Focus on CR & Information: ESG and Creating a Better Business Record

Business value today is being calculated with a new method: the integrated reporting of all material factors. How does this “information governance” work? The International Integrated Reporting Council and Sustainable Accounting Standards Board are two of the initiatives building momentum for the integration into reporting and communication of the ESG factors that represent business value. In my recent time at the University of Toronto iSchool, I was interested in whether the same ESG factors had infiltrated into the records management discipline I was studying. There is a lot of focus on how records and information management (RIM) supports company legal and financial compliance—as well as ethical issues (i.e., Sarbanes-Oxley Act1). But the link between RIM and sustainability is not as often discussed. In the biggest sense, information governance can be called an “accountability framework” that ensures organizations keep the right information safe, secure and accessible into the future.2 Or to be more formal, records management, according to Society of American Archivists, is “The systematic and administrative control of records throughout their life cycle to ensure efficiency and economy in their creation, use, handling, control, maintenance, and disposition.”3 So what is the link between the discipline that keeps the corporate memory on one hand—and business sustainability on the other? Despite what seem to be silos separating these areas, it’s fairly obvious. The ESG content business reports and shares, whether through an integrated or stand-alone report, is only as good as the “evidential value of the information”.4 And that evidential value is based on the quality of business recordkeeping—the source information—as an ARMA report notes.5 Is the ESG record complete, accurate, and unaltered? This records challenge gets much greater when reporting on something like Scope 3 emissions. So, collaboration between the records management function and the business areas spearheading sustainability is critical to keeping an honest, long-term record of social and environmental performance. One of the factors needed to build a company culture of sustainability is the breaking down of silos between departments. It’s arguable that linking CR and records management is another piece of the sustainability puzzle. Records management is risk management, and so is sustainability, but on the opportunity side there are more links between the two. Electronic records management and “big data” means company records can be mined for business intelligence in a way paper records could not. Records of business performance, customer behavior and environmental trends can be used to improve sustainability performance. I don’t have all the answers on this, but it is about trust – the information governance conditions that create a trusted record, and the trust transparency can build with stakeholders. In the RIM field, sustainability means the long-term preservation of the record, while in CR sustainability means the preservation of the planet. But growing awareness between the two groups of professionals can only be good. Any Just Means readers who work at this intersection? It would be great to hear your comments. Sources 1 2 3 4, p.6 5