Why Sustainability Reporting is Booming in Gulf Region!


2014 CSE Research on Sustainability Reporting

The Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) as an official GRI Training Partner for Middle East recently conducted a research to observe the emerging trends for the publication of Sustainability (CSR) Reports and external assurance in Gulf Countries and overall Middle East region.

To examine the statistical results, CSE processed data retrieved from the international database of GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) and conducted a survey of 67 organizations in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Egypt that have published unique Sustainability reports for the period 2012-2014

The results showed that companies in the energy sector have the lead with a rate of 28% among companies that produce a sustainability report. The country that published most sustainability reports in the period 2012-2014 was United Arab Emirates with 34% followed by Qatar where 22% of the reports were issued.

The main conclusion of this research was that almost 81% of companies in Middle East that published a Sustainability (CSR) report, followed the internationally recognized standards of GRI, while the remaining 19% was based either on ten basic principles of United Nations Global Compact or did not comply with any particular or recognized reporting standard. Despite that the majority of the companies follow the instructions GRI G3.1 to their sustainability reports, only a small percentage of the reports fully comply with the GRI requirements. Furthermore, only 19% of the sustainability reports sample contained external assurance. Additionally, less than 10% of the companies studied have established future goals or launched strategy on sustainability and CSR issues.

According to those conclusions it seems that while Sustainability Reporting is booming in particular countries in Gulf (e.g. UAE, Qatar) there is still lack of maturity for the importance of strategy and external assurance according to global best practices.

CSE encourages every company who would like to better understand the significance of those strategies and earn all the practical tools to create Sustainability Reports , to join our

Global Advanced Certified Sustainability Course and GRI G4 Courses:

Abu Dhabi, UAE on October 12-13

Dubai, UAE on December 7-8

For more information contact us at development@cse-net.org or visit www.cse-net.org (Upcoming Trainings) 


Myth busters about common sustainability misconceptions

The opinions behind what constitutes sustainability are many. Are you among those who got it right?

Sustainability strategies have not always been in the forefront of every business plan. Neither has climate change been on the top priority of every corporate agenda. It was not until last century that corporate responsibility and sustainability started playing a more important role and businesses started treating it as something important and were placed at the heart of their business value. Yet, the question remains: Do companies really know what sustainability is? Below are the most common corporate responsibility myths:

1.       Corporate responsibility is meant to correct social inequality

Social equality is, undoubtedly, a key to virtue to every democratic sustainable developing country and corporation. However, when it comes to business their main objective is not to act as a philanthropic industry and solve all social inequalities but rather be profitable as well.

2.       Corporate responsibility is not public relations

Of course every organization needs effective and strategic public relations between itself and everyone else, but the purpose of PR and CSR should mingle in together. Corporations should not be doing CSR as a way of public relations, or as a way to create or strengthen their existing relations with others. In contrast to that, PR should act as a communication vehicle by which companies can showcase their CSR initiatives.

3.       Corporate responsibility is not simply about following regulations

The issue that many corporations are called to face is that of regulations. What is considered as a regulation in one country is not a regulation in other. Let’s take for example labor unions: In United Arab Emirates it is illegal to have any type of labor union. However, in other counties it is not. How are global companies supposed to manage those types of regulations? Undoubtedly, operation in many countries is tough so corporate responsibility is not simply about following regulations.

It goes without much saying that the misconceptions corporate responsibility can be many. To accurately define what CSR really is, every organization must have a clear understanding of what sustainability really is. Only then they can really see what their impact on society, environment, market and workplace actually is.

To learn the additional misconceptions about CSR and earn the globally recognized certification as a CSR practitioner approved by the IEMA, register for one of our upcoming Advanced Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Trainings or contact us for more information at sustainability@cse-net.org.

Nikos Avlonas of CSE Presented His New book on Practical Sustainability Strategies in Chicago

On Tuesday, February 11, Nikos Avlonas, President of the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE), and George Nassos, Principal of George Nassos Associates, presented in Chicago  their new book entitled “Practical Sustainability Strategies: How to Gain a Competitive Advantage.”

The book, recently published John Wiley & Sons, Inc., already got its place among America’s bestsellers on its first 3 weeks of publication. The book goes a step beyond all the theoretical solutions about sustainability and offers proven practical strategies that organizations can follow to develop and maintain a unique competitive advantage and includes case studies.
book-1Great contribution to last night’s event were the presentation of its guest speakers, Howard Learner, President and Executive Director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, and Cary Nathenson, Associate Dean of The University of Chicago Graham School. The speakers emphasized the importance of the authors’ contribution in promoting sustainability and responsible corporate strategies. The event was attended by numerous professionals from the academia, corporate organizations and local media.
Commenting on the recent publication of his book, CSE’s president and book co-author Nikos Avlonas said: ”This book reflects my fifteen-year global Sustainability experience with dozens of Fortune 500 companies and other organizations  in  North America, Europe, Asia and Middle East  during which I provided strategic consulting and training services. This contributed toward creating strategies with a positive impact  on both organizations , society and the environment as a whole.‘’

Cary Nathenson Associate Dean from the University of Chicago Graham School where Nikos Avlonas was advisor on its Sustainability Leadership program comment “Sustainability education needs to be both theoretical as well as practical in order to contribute to holistic approaches. This new book makes a welcome attempt to bridge the theory-practice divide.”

Joseph Maguire, President, Society of Environmentally Responsible Facilities, said that “Nikos Avlonas is a global leader in developing and implementing sustainability strategies for organizations–including SERF. He has teamed with his colleague George Nassos to masterfully distill their decades of experience in to this powerful and useful work.” Maguire adds “With an all-too-rare mix of accessible prose and hard data, these gentlemen have produced a work that belongs on the bookshelf of every corporate sustainability officer and concerned citizen of the world.”

To learn more about the book, please visit here, or for more information about CSE’s global sustainability trainings programs, instructed by the Nikos Avlonas, visit here or contacts directly CSE at sustainability@cse-net.org or at 312-214-6464

Can We Measure The Social Effect of CSR Strategies?

Placing emphasis on SROI

If your answer is positive, then positively you belong among a vast majority of corporations that wish to plan strategies and suggest solutions, which truly cater for society’s needs, giving thus added value not only to society but also to the corporation themselves. As expected, the year 2013 made Social Return on Investment (SROI) stand out as key measurement tool for responsible companies operating locally or internationally, as it assists to understand, manage and communicate the social value that your work creates in a clear and consistent way with customers, beneficiaries and funders.

With the New Year 2014, quickly approaching and making crystal clear that SROI is here to stay, CSE being its basic scope to keep up with its groundbreaking actions in order to deliver correct and substantial information on Corporate and Social Responsibility issues, conducted with great success a Roundtable posing the next critical and begging question:

‘How can we measure the social effect of CSR strategies?

During the Roundtable emphasis was placed upon the challenges, which corporations confront regarding the investments in CSR actions and programs as well as upon the use of tools and international strategies like SROI, which could form the framework that measures Society coherent value.

Nikos Avlonas, CEO, stated: ‘With the existing economic climate, which is gradually recovering from recession, every contribution through corporate responsibility initiatives is of utmost importance not only for society but also for the survival of each and every corporation. Coherent value measurement of every social action managed with international standards will fundamentally contribute not only to  society, but also to the corporations themselves and Non- Profit Organizations, which will make their benefits more transparent.’

The most valuable component for the round table and CSR as a whole, was the willingness of CSR representatives from companies like Coca- Cola Hellas, Novartis and Mamidoil Jetoil S.A. wishing to showcase their own corporate best practices. Why? Because when you are doing the right thing for the right reason at the right time, you will undoubtedly want to shout it out loud!

Clearly the combination of companies promoting and reinforcing principles of corporate social responsibility, and the eagerness to discover how SROI is measured in order to enhance or alter their strategies, represents a massive step towards standardizing sustainable development.

Since CSE establishment in 2005, it has supported and realized groundbreaking actions regarding corporate responsibility and also planned strategies that reinforce innovation and responsible business both on a national and international level as well. For this very reason CSE new Advanced Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Training (IEMA Approved), to be launched for the very 1st time in Dubai 2014, March 10 & 11, includes a module on SROI, the latest CSR trends in the region and best practices.

Keen to join? Find out more here or simply contact Elisabeth Lincoln – Training & Marketing Coordinator (marketing@cse-net.org)

Did you Know that Companies with Certified CSR-Practitioners Increase their CSR Performance?

Did you Know that Companies with Certified CSR-Practitioners Increase their CSR Performance?

Here at CSE we recently conducted a research based on CSRhub to discover just how important CSR-Practitioners are in advancing companies’ sustainability journey. For those of you who aren’t aware CSRHub is a leading corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability rating and information database. In order for CSRHub to produce sustainable and therefore actual results, their criteria looks into evaluating companies CSR efforts in 4 fundamental categories (Community, Employees, Environment, and Resources) and 12 additional subcategories. In turn the overall CSR rating score calculated by CSRHub creates a benchmark for companies to compare sustainability performance. So we are essentially referring to a benchmark for company performance, which establishes a broad, consistent rating with data from multiple sources derived by companies’ sustainability and CSR initiatives. To date, CSRhub rating methodology uses 257 sources to create a schema which reduces bias and among those sources, respectively, are six top leading ESG research firms and other diverse, credible sources.

So, in our research 8 companies with CSR-Practitioners served as the sample to investigate their overall CSR Ratings.

Our aim was to discover if there was any difference between companies CSR ratings before and after having CSR-Practitioners within their teams. In turn, the actions taken to compare the 8 companies CSR scores 1 year before and after CSE training, were compared to the corresponding industry average. Fast-forwarding, the data points were transformed into line graphs to illustrate the sustainability score trends. So the graph below “W.W. Grainger Inc”illustrates the data point 1 year before CSE’s training (B), compared to 1 year after the training (P1) and indicates the impact that the CSR-Practitioners 2 year action plan (from the training) may have had on the company’s overall CSR score. For a full picture of the Research and the 2 year Action plan that all our Certified CSR Practitioners conduct, please click here.





Overall, the results of the research indicate that improvement scores were found in the companies which had CSR-Ps.  Why? Simple!  All CSR-Ps have completed CSE’s Certified CSR training and upon completion they created a 2 year Sustainability (CSR) action plan for their company. The reason this is notable is, when implemented, the action plan introduces a carbon footprint strategy and energy reduction plan. This is a practical and measurable strategy which is under review for 4 month by CSE experts and is approved by a third party (IEMA- Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment) to ensure it meets standards and includes a variety of tools for approach. This action plan, implemented by the CSR-Practitionerss could have contributed to the improvement in overall CSR ratings.

Keen on having such an impact in your organization? Then join our upcoming Certified Sustainability & CSR Trainings approved by the Leading UK Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Trainings:

London, 17 &18 October 2013

Abu Dhabi, 24 & 25 November 2013

Houston, 7 & 8 November 2013

Atlanta, 14 & 14 November 2013

Certified Carbon Strategy Practitioner Trainings:

San Francisco 12 & 13 September

Atlanta, 19 & 20 September

Abu Dhabi, 27 & 28 November 2013

Are you doing the right thing for the wrong reason?

The practice of sustainability reporting is now embedded in businesses DNA, as it enables best practice in engaging with stakeholders, preparing to manage risk and measure sustainable economic growth in the long-term. So, if the question is whether your organization should invest in producing a sustainability report or not, the answer, in today’s vastly increasing demand for transparency, is that number speak for themselves! According to Marjella Alma, manager of external relations for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), 95 percent of the world’s 250 largest companies today disclose sustainability performance information. Why? Simply placed: “What gets measured gets managed”, which of course in turn enables you to gradually improve your performance whilst addressing the triple bottom line!  Now if the question within your organization is why publish a CSR report? Again simply placed, a CSR report acts as a vehicle to engage and communicate with stakeholders as it can ensure that a company is acting in a responsible manner! Yet to be credible, among many reasons, external assurance is vital for the integrity of data…No wonder 50 percent of companies internationally use external assurance for their reports!

 Consequently, a CSR report is of significant importance to organizations performance, but what in fact drives towards success? The two most important values are based upon the influences and motivations behind CSR as well as how decisions are made! For instance a resent research report conducted by Julia Bonner (New York University student) and Professor Adam Friedman on the influences and motivations of CSR in 77 Fortune 1000 companies, found that whilst CSR is more than often integrated within business strategies, thus doing the right thing, it is actually being done for the wrong reasons. According to the report’s results, environmental issues manifested the list as the most important focus for CSR efforts (96 percent), followed by health issues (68 percent), education (59 percent) and human rights (55 percent). Yet the reasons why the above pillars are addressed are motivated on reputation groundings by 88 percent of the respondents! On top of that, approximately two-thirds of these respondents stated that not engaging in CSR would have harmful effects on the company’s reputation.

Such motivations in turn indicate that CSR is not always altruistically driven, but the moral of the “story” is that if business motivations are built with such weak foundations and unsustainable principles, a collapse is bound to occur in the near future. Therefore before a company begins to engage in the philosophy of “What gets measured gets managed” and in turn produce a CSR report, it must embrace that acting in a responsible manner, needs to be done for the right reasons and represent the organization’s vision, mission and values holistically. There are many ways and guidelines on producing a sustainability report. To date the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the world’s most widely used framework to effectively disclose environmental, social and governance data. Its guidelines aim to ensure Sustainability Reporting encloses valuable information about organizations material issues to stakeholders and it is currently used by more than 5,000 organizations worldwide.

Discover what it’s all about..here


Did new GRI G4 guidelines for Sustainability Reporting meet companies’ ambitious expectations? Positive changes and gaps

On the 22-24 of May, CSE attended the Sustainability Leadership event of 2013, the Global Conference on sustainability and Reporting in Amsterdam! At the conference the new global guidelines for Sustainability Reporting, namely GRI G4 were launched followed by 1500 leaders and practitioners discussing key challenges and opportunities in making sustainability practical reality! Being at the G4 launch and having the opportunity to interact with the GRI managers and its interpretation for the new guidelines but also talking with other GRI Training partners from North America, Europe and Middle East we came into the following practical Q&A(s)  :

Positive Changes

Q(1): Why do companies need the G4?

A(1): Last year (2012) the GRI became the leading framework for global reporting for the majority of companies wishing to disclose annually their Sustainability performance. Consequently, a sustainability report should be a powerful stakeholder tool supporting companies to communicate their sustainability achievements visions, policies and achievements based on the structured global framework of GRI Guidelines.

As a result, disclosure based on GRI Reporting Guidelines is becoming a must for most organizations operating globally. Even Bloomberg has included GRI and External Assurance as one of the ESG Risk criteria whilst providing information to investors.  However the time and resources required gathering data and preparing a Sustainability Report is still a complex process for GRI users and many organizations are still pondering over the value they get from this process.

Q(2): Why are application levels replaced by core and comprehensive ‘’ in accordance’’ criteria?

A(2): Current application levels (A, B and C) have been replaced with ‘in accordance’ criteria for core or comprehensive GRI compliance. Frankly? it was time to solve this issue with the A, B, C application level confusion, hence, ‘In accordance’ criteria are more strict and you cannot use the terms partial or no compliance to any of required criteria in the GRI Index for core or comprehensive Sustainability Reporting any more. At the same time companies should disclose their performance in all or some  criteria if they consider them material related to its business.

Q(3): what are the impacts on companies about the change in disclosure on Management Approach (DMA)?

A(3):  G4 requires disclosure on Management Approach (DMA) information in any Category, Aspect or even Indicator level. Hence, companies should spend resources in Stakeholder Materiality Assessment based on the new DMA approach in order to disclose Sustainability data directly related to key impact areas related to its stakeholders. This may bring a reduction and flexibility in the Sustainability Reporting content but also a good understanding for all companies for its material related key impacts and being able to improve their sustainability Strategy

Q(4): is the G4  demanding more  governance and remuneration , Supply Chain and GHG emissions disclosure?

A(4): G4 requires more  disclosure around governance and remuneration, supply chain sustainability ,ethics and integrity, GHG emissions scope 1,2 and 3 . The impact on companies is that GRI’s greater attention on responsibility in all above mentioned issues could be a useful wake-up call for Boards of Directors and Company Executives. Additionally the inclusion of all these topics in the Sustainability Report  will probably  facilitate better sustainability integration top down to reporting companies and may force some to include all the new  ‘’hot sustainability topics’’ in their business  strategy.

Q(5). Is more in depth External Assurance suggested for the G4?

Indeed, the G4 pushes organizations to consider more the importance of external assurance than the G3.1.Although G4 does not require external assurance as its previous version G3.1, it appears that there is more emphasis for detailed external assurance for all criteria covered by GRI. Nonetheless, at the end of the Report in the GRI Index a table should indicate all areas got external assurance by a third party organization.GRI still remains flexible to external assurance, however, it requires more in depth assurance for all companies deciding to do so.

It is important to be mentioned that GRI has not decided yet if they will continue providing a third party assessment check to all guideline users.

Regarding the gaps of GRI guidelines our conclusions suggest that:

1. The G4 seems to still be non user friendly and complex for Sustainability Reporting beginners. Thus, GRI should create a simplified version of the guidelines for those want to move on into Sustainability Reporting

2. G4 does not provide more detailed information or refer to widely used guidelines for external assurance like AA1000 and other guidelines. Therefore, even if the original objectives of G4 were to make it more compatible with other guidelines  there is no specific guidance or reference to other Standards as it should be.

3. G4 terminology is still complex and different professionals may have different interpretation of criteria and approach. We most certainly feel that GRI should provide a Q & A guide for all Sustainability Professionals in order to avoid confusion to its audience


Nonetheless, we would like to emphasize that the G4 is a great opportunity for companies to rethink reporting processes and how to integrate Sustainability within their business Strategy. In the upcoming months you will undoubtedly hear many different interpretations of the G4 guidelines; however, it does seem that the G4 can be a way forward for Sustainability Reporting with new criteria including accountability, supply chain management and ethics in a more flexible manner regarding key impact areas in meeting stakeholder expectations, but it requires more detailed disclosure in all criteria.

If you would like to be one of the first to  learn more about the developments and the practical application of the G4 Framework and its impact to your business , join CSE round table held in Dubai after the Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Training on the 19-20 of June, or in New York also to be delivered after the Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Training, 13-14 of June