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How 2020 Changed Impact Measurement and Reporting

Three buckets on differently colored backgrounds. One says Community, the second says Workforce, the third says Environment.

Note: This blog is part 2 of a series on impact reports.

In part 1 of this series, we reviewed impact reports published in 2019. My, how the world has changed since then. In the world of socially responsible business, 2020 and the global health crisis and social upheaval altered the way we create, measure, and report our impact.

The 12 reports we reviewed in part 1 were all from 2019. Before life, as we know it was upended, and suddenly we were figuring out how to do business in this “new normal.” Given that we did just live through one of the most challenging years in recent history, 2020 impact reports will be very different. Typically, the report is broken into the following 3 big buckets:

  • Workforce, which compiles your beneficial HR policies and highlights improvements such as paying a living wage, healthcare benefits, open-book accounting, and other extra employee benefits.
  • Community, which details in-kind donations of goods and services, volunteering, and cash donations.
  • Environment, which covers your company’s environmental footprint, including improvements to facilities, transportation, supply chains, and policies from office composting to carbon offsets.
    (Note, this does not apply to large corporations with complex international operations.)

2020’s Biggest Impact was Likely on your Workforce

For 2020 impact reports, which will be published soon, let’s start by looking at WORKFORCE as the events of the year fundamentally tested our work cultures and employee relationships. Many business owners lost sleep trying to find a way to keep employees from being laid off or furloughed. In some organizations, the economic burden was shared by all employees, in order to keep everyone employed. If that’s your story, that’s impressive. It points to a great culture. Be sure to include it in your Impact Report. We know of a company close to home, Neighborhood Sun, where top leadership took a 20% pay reduction and several employees asked for reduced hours and salaries in order to keep everyone in their department working, if on a limited schedule. (Full disclosure: Neighborhood Sun is very close to home – its CEO is one of our founders’ husband.)

There is no shortage of creative ways companies found means to help employees beyond payroll during this pandemic year, such as adjustments to sick and family leave to help those who were infected by Covid-19. Will some of these new HR initiatives and policies actually be here to stay? Did it accelerate goals you had already on the books? If yes, again this makes for a great impact report story. (And we’d love to know about these new ideas if you’d like to share them with us.)

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Takes Center Stage

For 2020, it will be hard not to talk about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) at work. For many companies, it will be the first time they address this issue—good, it’s time! How you are handling these conversations and what you are doing about this issue is even more important. Is it changing your hiring policies? Are you looking to do business with a more diverse group of suppliers? How are you bringing DEI training to your workforce?

Companies that are comfortable with advocacy and taking a stand on issues will be talking about the Black Lives Matter movement in their 2020 impact reports. Some will also report on how they participated in our democracy during an election year. Did you give your employees paid time off to vote? Did you engage in letter-writing campaigns before the general election? Did you join with other organizations, such as the Civic Alliance, to promote voter enrollment and elections?

On the social impact survey we completed in 2020, providing learning about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the workplace was a big favorite, making it a most desired resource with the employees.

Our prediction for 2020: For the first time, DEI initiatives and civic engagement will be focal points for companies that are trying to engage their employees in social impact.

Volunteering Moves Online

COMMUNITY is another area that got a pandemic remake. Volunteering during the pandemic became both harder and easier. In-person volunteering was not possible in many states, but options for online volunteering mushroomed. Distance became meaningless and with a good internet connection and some flexibility, you could now help kids learn to read, call to check on seniors, and tutor struggling high school students. Of course, the need for monetary donations was even greater during this pandemic year, with no shortage of worthwhile nonprofits desperate for your dollars. If your business was in no position to make its usual cash donations, did your team get creative about other ways you can all contribute? If yes, please tell us, as we’d like to share it with the community.

For example, All Good, a maker of natural, organic skincare and beauty products, donated one pallet (6,561 2 oz bottles) of hand sanitizers worth $26,178 for Georgia to be used in its runoff election. For All Good, this checked two boxes: Advocacy and Community.

Given how stretched many families are, with parents working while educating kids at home, volunteering together as a family could be a true stress buster. And even better if it happens during paid time off provided by the company. Another prediction: In 2020, paid time to volunteer (up to 40 hrs per year) became the new gold standard.

What Were the Impact on your New “Home Offices”?

ENVIRONMENT may be the trickiest portion of the report in 2020. It’s terribly hard to measure environmental impact when it’s so decentralized, with the majority of us working from home and/or office buildings that are empty, which was fantastic for the environment. We’ve all noted the clear blue sky, absence of noise pollution, and significant reduction in air pollution. For many small companies, whose impact comes from buying carbon offsets for transportation, it’s no longer applicable when they aren’t traveling for business. The carbon credit industry adopted quickly, with providers of carbon offsets becoming more creative this year – ours expanded and promoted offsets for servers and office utilities in addition to business travel. We took advantage of all of them.

And while office energy use has been reduced, the average home electrical usage increased 22% across the country since Covid-19, compared to 2019, a reflection of people using more electricity while they stayed home. Have you talked to your employees about energy efficiency at home? Are you providing them with resources to make up for this transfer in cost, from utilities saved by the company to utilities used in the home? Are you providing them with education or assistance with options for green energy, from wind, to solar to community energy? The added benefit is that your employees will be saving money on utility bills if they conserve energy.

Another impact you may not have considered pre-Pandemic: If you now have a remote workforce and it’s part of your operations, your company can measure the miles its employees aren’t commuting because of remote work and factor that into your impact. It’s a good idea to keep this in mind post-Pandemic as well.

While reducing energy use is typically the biggest concern, here are some other ideas that may help with building out your environmental section of the report. Have you found a way to offer composting to your employees working from home? Have you talked about water reduction ideas at home, or water conservation, like setting up rain barrels? Have you provided education to all those folks who de-stress by gardening, such as which native plants they can grow to beautify their yard and also help prevent soil erosion?

The trend, starting in 2020 and going forward, we believe, is to think broader as a company and consider ways to help your employees live an environmentally sustainable lifestyle at home. With some education and support from your business, the impact may actually be greater than what you’re able to achieve solely in the workplace. We know that five of us in the office have a pretty small environmental footprint, but 5 households tilting towards a greener lifestyle will have a bigger and more sustained impact. While it may be harder to measure, the greater benefits to planet Earth are what matters most.

We know that five of us in the office have a pretty small environmental footprint, but 5 households tilting towards a greener lifestyle will have a bigger and more sustained impact.

We hope you find some of the ideas and questions helpful as you begin to prepare your company’s Impact Report for 2020. We’re also keenly interested in your observations and ideas as well, so please share them with our community. Last year was an unusual year, and your report should reflect that. We look forward to reading 2020 reports and learning about the creative ways companies dealt with a myriad of challenges of 2020.
We know we will be inspired.