Mirjam Bendak has been the head editor of the Daimler Sustainability Report for 14 years. An interview on why we are actually reporting our sustainability activities, how reporting has changed over time, and why she is still so passionate about it.
Ms. Bendak, you and your team spend about nine months preparing the sustainability report of Daimler. What is the first thing you do after the publication?
Being happy! Then I take some deep breaths, pause for a brief moment together with my team, look for "bugs" on the report website for another day or two, and then I go on vacation before we start preparing the next round. As you know, after reporting is before reporting.
You know the current report inside out. What is your highlight?
Personally, I am particularly proud of our progress in the supply chain. Both in terms of our measures to comply with human rights and how we are driving climate protection. I at least equally feel good about the way we report on it. We have achieved a level of transparency that I would not have imagined five years ago.
From your perspective: How sustainable is Daimler today?
Overall, I think we are on the right track. We have set ourselves clear goals, defined KPIs and set milestones - and now we are in the middle of implementing the associated measures. At the same time, I also have the feeling that we as a company are agile enough to further refine goals we have set ourselves once. I sense the ambition to make adjustments and accelerate the transformation even further in so many departments of our company.
We have been publishing an environmental report since 1994 and a sustainability report since 2006 - why do we do this? Do we have to comply with legal requirements?
We currently report on sustainability in two formats: with the sustainability report and the lesser-known "non-financial declaration". The non-financial declaration is mandatory by law and, from this year on, part of the combined management report in the annual report. It contains information on our company’s "double materiality issues" relating to the environment, employees, social issues, human rights and anti-corruption.
"Double materiality issues"?
This term refers to all non-financial aspects that meet two specific conditions. First, they must be identified as essential topics for the company and its stakeholders - customers, employees, investors or the interested public. Second, they must be relevant for understanding the company's business performance and its net assets, results of operations and financial position. We owe this to German legislation. Other EU countries do not have this restriction. For Daimler, we have defined approximately 40 topics with double materiality status in 2020 in this way, for example the CO2 fleet consumption for passenger cars in Europe, the U.S., and China, or compliance with human rights in the supply chain.
So much for the non-financial declaration. What role does the sustainability report play?
The non-financial declaration does not by any means cover all aspects of sustainability at Daimler. The sustainability report allows us to cover more topics in greater depth, more data, and more context. After all, we are interested to present our sustainability activities in a comprehensive manner. In addition, there are requirements and obligations from initiatives and stakeholder groups that we must and want to meet.
Speaking of stakeholder groups: Who reads the report?
First of all, the sustainability report is not something you read from A to Z. It is more a reference work. Accordingly, the target group is broad. It ranges from investors, analysts and shareholders to non-governmental organizations and sustainability initiatives, rating and ranking agencies, scientists and media representatives, and even university graduates doing research for a thesis. Also career starters who are interested in working for a sustainable company may look into the report.
Flipping through the report, you keep coming across the abbreviation "GRI" – what is that about?
We report on sustainability in accordance with the reporting standard of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The GRI is a group of politicians, NGOs, companies and associations that has developed a framework for reporting sustainability issues in a standardized way over the past 25 years. Their goal: making the reporting internationally comparable. In our report, we highlight everything that relates to the GRI indicators. Furthermore, we also comply with a number of other standards.
Is there anyone looking critically over your shoulder in the reporting process?
Certain aspects of the non-financial declaration and the sustainability report are checked for plausibility by the auditing firm KPMG. The result can either be a rating with a "reasonable assurance" or a "limited assurance". A “reasonable assurance” rating requires a much more in-depth analysis of an issue - often in a complex process that is also very resource-intensive for us. For example, if the proportion of women in management positions is being audited, KPMG takes extensive on-site samples in various markets. The aim is to be able to verify the plausibility of the claim in detail. This year, for the first time, the non-financial declaration achieved a rating of "reasonable assurance" - something we are very proud of.
You have been responsible for the Daimler Sustainability Report for 14 years - how has reporting changed over time?
What has changed the most from my point of view is the attention that the topic receives. Sustainability is no longer a hygiene issue that hovers under the radar and only becomes important when something happens. In many companies, like ours, it is an integral part of the business strategy. With regard to the report as a format, this results in a wider range of topics with more depth at the same time. Along with more detailed reporting standards, this has caused the report to grow - from approximately 70 pages in 2007 to around 240 pages in 2020. Therefore, it's a good thing that, since 2015, we no longer print the report but instead provide it online only.
What do you think: How will the topic of sustainability reporting develop in the future?
One topic that is currently being discussed intensively is integrated reporting. Basically, this is about the question of whether and to what extent sustainability reporting should be integrated into financial reporting, for example in the annual report. I assume that reporting will develop in this direction in the medium term.
I also like an approach that some other companies are already taking: so-called impact analyses. These companies evaluate their corporate activities according to whether and how they have a particular impact on the environment, the economy and society, and analyze this using a monitoring system. These systems usually still have some methodological weaknesses, but I'm observing this with a lot of interest.
To be frank: Nine months of reporting - why are you doing this to yourself?
Of course, reporting is challenging - especially when it comes to project and process management. But as dry as the topic may seem at first glance, it is actually very exciting. You get a quite comprehensive insight into the transformation processes of the company. And that with a tremendous depth.
The best thing about working on a sustainability report is... that you don't do it alone. You get to work with so many great colleagues and learn something new every day.
My favorite statistic in the report is... not just one; I have two: I am really proud of the 104 g/km CO₂ emissions in the new passenger car fleet in Europe. At least equally proud I am of the 20.5 percent of women in senior management positions. I am also very confident that these figures will improve significantly in the coming years.
For me, sustainability means...not only reporting on what Daimler is setting in motion, but also rethinking and changing things in my immediate environment that I can influence. My current goal: to cut my carbon footprint in half by 2025.