Most of the companies (62%) have no reporting on sustainability issues on their website or in their annual reports. 53 (7%) companies do not have a website or their website is under construction. 12% have little reporting, 9% have average reporting, 4% high reporting and 6% very high reporting. In the case of international companies, the international website was investigated. POA companies with low sustainability reporting (i.e. including only a few sentences) tended to disclose general, qualitative information, without specifying material issues.
Objective research project
As part of the Chair on Sustainable Transformation, supported by the Port of Antwerp (POA), BASF and Randstad, AMS has committed to delivering a tailored research program for the POA.
It was noted that the bigger opportunity for sustainable transformation lies with the Port community of companies, rather than with the Antwerp Port Authority itself. Hence, this was selected to be the focus of the bilateral research project. AMS set out to assess the nature and extent of attention to sustainability by Port community companies, by analyzing their public reporting on sustainability.
Course of the project
We know from the 2018 SDG Barometer for Belgium that companies and organizations (large, medium and small) typically use their websites, annual reports and dedicated sustainability reports to publicly communicate on sustainability. Hence, these media were used to analyze disclosures on sustainability by the POA companies. Our review included disclosures on sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) themes (we call this implicit), and disclosures specifically mentioning the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (we call this explicit).
The level of sustainability disclosure was recorded in 5 levels: no reporting, low reporting (a few sentences), average reporting (up to 1 website page), high reporting (more than 1 website page), very high reporting (more than 1 page and a sustainability report). The sustainability content was classified as quantitative or qualitative information and the material sustainability issues noted and linked to the SDGs and type of sustainable solutions. The data was analyzed using descriptive statistics with SPSS software and through content analysis.
Goal of the project
The SDGs cover broad challenges such as economic inclusion, diminishing natural resources, geopolitical instability, environmental degradation, impacts of climate change, etc. Business growth in general is tied to the achievement of the SDGs at a macro level; however, to take action at a local level, companies should identify how they can contribute to meeting the goals in a way that drives financial performance in the markets they operate in.
While the top explicitly mentioned SDGs such as 8, 9 and 12 refer directly to economic growth, employment, sustainable industrialization, innovation and sustainable production, many of the other SDGs also offer business advantages through expanding into new markets, attracting talent and reducing risk from operations (EY Global, 2017).
In this sense, more work can be done to create awareness of the SDGs, to show how the SDGs link to systemic challenges affected by the POA companies, and to support them in adopting reporting on the SDGs. This is especially important since research from GRI and UNGC found that the SDGs are perceived to be complex, elaborate, and difficult to report on, a result that is corroborated by the interviews that were held for the 2018 SDG Barometer for Belgium.
While some organizations are taking sustainability action, the exact nature and quality as well as the impact of their actions are unclear. Investigating this will shed light on the type of actions organizations are taking and the extent to which these actions are successful in contributing to realizing the 2030 Agenda.
This will provide clear avenues for, among others, governments and sector organizations to pursue when they are encouraging the uptake and implementation of sustainability and the SDGs. Identifying, analyzing and reporting on best practices within the port industry can spur learning processes about the adoption and implementation of sustainability.
The findings show that there are still a lot of companies in the Port area (69%) who do no report on sustainability issues on their website or in their annual reports.
Further, only 4,8% of the companies explicitly mention the SDGs. When companies do use the SDGs in their communication, there seems to be a high correlation between these Global Goals. When companies do not use the SDGs in their communication, they are more likely to report on isolated sustainability topics.
The industrial supercluster is more likely to report on implicit and explicit SDG topics.
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