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Secrets of High-Impact Sustainability Reporting

Submitted by: Sustainable Life Media, Inc.

Categories: Research, Reports & Publications

Posted: Nov 08, 2007 – 09:42 AM EST


By Kathee Rebernak

Nov. 08 /CSRwire/ - Reporting can be an important part of building a Green to Gold culture where everyone knows their weaknesses and identifies opportunities for eco-advantage. But what if you crafted a comprehensive corporate sustainability report...and nobody read it? Here's how some highly transparent companies are getting (and keeping) peoples' attention.

Increasingly, companies are seeking to address a key complaint about corporate sustainability reports: nobody reads them. Often overlong and packed with narratives about a variety of programs, many seem to devote the same attention (and space) to minor issues as to major ones. But a few companies have been very successful in overcoming the "yawn factor" - by tailoring reports to individual readers, devoting more attention to high-priority issues, applying international reporting standards to better define reporting content, and emphasizing quantitative information that enables stakeholders to better assess and compare performance.

The result of all of these efforts is not only more concise, more focused reporting but an improved ability to understand and address stakeholder concerns, integrate sustainability principles into core business strategy, and, ultimately, deliver long-term value to all stakeholders. As sustainability reporting moves from nice-to-have to must-have, you'll want to incorporate many of these strategies into your reporting effort.

Focusing the Message: Personalized Reporting

One way to make reporting relevant and accessible to stakeholders is to create shorter pieces that address the most important issues. Starbucks produces a small, tidy brochure that unfolds to a 12-page summary of the information contained in its full report, which is posted on its website. HP employs a similar strategy, offering a 19-page summary report (PDF) for its customers. These pieces illustrate that, while completeness and transparency are critical to credible reporting, accessibility is what will enable companies to get their message out to key stakeholders.

We have also seen a shift away from print reports toward more robust, engaging online reports. BP's comprehensive report features an interactive "sustainability worldwide map" that shows environmental activities at BP sites around the world. Web functionality also enables quick, easy access to the information that most appeals to stakeholders. GE and Nokia, for example, allow customers to create "personalized" reports by checking off the sections that interest them; the result is a combined PDF containing only those sections. As with the shorter executive summaries, these efforts signal a greater effort to develop innovative ways to engage stakeholders and address their concerns.

Hitting the Highlights: Proper Prioritizing

With the advent of the Global Reporting Initiative's G3 sustainability reporting guidelines, more companies are conducting materiality analyses to identify and prioritize their issues and streamline their reporting efforts. A materiality analysis is (ideally) informed by stakeholder engagement and takes into account both stakeholder concerns and the impact of issues upon the company itself. For example, in its 2006 report (PDF, page 4) Barclays outlines in general terms how it prioritizes issues; it also links the issues it identifies to its business strategy, which is critical for any company seeking to integrate corporate responsibility across operations (For more on this topic, see our article in Ethical Corporation magazine.)

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