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The hygiene products company has some compelling stories to tell but they get lost in the ill-judged two-part structure of its report
SCA is a hygiene and forest products company that develops and produces branded and own-label personal care, paper, pulp and solid wood products. SCA, headquartered in Sweden operates globally and has 44,000 employees. A seasoned reporter, SCA delivers its eighth GRI-based report, a 75-page G4-compliant volume that applies the G4 framework meticulously. In the report, SCA provides a useful overview of global megatrends and drivers of sustainability that influence SCA’s approach and a materiality assessment highlighting 20 material impacts informed by an annual survey of more than 1,000 participants.
SCA presents its role in society through the value of its products in improving quality of life, together with the benefits of its practices in advancing responsible forestry and mitigating climate change. The report opens with these key themes in a conversation between the company president and sustainability vice-president. Very soon we realise that there is meaning in the brands that SCA delivers: it’s not just about paper products for blowing your nose or wiping your behind, but social issues such as health protection through hand hygiene, incontinence and the trials of menstruation.
Some of these issues are not often openly discussed in social circles and SCA makes a good case for the way its core products improve daily living for many people. At the same time, we learn that sustainable forest management helps to limit global warming and that SCA’s investment in a new biofuels plant in Finland delivers a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 40%.
Stories with benefits
The report is structured in two main parts, perhaps to meet the needs of different stakeholders: those who want the stories and those who want the facts. In the first part, after background information about the company, stakeholder engagement, materiality and performance-versus-targets sections, there is a review of SCA’s activities by means of short stories that illustrate how SCA has made efforts to enhance its positive contribution.
It’s clear that good things are happening. A paper towel dispenser that reduces the number of towels people use by 11% over three years is linked to a system that tells facilities operators when to clean the toilets or refill the dispensers. A new supersoft diaper is kinder to babies’ bottoms while young girls in Malaysia are being helped to understand menstruation. A new protective shield for men captures light urine leakage while the climate impact of SCA’s incontinence diapers has been cut by 25% in the last seven years. All of these stories show that SCA is making a contribution to society through its core business, where it counts.
But I am not convinced that the division of the report into storytelling and performance accounting works well. The first part reads more like a series of product press releases than a coherent account of the company’s impacts, with the stories divorced from their contextual frameworks. It all seems to be good news, a fact that is invariably bad news, as none of us is naïve enough to think that any company only ever does everything right.
The second part is polished and detailed in its responses to issues of responsible business and sustainable forestry – it’s almost a copy of the previous year’s report, with updated numbers – but it’s packed so intensely into one long 20-page block of narrative that it’s hard to get to the important insights quickly. It needs a few stories to break it up into something that’s actually readable.
This is not merely cosmetics. Reporting is not just about disclosure and content; its credibility is also derived from its appeal and readability. SCA has made a bold attempt to divide the content in a creative way. But, in doing so, the flow and connectivity between issues and performance lacks a certain coherence and punch. SCA has a great story to tell – if you take the time to plough through the second part, you will find some fascinating innovations and undertakings. Connecting the stories to the meaningful underlying strategy, activities, performance and outcomes may be a more powerful way forward for SCA’s reporting.
Elaine Cohen is a Sustainability Consultant and Reporter at Beyond Business and CSR blogger.
sustainability responsible forestry gas emissions biofuels stakeholder engagement climate strategy