At Nossa Data, we are proud to disclose that our ESG reporting software is an accredited ESG software partner for various ESG Frameworks and ESG Standards, including the GRI, SASB, ISSB S1 / S2, CDP, ESRS and more. This growth has enabled Nossa Data to continue to provide value to clients like ESG reporting specialists at PensionBee, Vodafone, and more. Here, we discuss ESG and our ESG reporting software with Willem Wassink and Marc Wagemans at PostNL.
What is your role right now at PostNL and what led you to work in ESG at PostNL?
Marc: Yes, thank you for having us. Well I've been at PostNL for a long time, about 30 years, but I first started off in finance, as an information analyst. About 12 to 15 years ago, the topic of sustainability became more and more important within those finance roles. Peter Bakker of TNT N.V. (former name for PostNL) really emphasised that ESG was an area which we should have a focus on as a company. Then, the company had added a department for quality and sustainability management, where I had started working and was getting more tasks to do in the area of sustainability. So my role now is ESG data collection and analysis of sustainability data. I help fill in benchmarks. I am busy with the corporate responsibility statements in the annual report, giving explanations on quantitative data, ESG data trends and so on.
Willem: So like Marc, I've also been working in Sustainability for quite some time. It was a bit of luck that working in ESG came on my path when I joined PwC for a financial traineeship. It was a really fast developing field where everything had to be explored and developed, unlike in Financials where everything was more standardised already. It was a nice journey helping clients, but at some point, I felt I wanted to be more directly involved and decided to start working for a company that is ambitious on ESG, which PostNL actually is. Still there is so much going on in ESG reporting, so it's never a dull moment!
What frustrates you most about the way the ESG reporting is today for corporates?
Marc: For me, it's that there are loads of different benchmarks and frameworks, which all have a slightly different angle on ESG reporting. All kinds of businesses then send in their own self-made questionnaires, which again, are slightly different. You have to prove to all these stakeholders and frameworks that you're sustainable enough. The intentions are good, but that puts a strain on the organisation which I think can be stressful.
Willem: ESG is a relatively new and booming space and there are a lot of mandatory regulatory developments around ESG reporting. The CSRD has just published its final standards and organisations like PostNL already need to report based on these standards over 2024. This is very challenging for organizations considering their current capacities and resources and it's quite a hard market to attract ESG specialists. Organisations all now face similar challenges regarding interpretation of the CSRD standards and data availability and quality. Consultants jump in this, however, they often lack experience themselves . ESG reporting tooling is not very mature yet. There are many new initiatives, but which ones are good and which ones are not?
Prior to using Nossa Data’s ESG Reporting Software, what were your previous ESG reporting processes when aligning to multiple frameworks?
Marc: I think from an early start we had a data collection tool, which was good at it's time to collect quantitative data and do user management and so on. From that we evolved within tools already used in the finance team, so it had the same look and feel for their financial data as for their non-financial data. As for more qualitative data it was still going in the organisation to all kinds of operational departments, which was a very laborious process, before Nossa Data’s ESG reporting software, which helps in bringing structure to the whole process.
Congrats again on completing the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) with Nossa Data! PostNL has had an A score in CDP for the past 3 years, what is the main driver behind keeping this consistent?
Marc: CDP really focuses on the environment and CO2 reduction, which is PostNL’s strongest suit. We do also have a lot of internal controls in sustainability data and especially environmental data. If we look at where our improvements have continued to be, it’s especially the financial aspects of opportunities and challenges in climate change where we do quite well, but mostly we need improvement on our social side. I think it is very good that we are a sub-department of the finance department which already has a very rigorous control system in place.
We also have a review process where various managers, including the director of accounting and reporting signs every quarterly data report, which goes to the board. That means there's a strong focus on the correctness and completeness of the data we deliver, so the benchmarks are easier to respond to, as they arrive to us as business as usual.
How important is Nossa Data’s ESG reporting software in contributing to the CDP reporting process?
Marc: It brings much more structure to collecting the data and also within user management, allowing us to have a dialogue with those operational departments or head office departments, which deliver the data in for the CDP, WDI, and also for our other reporting needs. The software improves processes by avoiding having lots of emails sent back and forth, which we should continue to do less of.
Additionally, the Nossa Data’s ESG reporting software has the same look and feel, not only in data collection, but especially in entering across different ESG benchmarks. So you have the Workforce Disclosure Initiative (WDI) and that is the same look and feel as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). I think that is very easy for the user.
"The software improves processes by avoiding having lots of emails sent back and forth"
Prior to using the Nossa Data ESG reporting software, what were your processes for benchmarking? How has using the platform helped streamline those processes?
Marc: As I touched on before, it was more ad hoc. We have lots of operational systems providing the data because operational systems never were meant to be solely used for sustainability. Sustainability has been making use of something which was already there, but was not a perfect fit. More effort went into explaining what is exactly needed for your sustainability benchmark and data requirements, which required a lot of emails back and forth to get the data, which of course is not as streamlined as you want it to be.
Also the Nossa Data team really responds quickly to questions, but also has extensive guidelines as well as what peer companies answer on the same question. So that also gives inspiration and also a hint on how you should answer the question. That also helps the user to get to the right answer and to search for the best data. I think that that's a real bonus in using the Nossa Data platform.
And then just last thing on CDP, what are the main ways in which Nossa Data helped simplify the CDP reporting process for PostNL?
Marc: Really it was the strong user support! When we alter questions, that means you also have to alter some sub questions, and I immediately got feedback saying I answered something differently than our previous response. You then have to take into account the other questions that need to be adjusted and all the updates were very good quality and very quick. We received a lot of advice and double-checking of the data, from the platform inputs to the CDP submission to see that all was transferred correctly… but again, the support I would say is very, very strong and my questions were answered on a daily basis and even on the weekend and in the evenings, which is Incredible.
"The support I would say is very, very strong and my questions were answered on a daily basis and even on the weekend and in the evenings, which is Incredible."
Willem, more on your side regarding materiality and integrated reporting. What is currently the process for assessing materiality in your annual report?
Willem: We conducted the double materiality assessment using the methodology of the CSRD at the end of last year and published it in the Annual Report of 2022. With the support of an independent external advisor, we identified our stakeholder groups and performed quite extensive interviews with them to identify potential material topics. In workshops we assessed with internal and external stakeholders our potential or actual impacts and risk and opportunities on short term, midterm and long term. The outcome has been validated internally and externally and ultimately approved by our board of management. That was our first assessment based on double materiality. So, it's new and there are still further improvements possible.
We are currently implementing the whole process into our own ERM process, so it's a more structural approach, which runs annually for internal risk management and reports the outcomes in our annual report as well.
How was Nossa Data’s ESG reporting software helpful in preparing your annual report?
Willem: We used several features of the software mainly to benchmark versus ourselves, peers and best practices. For example, the number of times certain topics are being reported in the Annual Report of Peers, for example. That gives us insights and accordingly we also could understand why it's different in our situation compared to another organisation. It really showed blind spots that we had not reported on yet, or not as extensively as stakeholders would actually expect. It gave new insights into where we could possibly improve.
And then onto the CSRD obviously the ESRS is a big item on your radar. What are your plans for preparing for it, Willem?
Willem: Firstly, for us was the double materiality assessment. Getting acquainted with identifying the most material topics so we could get an understanding of the scope of the ESRS that are applicable for us. We performed a gap assessment, so now we are, in more detail, aware of what it is actually asking at what level and what needs to be involved, which departments, but also which contact persons within a department.
There is still a lot we need to do, since the CSRD is way more specific and comprehensive than what we currently report. We need to define our gaps and organisational readiness. Have the number of people available to really get the data and policy gaps ready in time. And determine the action plan to ensure that we are compliant in our 2024 Annual Report. So, there's a lot of work to do, but I think we have a good basis and we expect it will all be feasible to do it. Mostly it'll be about minimum compliance versus where you can go beyond that.
How can technology and ESG reporting software help you prepare for the upcoming regulation?
Willem: Well, there are multiple ways. You need to, for example, maintain progress while there are so many data gaps to track. You want to have a dashboard that shows where you are at this point in time if someone asks. I think translating the standards into usable templates that can show us the status of where you are in real time can really help motivate the organisation in making progress. Otherwise, it's just one big exercise and no one actually knows where you are in the journey to become fully compliant.
The other thing with ESG is that all data is coming from various sources. It helps having one data lake or ESG reporting software like Nossa Data, where all these data sources can come in, instead of using different systems. With more data in one place, then it would also be more feasible to really use AI to make compelling stories.
What has been your favourite thing about working with Nossa Data?
Willem: I also agree with what Marc has been saying about personal contact and regular interactions. It really helps us get an outside perspective and Nossa Data is really on top of what is happening in the market. So, for example, the ratings scores on the benchmarks that you proactively bring in helps us as an organisation and helps how we perform in ESG transparency towards our stakeholders.
Also, the progress that you're making and incorporating our and others' feedback. It is really interesting to see how fast you can develop tools.
Marc: I agree I think we have a real partnership and we feed on each other. We feel very valued by Nossa Data. I've seen lots of big IT companies where you knock on the door and they're very slow to follow up on your questions or suggestions and Nossa Data are more like an agile speedboat and that feels very satisfying. We know you develop for more clients than just PostNL but we really see our influence in your development and we get the feeling that you really take our suggestions seriously within the grand scheme of things.
"It really helps us get an outside perspective and Nossa Data is really on top of what is happening in the market."
And final question, whether it's on CDP, ESRS, annual reporting etc what advice would you give to other companies or people in similar positions to yourselves?
Marc: I think you should stay away from seeing it as a nuisance, compliance or a tick-the-box exercise. ESG means a real shift in a mindset within the company, from the highest to the lowest levels. In all departments you need to build skills and also have some advocacy on why ESG is important and, eventually, ESG will influence your bottom line. It's your license to operate and license to sell. I see the frameworks and benchmarks as a means to find your weak spots. It's like a mirror on how you are operating. Do you have the right strategy and implementation where you can highlight all the questions where you struggle? That should be the source of an alarm bell. Those benchmarks really help you to up your game, and I think that's necessary to get the whole thing going into the future.
Willem: A piece of advice is to embrace integrated thinking. If the integration comes from the top, you can cascade it down to the whole organization. If you have a good flow between departments across strategy, business, and reporting, you can really speed up things that don't just improve your reporting, but also really enhance your performance as an organization. Quantification of ESG impacts is a really effective way to also get people on board that don't consider ESG to have an impact on finance.