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From Editor to Moderator: Jo Confino Talks Sustainability

Jo Confino, chairman and editorial director of Guardian Sustainable Business, will moderate the opening and closing plenaries at the Global Conference in May. GRI asked him to reflect on the role of sustainability reporting, how the media can help to promote transparency and accountability, and how he plans to ignite the debate at this years’ conference.

 On the 'Transformation to a Global Sustainable Economy'

​Reporting can be effective when it is used to create a clear framework for companies to understand their material negative impacts on society and the environment and then create effective strategies to reduce them. It has the added advantage of encouraging transparency and the setting of objectives that are placed in the public domain. Using independent auditors gives added benefits by having professionals outside of the company monitor progress and giving the sustainability department some added ballast in their negotiations with senior management. At the same time, we have to guard against reporting being used merely as a PR smokescreen. Even at its best, if it is not accompanied by meaningful changes in business practice, reporting on its own will not lead to anything resembling a ‘transformation to a global sustainable economy.
I think the key challenge for sustainability reporting is for practitioners to recognise it represents the very first step on the journey and not the destination. Beyond that is the need to break through the paranoia around admitting that not everything in the garden is rosy. It would be much healthier for companies to frame their reporting around a journey of learning where the mistakes that are made provide the ground from which to create more effective change strategies.

 On 'Inspiring Society to Change'

​The sector is failing pretty miserably to hold the corporate sector to account and many media outlets are cutting back on their editorial capacity to challenge company behaviour. On top of this, in many parts of the world, media companies are owned and controlled by the very corporate or political interests they are supposed to be keeping an eye on. We also have to ensure journalism does not become too lazy. The media largely failed to see the banking collapse and has missed most other economic tsunamis. On the other side of the equation, there is also a need to highlight those businesses that are making real progress in embedding sustainability. My hope for the future is that media companies move away from the paradigm of good news versus bad news, and concentrate on how to inspire society to change.
Guardian News & Media is one of the few media companies to take the issue of sustainability, in its broadest sense, seriously. This is because the core purpose of the Guardian, for the last nearly 200 years, has been to hold power to account and champion the cause of social justice. Ownership by the Scott Trust protects its ability to offer independent journalism free of party political affiliation and to put the quality and breadth of its coverage ahead of the need to maximise profits. The Guardian has always taken an internationalist approach and has created an authoritative and respected family of websites dedicated to supporting a sustainable future, ranging from and the Global Development website to Guardian Sustainable Business. Recognising the importance of trust and accountability, and the need to practice what we preach, the Guardian more than a decade ago became the first British newspaper to have its own independent ombudsman and independently-audited sustainability report.

 On 'Saving the World As we Know It'

Guardian Sustainable Business is a core media partner for GRI’s conference because, like us, it has extraordinary convening power. We are building a global community around progressive corporate leaders who are seeking to change the way companies do business and there is no better place to be than amongst the hundreds of changemakers who will be descending on Amsterdam from across the globe.
My hope as a moderator at the GRI conference is to bring some dynamism and excitement to the debate. I think that in the past, the conference has tended to become bogged down by a diet of speeches and presentations. It should also be fun, which is why I like the new App that is being introduced that allows more interaction and feedback from the participants.
It is easy to get locked into the technical aspects of sustainability but it really is about saving the world as we know it. So I hope participants come away feeling intellectually refreshed, with a toolkit of ideas, new friends and feeling that they are part of a great movement of change. There is nothing more exciting than to see the new innovations that are driving change, from natural capital valuation to the circular economy. My other hope is that practitioners recognise the need to move away from taking baby steps and embrace the need to support a more radical transformation in business behaviour.