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Nielsen’s Perspective on Sustainability Reporting

We released our first Global Responsibility Report in May 2016. Crystal Barnes, vice president, Global Responsibility & Sustainability, Nielsen, recently shared details behind the company’s decision to begin sustainability reporting, as well as insights on the experience so far, which were published in The Conference Board Sustainability Practices Dashboard in November 2016. The report is the result of a collaboration between The Conference Board, Bloomberg Data Solutions and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and analyzes the most recent disclosure of environmental and social practices by public companies around the world.

Q: What drove the decision to release the Global Responsibility Report?

A: Transparency. Our stakeholders had been asking for more information about our overall environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategy, and we knew that publishing a report like this would allow us to advance our ongoing stakeholder engagement efforts and continue to improve in key ESG areas aligned with our overall business priorities. For us, it marked a clear step forward in those commitments.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges as a first-time reporter?

A: In our increasingly data-driven society, it continues to be a challenge for all companies to figure out what to measure and how to use data to advance their strategies. That’s why we focused our report on “measuring what matters.” Every step of the way, our challenge was making sure that we stayed focused on the issues that are most material to our company and stakeholders, that we had identified our goals and forward-looking strategy, and then that we had data to back it up—or, if not, that we have plans in place to collect that information where any gaps exist.

Q: Did the reporting process generate any key insights or surprises for the company?

A: It continues to pay dividends in different ways. Not only is it helpful to us in terms of providing the increased transparency that our clients and investors, in particular, are increasingly looking for, but it’s also been the source of some great conversations with internal and external stakeholders about what’s next. We know we have areas where we can make improvements. With the publication of this report, we’re able to share where we are and where we plan to go with our stakeholders in a way that allows for the open and creative collaboration that’s needed to get there together. It’s generated this dialogue because we see this not as a static update, but as an opportunity to get constructive feedback on where we can continue to be a trailblazer, where we need to improve, and where there are the new opportunities we can explore. We plan to continue to share the report with stakeholders in different ways; for example, our CEO, Mitch Barns, continues to share it with stakeholders, particularly with our clients and investors. That’s something we’re especially proud of given how few companies are sharing their ESG strategy in that context.

Q: What has been the reaction from internal and external stakeholders?

A: Overwhelmingly positive. It’s the first time that we published a comprehensive look at our global ESG strategy, so some of the advancements in key areas like Diversity & Inclusion and Data Privacy were relatively new to certain stakeholder groups. It was the reaction we were hoping for because it reflects a key opportunity behind a fairly common struggle across companies today: to communicate with all stakeholders about what we’re doing on a continual basis. Rather than thinking in terms of “information silos,” we wanted to make sure that this report gave a comprehensive view of all that our teams are doing within and beyond Nielsen to advance our ESG strategy and shows how we’re working every day to ensure that it’s aligned with our critical business priorities.

A modified version of this article originally appeared in The Conference Board Sustainability Practices Dashboard.