Microsoft is lending visionary and heart warming leadership by getting behind a lobby to cheer the UK government's plan to introduce tough new social and environmental corporate disclosure requirements. The new government took many by surprise in reintroducing plans to encourage greater corporate accountability already abandoned once by the previous government as part of its newly issued programme for government manifesto.
We will reinstate an Operating and Financial Review to ensure that directors’ social and environmental duties have to be covered in company reporting, and investigate further ways of improving corporate accountability and transparency.
Microsoft recently co-signed an open letter with the influential Aldersgate Group to the government which calls into question the principle of voluntarism and demands that the government take a gloves off approach:
Voluntary initiatives have had some success in mobilising the UK’s biggest organisations to address their environmental impact more fully. However, last year’s Carbon Disclosure Project shows that only just over half of the FTSE 350 disclosed their carbon emissions. The urgency of climate change demands much more rapid progress to be made. For this reason, we welcome the government’s commitment to reinstate an Operating and Financial Review to ensure that directors’ social and environmental duties have to be covered in company reporting, and investigate further ways of improving corporate accountability and transparency.
As it happens I think there is a fair case to be made here about the benefits of leveling the playing field and encouraging more information on sustainability impact and performance into the public domain for the benefit of society and business. As argued by Aldersgate:
The administrative costs would be minimal for those who report anyway and help those who don’t to identify significant cost savings.
Microsoft's recent evangelism on this will come as something of a pleasant surprise to Michael Muyot who wrote a blog post on Triple Pundit earlier this year critical of the company's own poor record in voluntary sustainability reporting entitled: 'Is Microsoft Going to Walk the Talk'.
As for Microsoft’s reporting, the website is filled with scenic pictures and videos of specific initiatives such as biodiesel recycling at company headquarters, but does not provide useable data on the company.
Muyot's firm, CRD Analytics provides the analytical framework for establishment of the NASDAQ Global Sustainability Index which recently eliminated not only Microsoft but also Oracle and Cisco for not walking the talk on matters green. Muyot takes the view that in order to sell transparency you must do transparency:
We are hopeful that these rather obvious conflicting forces are really an indication that tech savvy firms like Microsoft, Cisco and Oracle are instituting enterprise wide solutions to gather, measure and analyze every possible piece of environmental performance data themselves and will actually be incorporating best practices into the very DNA of their company so they show their clients how easy it is to Walk the Talk. If they do this, it will lead to a very sustainable and profitable business segment.
Hey, I'm hopeful too and many more besides will assume Microsoft's backing of tough regulation in the UK signifies a renewed corporate commitment to improving their own transparency and accountability on sustainability.