Who actually reads sustainability reports? Well, it could in fact be many - if the report is done in a smart and accessible way. Here are some ...

How to succeed with sustainability reports

Who actually reads sustainability reports? Well, it could in fact be many – if the report is done in a smart and accessible way. Here are some top tips on how to succeed with it.

Right now people are talking a lot about sustainability reporting. One reason is of course that EU member countries have introduced a law on mandatory sustainability reporting by 2017. All major companies must report non-financial information, including current environmental, social responsibility and matters relating to employees.

The new requirements mean that many companies that have not previously done a sustainability report are now going to do one for the first time. Yet many companies that have been reporting sustainability work for several years are taking the opportunity to review how they do it. Much of what was perhaps effective reporting a few years ago no longer works now.

Here are some new truths that companies must adhere to.

1. Talk about it.
It is hard to achieve goals that no one knows about. Communication must therefore be an integral part of all sustainability efforts. Forget the old model – to first do a report and then start thinking about communication when it’s time to send out a press release. It is important to find clear pictures that explain, summarise and engage. These can be both educational infographics and documentary images, which allow the viewer to follow you behind the scenes.

2. Digital reports.
So far, most companies have done a paper version of their sustainability report, which they then digitise. However, completely new possibilities open up when thinking digitally from the outset. Systembolaget and Swedfund are two good examples of this.

3. Dare to let go of control.
The huge availability of data is revolutionising sustainability efforts. According to ambitious future reconnaissance from the Global Reporting Initiative – the leading standard for sustainability reporting – future presentations will look completely different. GRI believes that reporting will take place almost in real time, so that employees, customers, suppliers and partners can constantly monitor the work. Consequently, companies will have less control over what image they convey – what others say about you becomes more important.

4. Dialogue.
No one wants to listen to companies that insist on holding long monologues about their sustainability efforts. You cannot overstate the importance of having a good dialogue with suppliers and customers. This must be continuous, but can of course take different forms at different times.

In the context of an important event like a sustainability report, it is suitable to invite others into the conversation. Luxury brand group Kering have worked a lot with the dialogue around its sustainability report, via #KeringLive. They are also working actively to report information about their ecological footprint.

5. Do not forget the employees.
Many companies think that they are good at communication have devoted an impressive amount of energy towards talking to the outside world, while they forget their own employees.

A new study shows a dangerous gap between what management knows about the company’s sustainability work and what employees find out – only 31 per cent of employees and middle managers responded that they are informed about the company’s sustainability goals. While the same study showed that investors think sustainability is much more important than company managers believe.

It is therefore important to develop the narrative about the company’s sustainability work so that it reaches all employees. It is what they say and do that will determine how the company succeeds.

Learn to create a better sustainability report in practice
For more inspiration and tips on successful sustainability reporting, download Spoon’s white paper here.