How does a company relate to society and the environment? Is making a profit the only reason for a company’s existence? How do we define the bond a company develops with its employees? Is money the only factor stakeholders consider when evaluating a company?
Should it be normal to use plastic bags and bottles every day without restraint, to throw rubbish away without separating it, being a part of the wheel of consumption, ignore environmental problems, to drive to work with no one else in the car, or to disregard poverty, justice, equal opportunity and other social issues? These questions generate others, about the very way we live our lives but this doesn’t change the fact that we have only one world. How much longer can we survive when we go on pretending that we have spare ones?
Such issues have occupied my mind since I began writing my dissertation on sustainability as a CEO. This topic led me to study all the sustainability reports written in Turkey up to 2013, and as I read about the commitments made in those reports, I became aware of the heavy responsibility CEOs have in fostering sustainable development. Naturally, I started to wonder what I could do to fulfill my own responsibilities.
After the United Nations COP 21 Summit in Paris, it was no surprise to hear that participating states had failed to reach an agreement on their commitments. It reminded me once again that it was companies, including all stakeholders and especially CEOs, which needed to take the initiative and engage insustainable development.
The principles and work practices that our company has adhered to from day one have given us an uncommon degree of familiarity with the concept of sustainable development. After I began pondering how to institutionalise social and environmental awareness alongside our profit-making activities, I came up with the idea of drafting our first sustainability report. Following a preparatory period, Mazars Denge became a signatory to the Global Compact on April 1, 2016. Exactly one year later, on April 1, 2017, we completed our report and uploaded it to the relevant website of the United Nations (to view our report please visit: http://www.mazars.com.tr/Anasayfa/Haberler/Rapor-Arastirmalar/Kurumsal-Surdurulebilirlik-Raporu-2016.)
Celebrating our 40th anniversary in 2017, Mazars Denge spent a year and a half working on its sustainability report, the second such report in our sector. The toughest part of the process was incorporating the corporate sustainability approach into all the company’s operations, and despite our best efforts, we encountered many unforeseen challenges along the way. But the challenges themselves endowed us with valuable experience. I want to share transparently the roadmap and steps supporting our decisions, and explain the benefits of a sustainability report in realising our goals.
Sustainability is, I believe, a concept that defines the circular bond between us and everyone else. I also believe this bond cannot survive unless we learn to share. At the suggestion of Didem Eryar Ünlü, we are sharing our experiences with the esteemed readers of Dünya in a series of articles in our column on the Sustainability page. We will be publishing an article every day for 10 days. We decided to name our column “Nautilus,” inspired by the model of our report. I hope our series will accompany and guide you in your own corporate sustainability journey.
Why produce a sustainability report?
With international norms gaining traction across the globe, and with more and more companies attaching importance to sustainable development, businesses today are preparing higher-quality reports. A comparison between McKinsey’s 2014 and 2010 survey results shows that an increasing number of CEOs counting sustainability as a top-three item on their agenda has risen every year. HBR updated their evaluation methodology in early 2015, adding sustainability variables to their criteria for Best-Performing CEOs in the World. These now account for 20% of all criteria. As a consequence of that change, Lars Novo Nordisk CEO Rebien Sorensen became the best-performing CEO of the year, while the prior year’s top CEO, Jeffrey Bezos, dropped to number 76.
The Benefits of a Sustainability Report:
In my opinion, a sustainability report brings three very important benefits:
1- Ensuring stakeholder participation
2- Creating internal and external awareness
3- Setting clear and measurable goals
1- Ensuring stakeholder participation: Businesses consist not merely of their management and employees. A business forms a whole, and everything within its reach becomes a part of that whole, including clients, vendors, investors, the families of employees, the environment, ecosystem, NGOs, the general public and other stakeholders. Businesses are therefore responsible for looking after the benefits of all stakeholders and gathering their opinions on a variety of issues when making strategic decisions. A sustainability report provides a clear view of how decisions are made with the contribution of stakeholders and whether the impact on stakeholders is positive or negative. For example, when sustainability efforts first started at our firm we prepared a survey, which we distributed to all stakeholders including our staff. This helped us understand how each party viewed us and what they expected from us. All subsequent steps were taken in light of the results of that initial stakeholder survey.
2- Creating internal and external awareness: This is particularly important to Turkey, where the term “sustainability” is typically used in the context of growth and the environment. However, due to its long-term nature, sustainability has more to do with development than with growth. It covers social impact in addition to environmental impact. I thus believe that the sustainability report plays a crucial part in (i) understanding and internalising the concept of sustainability, and (ii) creating awareness – both within and outside of a business – of our individual responsibility to create a sustainable future. A quick example from our firm: while the choice remains with the relevant person, we have made carbon emission a selection criterion when purchasing cars at our company. Ever since we switched to this practice, employees have started to opt for hybrid cars.
3- Setting clear and measurable goals: One of the most significant advantages that a sustainability report offers in terms of content is in presenting business targets – established with the contribution of stakeholders – in a simple, measurable manner. It is worth noting that these targets also include non-monetary economic externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions, human capital and employee retention. A sustainability report indicates where a company stands as of a particular reporting year while setting forth the concrete steps that will be taken to ensure sustainable development. We should keep in mind that the presentation of targets in writing also helps foster a feeling of obligation to comply with those targets in the future. I have seen, though, that a typically common approach to preparing a sustainability report is to stress areas of strength while avoiding the mention of other, weaker aspects of a business. All businesses have weaknesses. All experience problems. The expectation with a sustainability report is for businesses to define their problems in a transparent manner and share their short-, medium- and long-term criteria to arrive at solutions.
Preparing a sustainability report should be seen as the first stop in a long journey. An ability to integrate sustainability into the operations of a business using 3P (People, Planet, Profit) to create value for all stakeholders is not change in itself. This, above all else, is a matter of philosophy and demands an answer to the question “why” at every step of the way in the context of “sustainability responsibility.” If a business’s management has not adopted such a philosophy to define strategy and trigger a change in culture, it faces a serious obstacle.
Preparing the sustainability report took approximately 15 months. The steps of the process were as follows:
- The decision making process
- Forming the sustainability team
- Conductingstakeholder surveys
- Evaluating the results and carrying outthe prioritisation analysis
- Conducting the employee satisfaction survey
- Designing the sustainability model
- Distributing GRI G4 standards among team members according to subject
- Compiling information gathered from all offices and departments
- Checking through the information gathered at various stages and reading through the report
- Adding the “Message from the Chairperson” section
- Uploading the report to the UN Global Compact website
- Preparing the communication infrastructure for the report
- Finishing the illustrations in the report
- Proofreading and publishing the report
- Communicating the report
The decision-making process
Every time I read a sustainability report published in Turkey, I would say to myself, “Why don’t we write a report like that?” I was aware of the importance of sharing with all stakeholders what had been done so far and what needed to be done to set up a serious sustainability infrastructure.
That first report was in fact a process of alignment and collection. By “alignment,” I mean matching corporate sustainability with the founding philosophy of our company. Collection refers to identifying our sustainability practices.
We were familiar with the idea of sustainability in terms of our company’s operations. Sustainability practices were to be built upon the foundations that our company already had. It was easy for me to see the connection between our founding principles and corporate sustainability, but I could not create the desired impact with the very few employees who perceived that same connection. For this reason, the first step consisted of a period of 6-12 months ensuring that everyone at the company was clear about what sustainability was.
From publications that I regularly read, such as EkoIQ, Dünya’s Sustainability page and MIT Sloan Management Review, I began selecting and sharing articles with others. Curiously, I received no comments on these pieces from anyone at the company. People said they had no time to read them. Then I highlighted and added notes to the articles that I sent out. I sent my e-mails either before the working day started or after 17:30, when working hours were over, so that employees would not miss my e-mails in their busy schedule. The contents of my article “Enron to Volkswagen: Business, Ethics and Sustainability,” published in Harvard Business Review in December 2015, received particular attention. We were quite familiar with the notions of “profit pressure,” “continuous growth targets,” “unfair competition,” “ethical egoism” and “money as the only measuring tool” discussed in the article, as these were all situations we encountered in both our company and the industry.
All this worked to a certain extent, and some paid attention. But when I realised this would not be enough, I personally continued writing about sustainability. It was only natural that my point of view should reflect the overall perspective of our company. However, the limited knowledge employees had about sustainability prevented them from identifying the connection between corporate sustainability and some of the practices that had become part of our company’s corporate culture. For instance, the principle of non-transferral of employees between competitors during busy periods, as required by professional ethics, and avoiding offers based on price competition are very closely tied to corporate sustainability. Yet almost no one realized this.
The following are the methods I use most frequently to create such awareness:
1- Sharing informative videos and articles – including articles written by me – about sustainability
2- Allocating time to sustainability in internal meetings
3- Inviting senior employees to external seminars and conferences on topics related sustainability
4- Always briefly mentioning sustainability when our staff come see me about other issues
5- Inviting guest speakers to give talks about sustainability.
In hindsight, there are certain things that I could have done differently. These included sending out information with visual content more regularly, including other topics to avoid tediousness, and holding seminars at the company based on the articles I had written.
Making the decision
On the one hand, being able to measure the effect of sustainability efforts on the company and using monitoring improvement from the perspective of sustainability were among my biggest dreams. On the other hand, in addition to annual figures about employee experience, turnover rate, number of female employees, supported NGOs and number of trees planted, the only piece of information I had was that two employees were pursuing graduate degrees in sustainability.
As I read the sustainability reports published in Turkey and abroad, I knew we would eventually have to write our own sustainability report. In fact, to me this was the most worrying part. Although as a CEO of Mazars Denge I knew about and fully believed in sustainability, I did not know how many of our managers included report writing on their agendas. How was I going to show our managers a clear picture of the connection between what we do and sustainability? How ready were employees, the innermost circle of stakeholders, to report on sustainability?
Preoccupied with these questions, we were striving to improve ourselves with regard to the following four main goals set at our general assembly: “quality orientation,” “access to international clients,” “efficiency,” and “brand/reputation.”
The countdown to the COP21 in Paris had begun with by that time. Many countries, including Turkey, were trying to finalise preparations and set policies and commitments. I followed the news about the summit in Paris very closely, and in my opinion, in the face of other interpretations of the outcomes, the desired goals had not been fully met. At that point I asked myself why we had to wait for other people to do something and whether the failure to achieve the desired goals on a macro-scale should prevent us from taking action at the micro-level. I realised there was no point in waiting any longer. I had made up my mind. As CEO I was going to take action by putting “corporate sustainability” at the top of my agenda.
Where hard-to-implement decisions are concerned, I often take these two steps:
1- Make the decision official: This serves two purposes. Firstly, it ensures that at least the management units within the company are aware of the matter. Secondly, a declaration decreases the risk of losing one’s nerve.
2- Form a team of supporters: I immediately contacted Prof. Dr. Güler Aras who is a finance professor in Yıldız Technical University and who wrote several books and published many articles about corporate sustainability and told her that I needed her help. She knew how dear this matter was to me and how much I believed in it, so she said she would provide any assistance required. Once I had secured her cooperation, I met with the directors of Human Resources, Marketing and Budget Planning Departments and shared my decision with them.
Our first meeting was a planning session. We tried to establish an order of priority and create a calendar for what needed to be done. The most important item of the planning meeting was setting a date for signing the UN Global Compact. We had to have our sustainability report ready one year from the date of signing the compact. This meant forming a team knowledgeable about the topic and gathering data from our offices across Turkey to write the report.
This would require a lot of time and effort. As the person who knew the most about the topic at the company, I had to take on the challenging task of actively working with the team and taking part in all stages of the process rather than doing what most CEOs did, which was to set up an internal team and outsource most of the work. Furthermore, I was determined to use the latest Global Reporting Standards, the GRI G4, when writing the report. I also had to fulfil all my management-related responsibilities despite adverse economic conditions. Any economic failure that occured during the period in which the report was being prepared would have a negative impact on the report.
After a couple of weekly meetings, we had not made the kind of progress I had been anticipating. This made me realise that the real process would not start unless we put our signature under the Global Compact and started the countdown. We met on Wednesdays. One day Prof. Dr. Güler Aras opened the meeting by saying there was no point in waiting any longer. As I listened to her, with the Sustainable Development Goals and the 10 Principles of the Global Compact on the UN Global Compact website in front of me, it seemed obvious she was right. So, we decided to press the button.
The three steps of participation were as follows, as stated on the UN Global Compact website:
1- Review the Online Application Guidelines
2- Prepare a Letter of Commitment signed by the chief executive to the Secretary-General of the United Nations expressing a commitment to (i) the UN Global Compact and its ten principles; (ii) taking action in support of UN goals; and (iii) the annual submission of a Communication on Progress (COP)
3- Complete the Online Application Form and upload a digital copy of the Letter of Commitment.
We finalised the preparations in two days and made the internal announcement that we had signed the compact on April 1, 2016.
Forming the sustainability team
A critical aim of our sustainability efforts is ensuring that our employees see the connection between sustainability and what they do. Here is something I repeatedly say in my talks: “The smallest mistake we make in the tax declaration forms we prepare, the certification reports we write or the independent audits for which our opinion is sought would mislead the citizen on the street at the very end of the value chain. Our social responsibility should, absolutely and definitely, require that humans – not money – be placed at the forefront of our thinking.”
I knew that creating sustainability awareness within the company would bring with it a challenging process. It was not possible to shoulder all that on my own. My aim was to set up a sustainability team to embrace the master/apprentice system. I worked one-to-one with all the team members who became involved in the process at the beginning. We then wanted those members to train new members, gradually expanding the group. The initial members of the group apart from Güler Aras and myself were our HR director, HR assistant and marketing director. Prof. Dr. Güler Aras and I held short training sessions on sustainable development and corporate sustainability with these executives telling them about the Principles of Global Compact and Sustainable Development Goals and making book and article recommendations.
As a team, we studied the sustainability reports of local and international companies within and outside our industry. We also made use of Prof. Dr. Güler Aras’ books, such as Introduction to Corporate Responsibility, The Durable Corporation: Strategies for Sustainable Development, Global Perspectives in Corporate Governance and Corporate Responsibility and The Handbook of Corporate Governance and Social Responsibility. Finally, we consulted the comparative study of sustainability books written in Turkey that was a part of my dissertation. All this took a couple of weeks.
Once team members learned what resources to use and how to use them, and became familiar with the subject, we made our budget planning director – who has full knowledge of the company’s numerical data – a part of the team, in line with our long-term goal of preparing an integrated report. This time it was not only Güler Aras and me who were responsible for helping our new member to improve. It was everyone on the team.
Time flew by. We continued meeting from 8:30 am to midday every Wednesday. The amount of time I devoted to those meetings became a topic of conversation at the company, and this was where we faced the biggest challenges. I could sense a few reproachful comments, particularly by some senior managers, such as, “Why does our CEO attach so much importance and priority to this matter when we have so much work to do and when the country is going through such hard times?” or “Wouldn’t it be better if he spent more time on bringing in one or two more clients instead?”
I also knew that colleagues from different departments were curious to find out what we were doing about our report. Seeing this as an opportunity, we announced that one representative from each department could apply to join our sustainability team. From the applicants, we selected those who were managers or below. Now our team consisted of 9 individuals. Looking back, I see we made two mistakes. First, I made attendance at meetings optional, thinking attendance would be regular with occasional exceptions. Second, I neglected to meet with department heads to tell them this was an important matter and ask them to provide team members with accommodations to enable them to attend the meetings. This resulted in a failure to achieve the desired level of attendance.
Aside from the actual writing of the report, preparing and analysing the results of stakeholder surveys took the longest time. I use surveys in the plural because we divided the stakeholder survey into two parts, distributed the surveys to two groups separately and combined the results afterwards. We first gave the survey to employees, whom we viewed as our number one stakeholders. Later the survey was given to a second group of stakeholders consisting of clients, suppliers, government agencies, and professional chambers with which we were associated, as well as to NGOs and universities.
We had two main goals:
1- Creating action plans by department, level and office using the answers given to questions on demographic information, department, experience and seniority of employees; and
2- Verifying alignment between our corporate identity and image by comparing employee survey results with the results of the survey given to other stakeholders.
Although the questions in the two surveys were identical, the employee survey contained questions aimed at collecting demographic data such as the number of years spent in each department and years of work experience.
In addition to collecting data, the three most important goals of the survey were:
1- to show all stakeholders and employees in particular that they were a part of Mazars Denge’s future strategy,
2- to make them feel they could take direct part in decisions about setting priorities, and
3- to ensure that employees saw the connection between sustainability and what they were doing.
Preparing the survey questions took approximately two months. It took another few days to complete the informational email that we would send out with the survey. Looking back at the correspondence from those days I now see that busy email exchanges took place, particularly with the marketing department. We read through each question many times and also asked others outside the sustainability team to review them. It was worth all the effort.
Our survey consisted of 6 main goals:
1- Introduction: The 10 principles of the Global Compact in addition to an explanatory section
2- Assessment of the respondent’s command of sustainability
3- Questions aimed at setting priorities when establishing Mazars Denge’s corporate sustainability strategy
4- Questions aimed at agreeing on the actions to be taken to meet priorities
5- One open-ended question asking respondents to define Mazars Denge with 3 words
6- Demographic information
Evaluation of results and prioritisation analysis
In my opinion, the most striking outcome of the survey was that similarly both employees and other stakeholders stated that the most important area of focus in setting our corporate strategy was “employee development and satisfaction.” Other areas of priority were “commitment to values,” “compliance with principles of corporate governance” and “sustainable and responsible income generation.” The responses to the open-ended questions were also noteworthy. For example, the words most frequently used to describe the company were “reliable,” “ethical,” “quality” and “boutique service provider.” This was a demonstration of the alignment between Mazars Denge’s corporate identity and its image. The results clearly showed that there were two very delicate matters that should be given utmost priority: (1) the values that have kept Mazars Denge on its feet for 40 years, and (2) the development and satisfaction of employees who have kept Mazars Denge’s values going for 40 years, and will carry them into the future.
Ensuring that all respondents, particularly Mazars Denge employees, feel that they are a part of the strategy and its implementation is also very important in terms of making sure that all future steps are taken together and in harmony. For this reason, we made a video about the results of the survey and shared it with all stakeholders.
For prioritisation analysis we first categorised our priorities into 3 groups and ranked them based on responses. The table below shows those results. We then sketched out a prioritisation roadmap as shown in the second illustration below and met with department managers about the action plan to be created. We discussed the next steps to be taken with regard to the responses. Currently, we are focusing on setting measurable goals using the findings. Our aim is to include those goals among employee performance evaluation criteria in the future. The fact that internal and external stakeholder responses were almost identical made prioritisation much easier.
Speaking of prioritisation, the way we determined which sustainable development goals we would focus on was fun. We thought our New Year’s celebration office party would be a good opportunity, and we set up a Christmas tree at the entrance to the party room. The marketing department printed each sustainable development goal on cardboard made into Christmas decorations. They asked all guests to pick and hang on the tree their goals of choice. This allowed everyone to learn about sustainable development goals while helping to determine which goals were most popular. They were: Peace and Justice, Responsible Consumption and Production, and Reduced Inequalities. On the back of the cardboard decorations, we left a blank section for everyone to write whatever they wanted, which was a step toward make our employees’ wishes come true.
Employee satisfaction survey
The best way of fostering the development and satisfaction of employees, the central component of our sustainability survey, is to identify the current status. We agreed on a consultancy firm known for its high-quality services and conducted an employee satisfaction survey at the company. We decided to give the survey to the Istanbul office first, but we wanted to share the results of the survey with all the offices so as to plan the necessary improvements in collaboration. This way we gave non-Istanbul offices time to get ready for their survey. The “employees as point of focus” message in the sustainability survey results video aligned with the purpose of the employee satisfaction survey. Furthermore, it was meaningful that the first action we took based on the responses was to conduct a satisfaction survey. We selected the most appropriate firm among the threeconsulting firms that had sent us their price quotes, and preparations began. The survey used a standard question format, but we added a couple of questions at the end of the survey that would be evaluated independently from the other sections to give us an idea of how our sustainability efforts were being perceived.
The two most important messages in the e-mail we sent out with the link to the survey were:
1- the company could achieve its strategic goals only through employee feedback and support; and
2- an independent expert firm would evaluate the survey results, keeping the responses anonymous.
We reviewed the survey results with all department managers and service unit managers first, then went over those results with each department manager again. The results showed that we needed to work on technical training, leadership, team management and priority setting; improved side benefits; and enhanced communication within and between departments.
Another issue that needed addressing was the low level of employee loyalty in middle management, a common problem across the industry. Varying degrees of satisfaction and loyalty across management levels required different actions at each level. Brand perception within the company and increased employee autonomy and authority were also two areas for development. To make the right decisions, I always verify the accuracy of reference points. This is why I think it was highly appropriate to conduct the employee satisfaction survey immediately after our stakeholder survey.
Distribution of GRI G4 standards among team members by area
In line with GRI standards, we grouped our areas as follows:
1- Human resources and internal communication
2- Marketing and external communication
3- Environmental responsibilities
4- Corporate governance and strategy
5- GRI 4 contents index
The above areas are in no way in order of importance. We distributed the tasks in a manner that allowed them to be carried out simultaneously and made a calendar for each member’s duties. Human resources issues were at the core of almost all operations, as we are a services company and place employees at the heart of our model. Since this was the case, our HR department manager was in regular contact with the other team members. I was responsible for ensuring the coordination of communication and for solving any problems faced by team members in our mail group.
Our marketing director was responsible for our services, customer satisfaction survey results and external activities. Our budget planning director, who was in contact with our offices, was responsible for the internal gathering of data about carbon emission, energy and water footprint. We reviewed the GRI 4 index and eliminated irrelevant items. Following that, each team member completed the section relevant to the tasks they were given. Prof. Dr. Güler Aras helped with sections where more information was needed.
I was responsible for the sections related to corporate governance and strategy, such as the message from the CEO, the meaning of sustainability for Mazars Denge, the source and aim of the sustainability model and corporate governance organisation. I completed my sections in light of the volume of data we had when all the other sections were being finalised. I tried to set future strategies from the point of view of sustainable development for each item listed above rather than only discussing the current situation. For example, I came up with estimates of figures with regard to the future number of managers using the data on the current number of female employees I obtained from the HR department. We included those estimates in the final report for the purposes of challenging ourselves.
Designing the sustainability model
As CEO, I found that the design of the model kept my mind constantly occupied. I had two criteria for the model:
1- Inclusive and easy-to-understand
I knew that asking for an inclusive model was ambitious. The model had to be satisfactory in terms of quality, efficiency, access to international clients and brand reputation – all qualities and issues discussed at Mazars Denge partners’ general assembly. Furthermore, it had to have a structure that addressed sustainability as a whole and combine it with our corporate culture. It also had to demonstrate the importance attached to employees. In other words, I wanted all employees looking at this model to be able to say, “I know the meaning of my brand and what role I play within the system.” I also wanted other stakeholders to be able to see the causality of their link to Mazars Denge when they looked at the model and to sense an effort to create a common sustainable future through that link. Were we able to achieve all this with our model? The most realistic answer to that question at this point is: “We have done our best, but I can give you the most accurate answer in a minimum of two years’ time.”
We had to make sure that the whole model was based on numerical data to ensure measurability. What measurement infrastructure would be most appropriate? Would everyone, particularly company managers, agree with the final model?
I knew I would not be able to find out the answers to those questions if I left senior management out. We decided to do a brainstorming exercise. We formed four groups of four. We showed each group examples of other companies’ sustainability models and told them about our expectations. We gave each group one week after reviewing company goals and survey results. This was followed by a 3-hour model-designing session, which was very pleasant and productive. A model of a telescope with each lens symbolising a value received the top score in the review we carried out together. This was the infrastructure for our model. Other models featured many ideas that we could use in the final model as well.
After that session I assumed full responsibility for the design, fully aware that the report-writing process itself would impact such design. I gathered all the data that had been received so far and concentrated on writing the other sections of the report with the team for approximately 3 months. One part of my brain was occupied with the model, and whenever I got together with company managers, I shared my thoughts about the model and asked for their opinion. I brought all those opinions to our sustainability meetings and asked the whole team, particularly Prof. Dr. Güler Aras, to test them. I kept the model constantly in mind. I imagined circular shapes representing the cyclical structure of sustainable development. Every time I discussed the topic and sketched the model that was in my mind, I came up with new ideas, which I noted down so that I could make use of them in my next sketch. The model was slowly coming to life.
I placed our values – “reliable, ethical, quality, boutique services” – at the heart of the concentric-ring design I had created, inspired by the work we had done in teams of four. Those values represented Mazars Denge’s fundamental principles and were also the answers given to the open-ended question in the stakeholder survey. They were a component of brand reputation. The ring around the core was employees, the most important stakeholders. Customers and “other stakeholders,” consisting of competitors, professional chambers, government agencies, universities and NGOs, were the two outer rings. The outermost ring represented all economic, social and environmental value created by all stakeholders. These were all placed above the principles of corporate governance as identified in the stakeholder survey: transparency, responsibility, accountability and fair management. I saw corporate governance as an indispensable foundation open to continuous development. Thus, the rings of values and stakeholders were built on this ground floor. The second floor consisted of technology and innovation, both identified as priorities in the stakeholder survey. The aim here was to go beyond keeping up with technological advances: we needed to take part and pioneer technological change. At the same time, I intended to create an ecosystem within the company to encourage innovation and support intrapreneurship in the long run. I believe intrapreneurship is of critical importance for keeping the company alive and motivating new generations.
This model assumed no interruption between the services and operations of the company, on the one hand, and the sustainable value created as an output of the sphere of influence of the values placed in the core and used to feed those services and operations, on the other. Another very important assumption was the existence of communication among stakeholders.
As mentioned earlier, the goals and measurements had to be accurate for the model to be successful. From the very beginning, I had thought that the Balanced Score Card (BSC) was the most appropriate method to ensure this. However, we had to make sure that there was integrity between our corporate sustainability model and BSC’s four components of finance, customers, internal processes, and learning and growth. I therefore chose to update the main components of the BSC in line with our corporate sustainability approach. Finance became “responsible income”; customers became “customer relations management,” and learning and growth was now “employee development and a learning organisation.” I left internal processes as they were.
In trying to put the model in my head on paper, I had always used rings and circles, but now I was stuck. I had a vague image of a ziggurat in my mind, but I could not find a way of correctly putting our values, corporate governance, and technology and innovation platforms into the model all at the same time. This is when I decided to contact our graphics designer Selin Estiroti İpeker for help. I went to her office and told her all about our model and what we were trying to do. I gave her a copy of the sections of the report that had been completed and asked her to read them. I told her she could think freely and come up with a design of her choice. I left some examples of other different sustainability models with her. I also showed her all the models that we had created at the end of our brainstorming session.
Our model: the Nautilus
About two weeks later, our designer Selin Estiroti İpeker appeared with her “Nautilus,” a sea creature and one of the oldest living organisms on Earth. Selin analogised the Nautilus witnessing the history of Earth with Mazars Denge’s history as one of the first in the industry, and with its ability to survive through institutionalisation. The Nautilus is a creature that has survived for 500 million years thanks to its ability to adapt. The resilience of the Nautilus in maintaining its essence in terms of shape and form during the growth phase represents our trust in the unchanged values that have carried our company to today and will continue to do so in the future. Selin interpreted the extremely hard outer shell of the Nautilus as a presentation of our sustainable values to stakeholders as output.
The name of the Nautilus comes from the Greek word for “sailor,” meaning the model also connoted the fictional submarine “Nautilus” captained by Nemo in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. Nautilus freely roams the depths of the seas makes intriguing discoveries, much as Mazars Denge’s demonstrates uncompromising independence and innovative character in the industry.
One final aspect of the Nautilus is its connection to the Golden Mean, defined with 1.618034 in the Fibonacci sequence. Although mathematicians entertain varying opinions about the relationship between the shell of the Nautilus and the Golden Mean, that relationship, in Mazars Denge’s mind, is associated with searching for the truth and excellence in everything we do.
Preparing the contents of the report / compiling information gathered from all offices and departments
This was in fact a process of compilation. We put together data in the form of plain text. We first created a contents index for the report. We left the Message from the Chairperson and Message from the CEO sections blank, as they had not been written yet, and completed the rest of the report. It was now mid-February. We were running out of time.
This was a period of hard work. We realised that the design of the report could not be completed in such a short time, so we contacted UN Global Compact’s Turkey representative and asked them whether it would be possible to upload the plain text to the website on the deadline, then replace it with a version with graphic design at a later date, without making any changes to the content. To our relief, we were told it could be done. Furthermore, we also learned that we could ask for an extension of 2 months to complete the report, which was a frequently-made request
However, we discussed this extension period and decided to not to opt for an additional period, even if that meant pushing our limits. We gathered all information in one Word file and took care to work on that same file only. I say we took care, because everyone kept their section in a separate file and made their additions and changes to that file at the end of our meetings. After that, each section would be read twice by different people, typos would be corrected, and the new text would be moved to the master file. Evrim Hacıoğlu, a PhD student of Prof. Dr. Güler Aras working on sustainability, helped us to track additions and edits throughout the writing process.
Checking the information gathered at various stages and proofreading the report
We set up a rotation system for the parts that needed reading. Each member of the team would read a section outside their field of responsibility. They made comments, and if they thought changes were needed, they worked with the person responsible for the section they had read to make those changes. We also had a brand and communication consultancy company (with whom we would work later in the process) to read through our report so as to gain an external perspective. Our marketing director Barlas Hünalp, Prof. Dr. Güler Aras and I were responsible for proofreading. The plain text was now ready. Prof. Dr. Güler Aras and I personally conducted the final proofread.
Adding the “Message from the Chairperson” section
The exciting day had finally arrived. We were going to share the reviewed report in plain text with our chairperson, Mr. Leon Coşkun. Mr. Coşkun had been monitoring our work closely but did not yet know exactly what the end product would look like. This actually matched the two aims we had partly reviewed previously:
1- Thorough assessment of the alignment between the report’s contents and Mazars Denge’s founding principles from 40 years ago
2- Independent review of the whole report by our chairperson, who is not a part of the sustainability team despite having full command of the topic
It took Leon Coşkun two days to read the report. The result was positive: it was approved. He also saw that the future of the company was being shaped by the very same principles that aligned with the strategy we had developed. To his surprise, we asked him to write the introduction for the report. He accepted at once. We had very little time before the deadline for submission, and he was kind enough to send us his introductory message in two days.
Now we were ready to go. Or so we thought.
Uploading the report to the UN Global Compact website
We had signed the UN Global Compact exactly one year earlier. It was our last day, Saturday, April 1st, and our marketing director, Barlas Hünalp, was responsible for uploading the report. We thought all he would have to do was press a button. We had tickets to the theatre that night, but Barlas phoned at 8 pm, as we were having dinner with friends, and said, “It turns out that we need to answer some technical questions to be able to upload our report. I’ve answered most of them, but I need your help with some others.” I went to the website, thinking “Oh, it will just be a couple of questions.” The next thing I knew, I was facing pages of questions about certain criteria and their prioritisation. There was no way Barlas could answer all those questions about corporate governance, human rights, employee rights, environmental issues, anti-corruption, women’s empowerment and CEO’s commitments, and how these related to forward-looking strategic perspectives, control mechanisms, the company’s current policies and sample practices. Dinner and theatre were cancelled instantly.
We could choose to delay the uploading of the report by one or two more days. That was allowed. However, after all that hard work, we felt compelled to stick to the deadline we had previously set as a company and stand by our decision. I phoned Barlas and asked him whether he would be happy to have me in his place. I also phoned Prof. Dr. Güler Aras to find out if she were available. In half an hour, all three of us were online, in front of a screen, looking at the questions.
We reviewed each question Barlas had answered. It took us 2 hours of collaborative hard work to answer them all. With the benefit of hindsight, I strongly advise anyone to avoid leaving this part to the last minute. In fact, it is best to have these questions close at hand as you are writing your report. If I had not mastered our topic, and if Prof. Dr. Güler Aras had not been there to help us, there would have been no way to answer those questions in such a short time. It was almost 11 pm by the time we had finally completed all the questions and uploaded the report. We were proud to have kept the promise we had made to ourselves, and to have finally completed our monumental task. Still, there was no celebration that night. We were stressed out and way too tired for that.
Preparing the communication infrastructure for the report
As we had all been very busy during the writing of the report, we had been unable to plan its communication. So we decided to focus on creating a communication plan at the first meeting following publication of the report. We saw brand perception as vital, and we felt the need for an external eye, which meant seeking outside advisory help. The consultants who reviewed our report studied how our brand was currently perceived by comparing us with competitors – who are also stakeholders – while suggestiing different ways of communicating the report. The most important factor here was to ensure that the contents of the report were thoroughly communicated to employees, because we wanted all employees – not just managers, the marketing department and the sustainability team – to take part in communicating the report to the outside world. We knew this would be impossible unless everyone understood the purpose of the report and identified with the contents. Our decision was to refrain from taking any action before the report was ready in hardcopy. Once it was ready, the following actions would be taken:
1) Holding seminars across the company to inform all departments and offices about the content of the report, and to give them an overview of the concept of sustainable development;
2) Sharing posts about the contents of our report through social media accounts;
3) Sending CEO-signed copies (in Turkish or English) of the report to relevant stakeholders;
4) Using the sustainability report as a meaningful Mazars Denge profile booklet to provide more fulfilling content and reduce paper waste; and
5) Disseminating information about the contents of the sustainability report during the weekly CEO breakfast for employees from different departments.
Finishing the illustrations in the report
After a period of challenging work, we had the report in writing. Unfortunately, we were not able to have the contents and design ready simultaneously. We knew we had to be patient, because we would not be able to express our work accurately without visualising our report in the catchiest way possible. What we were looking for was not merely impressive visualisation; we were searching for a language that would represent us and what we had been trying to do. What helped us to find what we were looking for was close attention to detail even after the concept development phase and the fact that we were able to share all of our uncertainties openly with Selin.
Three weeks passed. Our designer did everything she could, and the preparations were now finalised. Illustrating the corporate sustainability model was the most time-consuming part of all. Selin incorporated elements that resembled the Fibonacci sequence in nature, and this became the schematic and visual expression of the contents. As a result, we were fully satisfied with the integrity of the colours and illustrations, as well as the design of the model combining the Fibonacci and the Nautilus.
As soon as we saw the report demo, we knew it had been well worth all the work and patience. Selin had devoured the report without missing a single detail and had come up with an excellent visual representation of the connection she had made with the content. I believe the teamwork between Selin and our marketing director Barlas contributed immeasurably to the success of the visualisation phase. I feel the meetings Selin and I had about the model to be used, at which I explained to her in detail the mission and vision of the company, also helped a great deal.
Proofreading and publishing the report
This was probably the most enjoyable step along the way, because this time we had the actual booklet in our hands. We did not want any mistakes, and I must say, we were very lucky to catch one big mistake before the report was published.
Because we wanted to be able to use our report in meetings of critical importance, we asked our marketing department to prepare 7 or 8 digital copies of the report. When we reviewed the copies sent to us, we noticed a page was missing. I do not know if this would have been the case when all the hardcopies had been printed. If so, I probably would not have forgiven myself for wasting so much paper on defective copies of a sustainability report. Fortunately, that mistake was spotted in a timely manner, and no such copies were printed. The marketing department estimated that the printing phase would require one week. This ended up being a little over two weeks.
Communicating the report
Since our primary objective was to create awareness regarding corpoprate sustainability, we undertook comprehensive planning to allow us to reach the widest possible audience when we sat down to plan communication. We aimed to extend the plan over a year to make our goals more realistic. What was important to us was to feed, inspire and mobilise all stakeholders, employees in particular, through regular and meaningful messages without being tedious.
On the weekend before the report was due to be published, we made some final preparations in our Istanbul office, as we felt our office was where communication had to start. These included information boards, posters and e-mails. We hung posters of sketches, messages and images from the report in the corridors and on the walls of the offices frequently used by colleagues. We even used the empty wall above the photocopier and the corner where we kept our coffee mugs. A serious internal communication campaign was underway.
We left a copy of the Mazars Denge Sustainability Report on each desk, so that the first thing employees saw in the morning would be the report. We also sent out PDF copies of the report to members of staff who were out of the office for audits or planned client visits. These were the first three steps of our internal communication plan.
Once the report was published, we set about spreading our messages on social media. We shared posts regularly: some posts contained elements from the report, while others consisted entirely of new designs. Two aspects we felt were especially important were, ease of access and diversity of social media platforms. To ensure easy access, each and every social media post was designed to direct readers to our report. Our goal was to reach a constantly widening audience. We highlighted our approach to sustainability instead of brand promise. We published all posts in LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, GooglePlus and Instagram simultaneously to ensure platform diversity. We also started using Issuu in connection with our posts.
We started to share our sustainability report with other stakeholders at the same time that we shared it with Mazars Denge employees. We sent hard and soft copies of the report to our stakeholders: clients, NGOs, representatives of academia, competitors and public officials. We attached a link to the report to our signatures in the Mazars Denge tax circular e-mails.
Sustainability training in the Istanbul and Ankara offices followed these communication activities. Training workshops were facilitated by Prof. Dr. Güler Aras, who informed employees about the contribution sustainability practices would make to our business and perspective, and what should be prioritised when sharing the report with other stakeholders. We took advantage of the training programme as an opportunity to bring forwards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We did photo and film shoots for a more effective internalisation process. We had the “Sustain” application created and made the entirety of our sustainability report available through Sustain.
Our sustainability report has allowed us to convey the fact that sustainability is a part of every step we take and everything we do across all operations of our company, that the values we have embraced since our foundation are the core of our corporate sustainability model, and that employees can only transfer them to future generations by holding on to them. In short, with this report we have helped everyone at Mazars Denge make a connection between what they do and sustainable development.
Furthermore, we saw that the only way Mazars Denge could fulfil its responsibility toward sustainable development goals was to report within a corporate structure, measuring the social and environmental impact resulting from the value we create for our stakeholders.
At this point, the first and most significant outcome has been creating awareness. This was partially achieved upon publication of the report. At least most employees realised that our report and our business can be related to one another. Our ultimate goal is to establish such awareness within the corporate framework, so that we are able to create sustainable value for all stakeholders. The next steps will consist of:
- Extending sustainability awareness to all processes;
- Setting short-, medium- and long-term corporate sustainability goals;,
- Performing accurate measurements; and
- Assuming the role of sustainability ambassador.
Shortly before we published our sustainability report, we launched a weekly CEO breakfast at Mazars Denge for 10 to 15 employees from each department every Friday. The message I always convey at breakfasts is this: “Sustainability awareness is the kind of enlightenment that depends on the ability to identify the bond that exists not only among ourselves, but also between us and all other living and non-living things. Such enlightenment places a heavy responsibility on us for future generations. Know your responsibility and put into practice what you have learned, whether you work here or elsewhere. I hope each one of you will act as a sustainability ambassador in business life.”
The more employees we have who are aware of this connection in the future, the better our positive social and environmental impact will be. Our yearly sustainability reports and the integrated reports we plan to publish through incorporating financial data in the long run will then serve their real purpose.