Simon Pitsillides (SustainCase Editor):
Interview with Professor Venancio Tauringana
S.P.: Professor Tauringana, you have helped 105 Ugandan companies produce sustainability reports. This is a tremendous achievement given that before your involvement just two years ago, only 5 companies produced GRI Standards Sustainability Reports. Getting so many companies to report in a short while is a major achievement which also suggests that the GRI Standards are easy to implement. Do you agree?
V.T.: Thank you for your compliment. I agree that GRI Standards are easy to implement once you are trained. The difficulty is in ‘extracting’ information from the companies. Most company managers in Uganda I spoke to believe that reporting your negative economic, environmental and social impacts is not a good idea as it may lead to fines, especially by the Environment Agency. This probably explains why many companies are not preparing sustainability reports or preparing them but keeping the information private.
S.P.: What are your plans after producing 105 sustainability reports in Uganda and regarding the COP26 in Glasgow?
V.T.: My plan now is to replicate my success in Uganda in the UK. Specifically, I want to use the UK’s hosting of COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021 as a front to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to prepare sustainability reports. SMEs matter as they play a big part like that of multinational enterprises (MNEs) when it comes to sustainability. For example, it is estimated that in 2016 the annual turnover of SMEs amounted to £1.8 trillion that equates to 47% of private sector turnover in the UK. Therefore, how SMEs operate matters on a large scale. To my knowledge, many SMEs are reluctant to prepare sustainability reports.
S.P.: What would you advise individuals and organizations who produce a sustainability report based on the GRI standards?
V.T.: I would advise them to be proud of what they are doing as they are fighting global warming. Also, I would also advise them that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect sustainability report’. They need to learn and keep on improving the quality of their sustainability reports. For example, one of the largest companies I helped prepare its first sustainability report in Uganda in 2019 has now approached me for advice on how their first sustainability report can be improved going forward.
S.P.: What are the main challenges you face in encouraging companies in Uganda to produce sustainability reports?
V.T.: The main challenge is that most companies are reluctant to report on their negative economic, environmental and social impacts. The other challenge is the lack of expertise to prepare sustainability reports that comply with GRI sustainability standards. To overcome lack of expertise, I offered training and then provided support for companies to prepare sustainability reports. In addition, there is also the issue of lack of awareness of the need or benefits of preparing sustainability reports.
S.P.: How will sustainability reporting help, in practical terms, companies in Uganda achieve business success? Also, how will sustainability reporting impact the Ugandan economy in general?
V.T.: Sustainability reporting will help Ugandan companies to identify their positive and negative economic, environmental and social impacts. This will enable the companies to manage their negative impacts that will likely improve their image and financial performance. More importantly, companies preparing sustainability reports will benefit from being more competitive. Their reports will be available on the GRI database, which means potential buyers of their products worldwide can easily contact them.
S.P.: What impact do you think you have achieved so far in Uganda with your work helping companies prepare sustainability reports.
V.T.: I think helping 105 companies to produce their first sustainability reports has had the greatest impact. I am grateful to the University of Southampton for giving me the time and financial resources to do this. Now that all the 105 sustainability reports have been uploaded on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) database, this has helped Uganda’s progress towards achieving SGD 12 target 6, which is about encouraging companies, particularly the large ones, to prepare sustainability reports. The indicator of success (12.6.1) in achieving SDG 12.6 is the number of organizations from each country preparing and uploading sustainability reports on the GRI database. I have also raised awareness of the need to prepare sustainability reports through my media appearance on television stations such as Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, Smart24TV and NBS.
S.P.: What are the main benefits Ugandan companies have experienced?
V.T.: There are many benefits that the companies have experienced because of the adoption of sustainability reporting. For example, some companies used to report basic environmental information on their website, but they have now uploaded their sustainability report which includes information on the company’s social and economic performance. Many of these companies have reported receiving good feedback from their stakeholders. The companies have also benefited by implementing measures that delivered savings, wider social, economic, and environmental benefits, including poverty reduction. For example, one large company in the steel industry acknowledged that since the preparation of its first sustainability report it has (a) trained its employees about environmental sustainability to ensure that all employees know of the company’s drive to entrench sustainability in its business processes/ practices (b) promoted gender equality in its business by making sure there is gender parity among its senior management and has hired more women in senior positions and set goals for further improvement.
S.P.: What are the main benefits the Ugandan Economy and Society have experienced?
V.T.: I think the Ugandan economy has benefitted and will continue to benefit as the companies that have embraced sustainability reporting are becoming more competitive. This will likely boost export sales and grow the country’s gross national product (GDP). Society has benefitted because some large companies have now identified their negative environmental and social impact and trying to address them. Examples include a reduction in local pollution that will have positive outcomes for the local population’s health. Also, by improving gender equality, society and the companies themselves are benefitting as many studies have shown that the presence of women on boards of directors is associated with improved social and financial performance.
S.P.: A growing body of research (Oxford University, Harvard Business School, Mintel, UK’s Chartered Institute of Marketing, Morgan Stanley, Nielsen) suggests companies need to be part of the sustainable economy to survive. Can I have your comment on this?
V.T.: I agree that companies need to be part of a sustainable economy to survive. However, this is, for now, true in developed countries and for large companies exposed to public scrutiny. For smaller companies, they feel that the costs of being part of the sustainable economy outweigh the benefits. Therefore, there is a need for sensitizing all companies particularly SMEs of the benefits of being part of a sustainable economy.
S.P.: Millennials, the largest generation ever, are overwhelmingly pro-sustainability and are showing this with their every action personally and as decision-makers in businesses. Is this also the case in Uganda?
V.T.: No, most of the millennials in Uganda are not exposed to sustainable ways of living. Money being tight, their priority is about the cost of the product and whether it is produced in a sustainable way is secondary.
S.P.: What are, in your view, the most critical economic, social, and environmental sustainability challenges Uganda faces today?
- Lack of exposure to sustainable ways of living
- Corruption, which derails the implementation of laws and regulations aimed to promoting sustainability. For example, I am told that there are some people in Uganda were still selling polythene bags despite their ban.
- There is a significant lack of sensitisation of the community by key players
- Lack of resources to implement sustainable measures
- Sustainability seems not to be a priority for all influential stakeholders and is left to the responsible parastatals (for example, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to run with. It should be everyone’s responsibility.
S.P.: Global warming is today the most important challenge to sustainable development. How can Ugandan companies help fight climate change?
- Production of sustainable products
- Encouraging recycling for most or all of their products
- Abiding by the regulation that supports sustainability
- Sensitizing the community through frequent community visits, social media, news and other press platforms
S.P.: What was the leading benefit you gained from attending the FBRH GRI Standards Certified and IEMA and CIM Recognized Courses in London in March 2018?
V.T.: The leading benefit was that the course clarified things for me. The explanation was so easy to follow that by the end of the two days, I already had a pro forma sustainability report I intended to use to prepare sustainability reports for companies. A secondary benefit of the course was that it gave me the confidence to prepare sustainability reports. Without attending such a course, what I have done with companies in Uganda would have remained a distant dream.
S.P.: What other courses do you think FBRH can offer to equip better people like you to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 target 6 to encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices and reporting?
V.T.: There are so many courses you can offer associated with preparing sustainability reports which are as follows: (1) how companies can identify, measure and report on the greenhouse gas emissions, (2) Identifying material topics, (3) stakeholder engagement (4) developing and communicating management approaches (GRI 103), (5) Best reporting practices of all economic, environmental and social topics.
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