NORTHAMPTON, MA / ACCESSWIRE / November 1, 2022 / Workiva
Aker Horizons is a developer of green energy and green industry. And they're on a mission. Founded in 2020 by Norwegian industrial investment firm Aker ASA, its exclusive focus is to support the companies that can accelerate the race to net zero. From renewable energy to leading-edge technologies, its portfolio consists of "planet-positive" companies that actively work toward reducing global emissions and building a truly sustainable way of living.
When it came to thinking about their first annual report, the team at Aker Horizons knew that they would need to lead by example. For Jeanett Bergan, who joined the company in 2021 as Sustainability Director, it was clear that this report should integrate both financial and non-financial information. "Aker Horizons has very high ambitions with ESG. As a planet-positive, purpose-driven company, it felt right for us to do an integrated report," she said.
A unique challenge: To lead the way in ESG reporting
Producing a report that embodied Aker Horizon's values from inception to end product was a non-negotiable. "As a recently established company, we were basically starting from scratch," Jeanett explained. While this presented a challenge for them, it also provided an opportunity to intentionally design their process from the ground up. By doing so, they knew that they would be able to clearly communicate business value while preparing to comply with impending environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting regulations.
If there's one thing that Jeanett is passionate about when it comes to ESG reporting, it's the power of standardization to help us compare data, make informed decisions, and drive positive change. For this to be possible, data needs to be gathered, measured, and compared in a consistent and uniform manner. "Our aim with the report was to standardize everything. We wanted to make it as relevant as possible to the latest legislation and guidelines, and cover everything we thought we should be reporting on."
Aker Horizons also needed to consider their portfolio companies. "If we had just told them that they needed to produce their own sustainability reports, they would most likely have reported on different metrics that were not comparable to ours," Jeanett clarified. The team recognized that, to bring their portfolio companies along with them on their journey to standardization, they needed to lead by example.
For true integration and transparency, they also decided to invite representatives from their portfolio companies to collaborate with them during the reporting process. "We had to be very cautious-we were aware that we were giving our portfolio companies a lot of work," she said. Finding the right tool to bring everyone together and enable consistent processes, then, quickly became a priority," Jeanett shared.
Aker Horizons was first drawn to Workiva because it offered a secure, centralized platform with strict permissioning capabilities for both financial and ESG reporting. This meant that all work could take place within the same environment and that the core reporting team could be confident in the consistency of data and their ability to maintain control of the process. Jeanett explained, "We were looking for a solution that was very flexible without having countless spreadsheets and multiple versions of the same document floating around. We came across Workiva and saw that it could fit our needs both on the financial side and when it came to tasks like ESG tagging."
For the team at Aker Horizons, the early stages of implementation went smoothly: despite it meeting some complex requirements, the team found the Workiva platform easy to pick up. "Because it's user friendly, you don't need to be an advanced user to start navigating it. We offered 15 30-minute onboarding sessions for new users, but some didn't need it at all: they just plugged in and got started," Jeanett recalled.
Where collaboration and security meet
Establishing a new process while managing the collation, review, and integration of both financial and non-financial data is, in and of itself, a tall ask. Doing all of this with a distributed workforce added to the complexity. In total, over 50 people collaborated on the report: around a dozen within Aker Horizons, with all other contributors sitting within the portfolio companies.
They were all able to work together, with ease, in real time on the Workiva platform. This meant that they could enter, analyze, and publish their data in a single place, with oversight of all activity, clear data lineage, and the ability to control access down to the cellular level. Most of the portfolio companies also chose to use the platform to create their individual reports, enabling an uninterrupted flow of transparent and verifiable information.
"By far the most important feature for us has been the connected reporting," Jeanett said. "When we first chose Workiva, we didn't fully know just how seamless the collaboration would be. In practice, the platform delivers on its promises. This is true at both a global and a granular level. Because all data is connected, any changes our portfolio companies make in their reports then automatically update our own. And because we can focus collaboration on specific processes, like tasks and labels, we're able to work much more efficiently."
With so many parties working on the same documents, it was critical to protect sensitive information. "We needed to be very restrictive in terms of who had access to what," she explained. "We made certain people responsible for granting access to new users and assigning them appropriate levels of permission to their relevant areas, where they were allowed to enter and either read or edit the files. It was very easy to onboard auditors, consultants and anyone helping us with the report."
A simple solution for ambitious ESG goals
While the team was initially drawn to Workiva for its inclusion of both the latest ESG and financial reporting frameworks, it was ultimately its simplicity-an easy-to-use and secure platform, allowing users to work together in a transparent and dynamic way-that made the biggest difference for them. "Without Workiva, the whole process would have probably looked very different," said Jeanett. "I think it would have been a lot more stressful, particularly in terms of gathering data, checking if documents had been updated, and chasing people for the latest versions. Now we're all working in the same system, and we can all access the latest information at any time."
The result? A report that brings financial and non-financial metrics together in a measurable and meaningful way and that can be held up as an example of emerging best practice. In Jeanett's words, "We chose to place ourselves at the forefront of certain reporting frameworks, using the most recent regulatory reporting requirements out there."
As standards and legislation continue to evolve over time, having an end-to-end tool that underpins data gathering while adapting to the latest requirements will allow the team at Aker Horizons to continue to lead the way.
"We're going to be seeing more and more standardization going forward, which is going to be a great thing in this ESG jungle," Jeanett concluded.
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