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Reports confirmed of shift to the triple bottom line

THE Financial Services Reform Act stipulation that fund managers consider the social, environmental and labour relations components of their investments on an ongoing basis is having a profound effect on how businesses operate.

The industry list of consultants, advisers and specialists has continued to grow over the past 12 months, keeping pace with the steadily increasing number of companies looking to report on more than just accounting figures.

And the WA Government Sustainability Strategy, which is out for public comment until January 10 2003, is also expected to have a significant influence on the service industry.

Until recently triple bottom line reporting was a luxury afforded only by chemical firms and multinational mining companies.

It originally emerged as environmental reporting about six years ago with the aim of eventually incorporating economic and social reporting.

Yet while the reporting sphere has expanded, the job until recently was done by environmental consultants such as Smec Australia Pty Ltd, PPK Environment & Infrastructure and ATA Environmental.

While the environmental consulting firms continue to hold a healthy market share, they are watching their position being eroded by accountancy firms, which provide auditing and reporting services.

Earlier this year BDO partner and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Australia WA president Geoff Brayshaw made a general call for accountants to get more involved in the triple bottom line reporting process or risk missing out on the emerging business.

Addressing the Australian Corporate Citizenship Alliance, Mr Brayshaw said the reporting disciplines that accountants applied could just as easily be expanded to incorporate other measures of a business’s performance.

The ACCA was formed to give businesses, left cold by the changing community and government expectations, the opportunity to learn from each other the ben efits of embracing the changing reporting regime.

Ian Satchwell, the former Chamber of Minerals and Energy CEO and current WA manager with ACIL Consulting, said the triple reporting process was becoming increasingly sophisticated.

“The revolution has been from anecdotal reporting about your activities to a more rigorous approach,” he said.

“What’s going to happen in the future is [that] reporting will be done against some matrix or goals of sustainable criteria.

“Triple bottom line reporting is an emerging technique that will continue to be developed as more definitive on what sustainable means.

“We ensure that the rigorous approach across all the various areas applies.”

For businesses that want to try their hand at triple bottom line reporting, WA economic models or input-output tables are available from the University of WA. These work through the multiplier effect of any new business or industry on the overall local, State and national economies.

However, Mr Satchwell said the process of using the input-output tables could be complex and was not always reliable.

While the economic and environmental sciences have been turned, as much as possible, into a measurable science, social reporting still lagged behind, he said.

Another place to look for businesses was the State Government’s WA State Sustainability Strategy, which helped individual companies look at ways that they can strive to become sustainable.

“The Government Sustainability Strategy is going to potentially scare a few stakeholders, but it will also be a benchmark,” Mr Satchwell said.

“Applying social rigour is also important but it is still a very fuzzy science.”

While he said the economic and environmental disciplines were being well covered, more could be done in the social field.

“The pool of social analysts is quite small and it’s the area that is probably the least well served,” Mr Satchwell said.

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