Officer at Restor said: “It’s time to get out of our silos and stop thinking of climate and nature as separate challenges. Companies can pre-empt what’s coming by starting to consider nature risks and impacts.”

3. SMEs within global supply chains are under pressure to respond to demands for disclosure from their larger customers. Lana Ollier, head of global sustainability at Huber+Suhner, said that these smaller companies face challenges due to resource constraints – as customer demands come on top of the rating and reporting requirements.

4. There needs to be a pragmatic approach for SMEs to deal with the new KPIs for reporting. Lana referred to the regulatory wave hitting them with “full force” but said that reporting against GRI has helped as a starting point.

5. More KPIs within business are needed on adopting circularity, social impact and nature.

Stubborn optimism

But we must never give up, attendees were told by Elisabeth Stern from KlimaSeniorinnen, who made international headlines last month when they won a landmark case in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) against the Swiss government on climate grounds. It was an eight-year journey with an outcome that holds the Swiss government accountable for not doing more to reduce the health impact of climate change on its senior citizens. The case has now set a precedent throughout Europe.

The closing talk by Chris Luebkeman, Head of the Strategic Foresight Hub, Office of the President, ETH Zürich, reminded us that things can change for the better – we just need to imagine a “preferable future” and apply some stubborn optimism. The conference thus ended on a hugely positive, inspiring note with Chris underscoring that “participation changes the world”.

Attendees left with a spring in their step and in no doubt that climate reporting has a key role in the larger sustainability transformation. Armed with new knowledge, Swiss companies can simultaneously gain competitive advantages in the marketplace while reaching their sustainable goals.