6 STEPS TO PREPARING A SUSTAINABILITY REPORT
A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING
This tool provides a roadmap on how to begin your sustainability reporting, with an overview of the reporting frameworks and standards available, the process and resources involved, and useful links to other tools that can simplify the reporting process.
The first part of the tool presents general information about sustainability, non-financial reporting, and frameworks and standards, including the latest updates from the European Directive on non-financial and diversity disclosures, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The GRI Standards are regularly referred to as the most widely-used and comprehensive framework for non-financial reporting.
The second part of the tool is a practical guide on the preparation of a sustainability report, detailing the step-by-step reporting process for your company to effectively prepare its non-financial report. References to additional resources that will make this document more useful and reader-friendly are included.
Report Adviser’s team aims for this document to be useful for both newcomers and professionals in non-financial reporting.
This is the current edition of the Report Adviser’s Practical Guide to Sustainability Reporting. Your opinion is important to us. Let us know how we can improve this tool to make it more useful for you, by sending your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
SECTION 1 ABOUT SUSTAINABILITY AND NON-FINANCIAL REPORTING
In this section, we present the background of sustainability, its links to material topics and stakeholder engagement, and a brief overview of non-financial reporting.
In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development described sustainable development as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This definition is echoed in the 2016 GRI Standards Glossary.
Through their activities and relationships, all organizations impact the economy, the environment, and society. This impact represents an organization's contributions, both positive and negative, towards the goals of sustainable development. Therefore, organizations play a key role in achieving these goals.
Generally, sustainability reporting is the practice of publicly reporting an organization's economic, environmental, and/or social impact, recognising its contributions – positive or negative – towards the SDGs.
The “materiality” concept plays a dominant role when considering and reporting on the SDGs. Materiality helps companies identify and prioritize the issues that matter most to their business and stakeholders. Material topics are aspects that reflect the organization’s significant economic, environmental and social impact or anything that can substantially influence the assessments and decisions of stakeholders. To determine if a topic is material, organizations need discussion, qualitative analysis, quantitative assessment.
- Material topics:
- can reflect significant impacts, risks and opportunities for the organization its stakeholders, the economy, the environment and society;
- are considered important enough to require active management or engagement by the organization;
- can have significant financial impact on an organization in the near or long-term future;
- can relate to relevant laws, regulations, international agreements, or voluntary agreements with strategic significance to the organization and its stakeholders.
GRI’s research ‘Sustainability Topics for Sectors: What do stakeholders want to know?’ analyzes how different stakeholder groups identify sustainability topics relevant to them compared with different business activity groups.
Sustainability Topics for Sectors What do stakeholders want to know.pdf
Stakeholders are defined as entities or individuals affected by the reporting organization’s activities, products, or services; or whose actions can reasonably be expected to affect the ability of the organization to implement its strategies or achieve its objectives.
Stakeholders may include investors, shareholders, employees and other workers, suppliers, vulnerable groups, local communities, and NGOs or other civil society organizations.
When deciding the content of its report, an organization must consider the reasonable expectations and interests of its stakeholders. The organization is expected to identify a process for taking such views into account when determining whether a topic is material. The process of stakeholder engagement can serve as a tool for understanding the reasonable expectations and interests of stakeholders, as well as their information needs. An organization typically initiates different types of stakeholder engagement activities which can provide useful input for decisions on reporting. These activities include ‘routine’ engagement to inform ongoing organizational or business processes. Stakeholder engagement based on systematic or generally accepted approaches, methodologies, or principles can be implemented specifically to inform the preparation of the report. Other means that may be used to satisfy this principle include media monitoring, engagement with the scientific community, and collaborative activities with peers and stakeholders. The overall approach must be sufficiently effective so that stakeholders’ information needs are properly understood.
More detailed information about stakeholder engagement for report preparation, please, read is available in the Section 6 steps for report preparation.
1.2. Sustainability (non-financial) reporting
A non-financial sustainability report is a report published by a company or organization about the economic, environmental and social impact caused by the company’s everyday activities. A sustainability report also presents the organization's values and governance model, and it demonstrates the link between the company’s strategy and commitment to a sustainable global economy.
Sustainability reporting can help organizations measure, understand and communicate their economic, environmental, social and governance performance. They can then set goals and manage change more effectively. A sustainability report is key platform to communicating sustainability performance and impact.
The terms sustainability reporting, non-financial reporting, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting are synonymous and may be used interchangeably. It is also an importante element of integrated reporting; a more recent development that combines the analysis of financial and non-financial performance.
One of the main ideas behind sustainability reporting is the relationship between an organization and its stakeholders. Customers, investors, business partners, experts and NGOs are often influenced by the organization or its activities. As a result of this, stakeholders may request information regarding a company’s on companies’ sustainability performance. Yet, it has become a real challenge for companies to respond efficiently and effectively.
Preparing a sustainability report which discloses all of the material aspects of a company’s performance is an effective part of stakeholder engagement, showing how a company performs against its objectives and strategic goals.
- Effective practices in sustainability reporting from several industries are based on eight areas that focus on what and how companies communicate and engage their stakeholders. These eight areas are:
- scope and strategy
- governance and accountability
- stakeholder inclusiveness
- high-priority focus areas
- key performance indicators (KPIs), performance and impact
- balance and clarity
- institutionalization of sustainability reporting
A sustainability report can be presented in a variety of formats, including print and online. It can also be presented as a standalone document or as part of another publication, such as an annual (or integrated) report.
Advantages of sustainability reporting for your organization:
- INTERNAL BENEFITS
- VISION & STRATEGY
Organizations exhibit direction by placing their purpose, vision and strategy into the context of global sustainability. Sustainability reporting helps to make this explicit for stakeholders.
- MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Sustainability management and reporting require management systems to improve data quality. Tracking data highlights opportunities for improvement, increased efficiency and cost saving.
Sustainability report aid companies in identifying and mitigating non-financial risks. Early warnings of emerging issues can help management seize opportunities or evaluate potential risks before they occur.
- EMPLOYEE MOTIVATION
Engaging the workforce in sustainability efforts attracts new talent and increases productivity through a motivated and committed workforce.
- EXTERNAL BENEFITS
- REPUTATION & TRUST
Proactive and transparent communication of sustainability efforts builds goodwill and improves product image, brand name and reputation.
- ATTRACTING CAPITAL
Reducing risk through sustainability management and communication can help signal quality and good management, providing potential for capital sources and cost saving.
- STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENT
Ongoing learning from external and internal sources. Stay up-to-date with your stakeholders on the regulatory environment and be responsive and proactive to their requests. Sustainability reporting is a powerful tool to build and maintain trust among stakeholders.
- COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Customers are looking for suppliers who minimize environmental and social risks. By reporting, companies can increase customer satisfaction, develop loyalty and improve supply chain access.
For more information, please visit the GRI page on sustainability reporting.
SECTION 2 KEY FRAMEWORKS FOR THE SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING
2.1. Brief overview of the key frameworks and standards for sustainability reporting
A variety of international and local frameworks, standards, and initiatives exist to help organizations prepare sustainability reporting. Some of them are sector- or topic-specific; others have a more comprehensive scope.
Some frameworks are mandatory (for example, requirements or expectations on non-financial reporting issued by governing bodies, such as national governments, financial regulators and stock exchanges). The require organizations to report on sustainability performance, yet most frameworks are not mandatory, but still encouraged for organizations to better report on their sustainability performance.
- In this tool, we focus on the key frameworks and standards of sustainability reporting. These are internationally recognized and can be effectively applied by organizations:
- The European Directive on non-financial and diversity disclosures
- GRI (GRI's Sustainability Reporting Standards)
- The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
- The United Nations Global Compact (Communication on Progress) and Sustainable Development Goals
- The International Organization for Standardization (ISO 26000 Guidance on social responsibility)
- The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC International Framework)
2.2. The European Directive on non-financial and diversity disclosure
In December 2014, the European Union adopted Directive 2014/95/EU on the disclosure of non-financial and diversity information by certain large organizations and groups. This amends the Accounting Directive 2013/34/EU.
Directive 2014/95/EU requires public-interest entities (PIEs) in the European Union with more than 500 employees to include a non-financial statement containing information on their policies in their management report, including environmental, social and staff-related risks and outcomes. Also of importance in this area of reporting are human rights, anticorruption and bribery issues. The Directive provides the possibility for public interest entities from Member States to be exempt from disclosing the required non-financial information in the management report if they have already provided this information in a separate report.
The Directive is intended to lead to the identification and reporting of impact and risk, and to increase the trust of investors and consumers in public-interest entities.
During the 2017 reporting year, the Directive’s legal requirements for transparency on non-financial information in management reports of large public interest entities (PIEs) became stricter. For additional information about the European Directive on non-financial and diversity disclosure please visit the website.
For a comprehensive understanding of the European Directive on non-financial and diversity disclosure, please read the following publications:
- ‘Linking the GRI Standards and the European Directive on non-financial and diversity disclosure’ This publication will help you understand the link between the European Directive on non-financial and diversity disclosure and GRI. All of the disclosure requests in the European Directive are covered by the GRI Standards and Disclosures.
- ‘Member States are implementing the EU Directive on Non-financial and Diversity Information’ prepared by CSR Europe and GRI. This publication will give you an overview of how Member States are implementing the EU Directive on Non-financial and Diversity Information.
2.3. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
GRI is an independent international organization that has pioneered corporate sustainability reporting since 1997.
GRI remains the most popular framework for sustainability reporting, with 74% of G250 companies applying GRI framework in 2017 (source The KPMG Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2017).
The GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards) are the latest evolution of GRI’s sustainability reporting framework. They were published in October 2016.
The GRI Standards are structured as a set of modular reporting standards that can be used by any organization to report its economic, environmental, and social impact.
The GRI Standards represent global best practices for transparent reporting on economic, environmental and social impact. Sustainability reporting based on the Standards provides information about an organization’s positive or negative contributions to sustainable development.
The GRI Standards are designed primarily to be used as a set and to prepare a sustainability report focused on material topics. The universal Standards are used by every organization that prepares a sustainability report. An organization may also choose from topic-specific Standards to report on its material topics – economic, environmental or social.
Preparing a report in accordance with the GRI Standards provides an inclusive picture of an organization’s material topics, their related impact, and how they are managed. An organization can also use some or all of the GRI Standards to report specific information.
The Standards are available on the website.
We will use references to GRI standards in specific sections of Report Adviser’s platform.
- We recommend reading ‘GRI 101: Foundation 2016’ as the starting point for using the GRI Standards. GRI 101 can be used by an organization of any size, type, sector, or geographic location that wants to use the GRI Standards to report on its economic, environmental, and social impact.
- Would also recommend reviewing the GRI Standards Glossary.
2.4. OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises
The OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) are the most comprehensive set of government-backed recommendations on responsible business conduct currently in existence. The governments that adhere to the Guidelines aim to encourage and maximize the positive impact MNEs can make on sustainable development and enduring social progress.
The Guidelines are far-reaching recommendations addressed by governments to multinational enterprises operating in adhering countries. They provide voluntary principles and standards for responsible business conduct in areas such as employment and industrial relations, human rights, environment, information disclosure, combating bribery, consumer interests, science and technology, competition, and taxation.
The Guidelines are recommendations jointly addressed by governments to multinational enterprises. They provide principles and good practice standards consistent with applicable laws and internationally recognized standards. Observance of the Guidelines by enterprises is voluntarily, not legally, enforced. Nevertheless, some matters covered by the Guidelines may also be regulated by national law or international commitments.
- The Guidelines cover the following areas:
- Human rights
- Employment and industrial relations
- Combating bribery, bribe solicitation and extortion
- Consumer interests
- Science and technology
2.5. The Sustainable Development Goals and the United Nations Global Compact Communication on Progress
The United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) is a voluntary initiative based on CEOs' commitment to implementing ten universal sustainability principles, as well as to undertake partnerships in support of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact are derived from: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.
Please visit the UN`s Global Compact Principles website for further information.
According to the United Nations Global Compact requirements, UNGC signatories are required to issue an annual Communication on Progress (COP), public disclosure to stakeholders on progress made in implementing the ten principles, or in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
- The Communication on Progress (COP Policy) sets out key information, including these minimum requirements:
- A statement by the CEO expressing continued support for the UN Global Compact and renewing the company's ongoing commitment to the initiative.
- A description of practical actions the company has taken, or plans to take, to implement the Ten Principles in each of the four areas (human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption).
- A measurement of outcomes.
- The following are useful links to specific UN guiding frameworks regarding human rights and anti-corruption principles:
- UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
- Reporting Guidance on the 10th Principle against corruption
The UN Global Compact’s multi-year strategy to drive business awareness and action is in support of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
The 17 SDGs are part of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and provide a coherent, holistic framework for addressing the world’s most urgent sustainability challenges, such as climate change, human rights, corruption, poverty, inequality and justice, to help create a better future for all. The SDGs cover all areas of the EC’s work.
As of 2018, many leading companies around the world disclosed how they achieved the SDGs in their public reports.
Some examples to consider:
- Dow Chemical
- Food and Beverage Processing
- Kellogg Co.
- MillerCoors LLC
- The SDG Compass guides companies towards aligning their strategies; measuring and managing their contributions to the realization of the SDGs.
- The SDG Industry Matrix: Energy, Natural Resources, and Chemicals. This showcases industry-specific examples and ideas for corporate action related to the SDGs. Presented in a series of publications, each matrix highlights bold pursuits and decisions made by diverse companies for each SDG.
- Making Global Goals Local Business: A New Era for Responsible Business. This overview of the UN Global Compact’s multi-year journey to “Make Global Goals Local Business” encourages driving awareness and responsible business action to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
- For a better understanding of how to report on SDGs, please visit GRI and the UN Global Compact’s collaboration, ‘Business Reporting on the SDGs’. This platform helps accelerate corporate reporting on the Global Goals. Reading this initiative’s report, Analysis of the Goals and Targets is recommended. It aims to help companies understand how they impact the SDGs by providing a list of indicators to make reporting on the SDGs straightforward and simple.
2.6. ISO 26000, International Standard for social responsibility
ISO 26000 is a social responsibility guideline launched by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
ISO 26000 gives guidance rather than a set of requirements; because of this, and unlike other ISO standards, ISO 26000 cannot be certified. Instead, it helps clarify what social responsibility is; helps businesses and organizations translate principles into effective actions; and shares best practices relating to social responsibility. ISO 26000 is aimed at all types of organizations, regardless of their activity, size, or location.
2.7. The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC International Framework)
The International Integrated Reporting Framework will be used to accelerate the global adoption of Integrated Reporting ('IR').
'IR' applies principles and concepts that are focused on bringing greater cohesion and efficiency to the reporting process, adopting ‘integrated thinking’ as a way of breaking down internal silos, and reducing duplication. This improves the quality of information available to providers of financial capital to enable a more efficient and productive allocation of capital. The focus is on value creation, and the ‘capital’ used by the business to create value over time, contributes towards a more financially-stable global economy.
The purpose of the Framework is to establish Guiding Principles and Content Elements to govern the overall content of an integrated report and to explain the fundamental concepts that support them.
Taking into account the variety of frameworks and standards for non-financial reporting, your organization can choose the most appropriate method to use.
Report Adviser recommends using the GRI Standards because, not only is it the most widely used and comprehensive framework, but because:
- The GRI Standards are the world’s first global standards for sustainability reporting. They provide companies with a common language for disclosing non-financial information.
- The GRI Standards represent best practices for sustainability disclosures. They are aligned with other normative sustainability frameworks, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UN and ILO Conventions, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. They can also be used to communicate an organization’s contributions to and methods of reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.
- GRI Standards and Disclosures cover all of the disclosure requests in the European Directive.
- Sustainability reports based on the GRI Standards can be used to benchmark organizational performance with respect to laws, norms, codes, performance standards, and voluntary initiatives, demonstrate organizational commitment to sustainable development, and compare organizational performance over time. Moreover, it is possible to measure your sustainability performance against peer and other sector organizations, both locally and globally.
SECTION 3 SIX STEPS FOR SUSTAINABILITY REPORT PREPARATION
3.1. General scheme for report preparationSCHEME FOR REPORT PREPARATION
Step 1: PREPARATORY STAGE
The preparation of a sustainability report should begin with these steps: a) define the internal objectives and concept of the report, b) draft the structure of the report and choose a reporting framework to follow, and c) determine material and other topics. For further guidance, please refer to the scheme below.Preparatory scheme
The Preparatory Stage is important for efficient preparation of a report. Below, you will find recommendations on how to plan, develop, and improve sustainability reporting in your company, with reference to key frameworks/ standards and benchmarked reports from the World's leading companies.
Preparing a sustainability report for the first time can be a challenge, particularly for companies with small reporting teams and ambitious goals. A smart approach is required to develop and realize an achievable plan for meeting reporting goals.
Don’t forget that a sustainability report is not only a deliverable or key outcome of the reporting process. It is also an effective tool to establish a system of non-financial reporting in your company, as well as an opportunity to review your sustainability strategy and goals.
Preparation of your first sustainability report can be quite a time- and resource-consuming task due to a lack of experience and expertise. However, after the sustainability reporting system is established and working, report preparation will consume fewer resources and be more efficient. When writing the following year’s report, the same tasks require less effort.
- The planning process should begin with:
- Understanding the objectives of your company’s internal and external sustainability report preparation. It is important to focus on these objectives during report preparation.
- Receiving the support of senior management.
- Involving all key company managers who are responsible for managing the different sustainability issues within your company. This gives a better understanding of both financial and non-financial risks and opportunities, and it helps align the company’s sustainability performance with its business strategy.
Get senior management support for the report preparation
It is important to receive support from senior management for the preparation of the sustainability report. The CEO should recognize the value of financial reporting and may not be concerned that financial statements do not give a complete picture of the organization’s value to its stakeholders. Therefore, one of the responsibilities of the chief sustainability officer (person responsible for CSR / Sustainability within the organization) is to get support from the senior management.
Prepare a short and impressive presentation for your company’s senior management and explain the added value of the sustainability reporting to get them on board.
- Formulate strong objectives for the sustainability report’s preparation (internal and external)
- Underline the particular benefits of the sustainability report for your organization (see infographics below)
- Determine key messages that will be communicated through the report
- Present a roadmap of the report’s preparation
- Present expectations of your key targeted audiences (stakeholders) regarding your company’s accountability
- Within the report, refer to companies which are leaders in sustainability reporting
Advantages of sustainability reporting for organizations:
- INTERNAL BENEFITS
- VISION & STRATEGYOrganizations can set direction by placing their purpose, vision and strategy into the context of global sustainability. The sustainability reporting process helps to make this explicit to stakeholders.
- MANAGEMENT SYSTEMSSustainability management and reporting require management systems that improve data quality. Tracking data highlights opportunities for overall improvement, increased efficiency, and greater cost saving.
- STRENGTHS&WEAKNESSESA sustainability report helps companies identify and mitigate non-financial risks. Early warnings of emerging issues can help management seize opportunities or evaluate potential risks before they emerge as unwelcome surprises.
- EMPLOYEE MOTIVATIONEngaging the workforce in sustainability reports attracts new talent and increases productivity through a committed and motivated workforce.
- EXTERNAL BENEFITS
- REPUTATION & TRUSTProactive and transparent communication about your sustainability efforts builds goodwill and improves product image, brand name and reputation.
- ATTRACTING CAPITALReducing risk through sustainability management and communication can help signal quality and good management, providing the potential for new sources of capital and decreasing costs.
- STAKEHOLDER ENGAGEMENTSustainability reporting is a powerful tool to build or maintain trust among stakeholders. Stay up-to-date with your stakeholders on the regulatory environment, and be responsive and proactive to their requests.
- COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGECustomers are looking for suppliers who minimize environmental and social risks. By reporting, companies can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty, and improve access to the supply chain.
Make applied analysis
A key task for those writing the report is to define what should and should not be disclosed within your company’s sustainability report. This can be quite a challenging procedure, but the results of your analysis helps.
The analysis usually covers both the internal and external landscape. The internal analysis focuses on the company’s sustainability strategy, goals, and achievements during the reporting period. The external analysis involves a peer benchmarking review.Internal analysis
Make an internal analysis of the company’s results, challenges, and achievements within the reporting period. Pinpointing its relationship to sustainability and its alignment with the company’s goals and strategies.
- The objectives of the internal analysis are to understand:
- the current status of the implementation of the strategic approach to sustainability in your company (for example, entry-level/ advanced level/ top-level). Do you have a system for the management of sustainability issues in place?
- which strategic documents, related to sustainability, are in place within the company (strategies, policies, declarations, etc.).
- how the company follows declarations of strategic documents in line with the company’s sustainability strategy. What is considered progress in the reporting period for each priority area (for example, employment, environmental protection, local communities, etc.)?
- what actions were taken in the reporting period to achieve the strategic sustainability goals of the company
- what challenges your company has faced during the reporting period.
The analysis could include:
- analysis of the internal documents (for example, strategies, policies, and presentations) on sustainability issues and/ or corporate strategies.
- interviews with the company’s representatives responsible for different sustainability issues, as well as for the overall business strategy
- analysis of the media landscape. This would include looking at the company’s sustainability performance with regard to media; considering which topics were highlighted and which were ignored. Including both positive and negative context will give a better understanding of the issues that are important for your stakeholders (the outcomes of stakeholder engagement will be discussed in detail in the “Identify and Engage with Stakeholders” section).
This analysis is very important, especially if your company is a newcomer to sustainability reporting and has no strong internal report management system in place.Benchmarking review of your peers Peer companies are companies that operate in the same industry sector, are of similar size, and have the same impact on economic, social and environmental areas.
It is useful to know what your peers and competitors are doing in sustainability and reporting practices. Based on their sustainability performance, what are the best practices for your peers in terms of transparency, disclosure, and reporting structure? Do they have sustainability practices and goals in place? What specific material topics do they disclose in their sustainability reports?
A peer benchmarking review is an effective instrument to understand trends, best practices, and material topics in your industry.
The results of the benchmarking review demonstrate the potential competitive positioning of your company versus your peers and provide you with additional intelligence on the most material indicators for this peer group. Additionally, they give you a better idea of what to publicly disclose in your company’s report.
A peer benchmarking review is also very useful for developing the concept, structure and material topics of the report.
- Make a list of your peer companies. These are companies that operate in the same industry sector, are of similar size, and have a similar impact on economic, social, and environmental areas. It is important that peers have sustainability practices.
- Make a list of the issues to analyze. For example, what are the concepts of your peers’ report? Do your peers have (and report on) a sustainability strategy and/ or strategic sustainability goals? Which frameworks do your peers apply for preparing sustainability reports? What are the material topics that they focus on; what is the structure (content) of the report? What format of the sustainability report do your peers use (a standalone document, a section of the integrated report, etc.)? Only focus on the general material topics relevant to your business activity (area), and check the Material Topics Hub on Report Adviser. Don’t go in-depth with an examination of specific material topics, as you will do this exercise in stage 3.2.5: Identifying Material Topics.
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses compared to your peers.
You may wish to conduct a detailed, applied analysis. For this, you need to prepare a broad questionnaire and examine all peers’ reports and/ or websites. The checklist in your questionnaire can be developed and based on the GRI disclosures list and the systematic list of sustainability elements presented in ISO 26 000.
A sample of the benchmarking review of peers for sustainability reporting.
|Sustainability strategy / goals in place||Reporting framework used||Concept||Material topics (general)||...|
|Company 1||+||GRI, UN GC||Business ethics, Local communities development, Employee development, Health & Safety, Environmental protection||...|
|Company 2||-||GRI, UN GC||...||...|
|Company 3||+||GRI, UN GC||...||...|
Identify and engage with stakeholders
Stakeholder engagement is essential for selecting material topics for the report.
Stakeholders are groups or individuals who can affect or be affected by the activities of your business.
Before deciding what you will report on and how you will report, you need to identify your priority stakeholder audiences, find out what they are most interested in with regard to your company, and determine the best format (print, online, in person, etc.) to engage that interest.
- Stakeholder groups may include:
- investors and shareholders
- governments and regulators
- industry associations
- non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
A stakeholder map is a valuable tool for identifying, prioritizing, and engaging with key stakeholders. Essentially a graph, the stakeholder map compares the impact of a stakeholder on your company and the impact of your company on the stakeholder. This can help you determine the most important audiences for your reporting; guiding you in managing relationships with stakeholders, those who can influence your strategy.
- Report Adviser team recommends you use the following chart logic for prioritizing your company’s stakeholder groups. As a result, you will identify:
- stakeholders who are not so powerful, but vocal and interested. These should be kept “informed”;
- stakeholders who have less interest in your company’s activities, but have greater potential influence and need to be kept “satisfied”.
Engaging with “manage closely” stakeholders should be a high priority, as this group can have a significant impact on your company.
Feedback obtained through the stakeholder engagement process is vital for a balanced and transparent sustainability report. It demonstrates that your company is aware of stakeholder concerns, taking active measures to address stakeholder input.
The Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) G4 guidelines, as well as the new GRI Standards, emphasize the importance of reporting on the content that matters most to an organization and its stakeholders. GRI’s Reporting Principles define a report’s content and quality, and they specifically require stakeholder inclusiveness and materiality.
To identify stakeholder priorities, your company could supplement ongoing stakeholder engagement practices with periodic materiality assessments, prioritizing sustainability topics. All of this information should be considered when deciding what information to include in a report.
In this tool, we consider two effective approaches for disclosing stakeholder engagement activities. The one you choose depends on how you choose organize the content of your report.
1 – Identify and respond to stakeholder concerns through the report. In this approach, you can provide a comprehensive summary of stakeholder concerns; refer readers to specific sections containing the Disclosure on Management Approach (DMA) and other information relevant to those concerns. Please see the example of Southwire Company, LLC (2016 Sustainability Report) which uses a table to list categories, topics, and stakeholders who identify these topics as material. The topics are linked to the sections of the report that provide the DMA and other relevant information.
2 – In a special section of the report (for example, the “About this report” or“ Stakeholder Engagement Appendix” sections), describe the stakeholder engagement process used during report preparation. This will describe each element of the engagement process.
Please refer to the above format used by Edwards LifeSciences. It provides detail about the materiality and stakeholder engagement processes in one section of the report and uses an interactive materiality matrix for the reader to click on a topic and view a definition, the reason it is a material, affected stakeholders, and the company’s collective aspirations.
- In your report, explain how you identified stakeholder groups, which groups are the most voсal (and why), which groups you engage with, and which instruments used (surveys, focus groups, meetings, etc) in order to meet G4-24/Standard 102-40.
- Pay attention when describing your engagement with stakeholders during the reporting process. Specify the key concerns raised by stakeholders and how your company responds to these concerns.
- Benchmark other companies’ reports as a way to identify approaches they took in engaging stakeholders for reporting and take note of the best experiences.
- There are many different stakeholder engagement methods to use while you prepare the report. The method you choose is up to you.
- For newcomers to reporting, opening a dialogue with key groups of stakeholders at the preparatory stage of the report could be useful. This could be presentation of a drafted structure of the report to stakeholders, followed by a discussion of the draft material topics. Stakeholder feedback should be taken into account when selecting a final list of material topics for the report.
- Stakeholder feedback on company actions and programs (articulated during meetings) may be used and responded to in a separate section of the report (‘About this Report’ or ‘Appendix’) or in the report’s thematic chapters.
- You may use the results of face-to-face dialogue with stakeholders on specific issues (as part of a wider discussion, not a specific discussion of the report).
- Before engaging stakeholders, select material topics to discuss in order to focus more effectively on the most important issues.
- ‘The Stakeholder Engagement Manual. From words to actions’: This manual is for those who are interested in how to make stakeholder engagement more effective and beneficial for the organization and its stakeholders.
- IFC. Stakeholder engagement: This is a good practice handbook for companies doing business in emerging markets.
Choose a reporting framework to follow
Analyze sector best practices and regulatory landscapes. It is important to know the industry and sector standards, guidelines and expectations for sustainability reporting in your specific business (e.g. GRI). You must understand what is expected or encouraged by regulators and other credible organizations with regard to disclosure in sustainability reporting. Identify best practices for sustainability reporting among your industry peers (benchmarking review of peer reports).
By following the aforementioned steps, your company can choose the specific reporting guidelines, key performance indicators, best practices, and mandatory disclosures that it will use in its sustainability report.
- Report Adviser’s team recommends using GRI, the most widely-used and comprehensive framework.
- In your report, explain how you identified your stakeholder groups, which groups are the most voсal (and why), which groups you engage with, and which instruments you used (surveys, focus groups, meetings, etc) – in order to meet G4-24/Standard 102-40.
- GRI Standards are the world’s first global standards for sustainability reporting, giving companies a common language for disclosing non-financial information.
- The GRI Standards represent best practices for sustainability disclosures. They are aligned with other normative sustainability frameworks, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UN and ILO Conventions, and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. They can also be used to communicate an organization’s contributions to the Sustainable Development Goals, and its role in achieving them.
- GRI Standards and Disclosures cover all of the disclosure requests in the European Directive.
- Sustainability reports based on the GRI Standards can be used to benchmark organizational performance with respect to laws, norms, codes, performance standards, and voluntary initiatives; demonstrate organizational commitment to sustainable development; and compare organizational performance over time. Moreover, you can benchmark your sustainability performance with peer and other sector organizations, both locally and globally.
Identify material topics
Identify the material topics for the report, taking into account GRI standards and stakeholder engagement.
Understanding and prioritizing the issues that matter to business and stakeholders enables your company to address the right issues and effectively report on them. This allows your company to evolve its strategy and prepare the reporting in a way that is aligned with the interests and needs of your stakeholders and company.
Materiality helps companies identify and prioritize the issues that matter most to the companies’ business and stakeholders.
Material topics are those aspects that reflect the organization’s significant economic, environmental, and social impacts, or those that substantively influence the assessments and decisions of stakeholders. To determine if a topic is material, qualitative analysis, quantitative assessment, and discussion are needed.
- Material topics:
- Can reflect significant organizational risks and opportunities, effects on stakeholders, impact on the economy, the environment, and society;
- Are considered important enough to require active management or engagement by the organization;
- Can have a significant financial impact on an organization in the short- or long-term future;
- Can relate to relevant laws, regulations, international agreements, or voluntary agreements with strategic significance to the organization and its stakeholders.
Below we will review several approaches for identifying material topics.
First, look at the GRI model on the example of GRI G4 standard (please note that throughout this tool, we sometimes use GRI G4 guidance text integration, with the understanding that GRI Standards have inherited all referenced positions and that you may use it without any change).
The purpose of the G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines is to guide organizations through the process of preparing sustainability reports focused on the material aspects (or other material topics). These are to be prioritized by the organization when they are measured and managed.
The identification of material aspects (or other material topics) depends on an assessment of the impact resulting from the organization’s activities. This impact may be identified inside or outside of the organization's direct control. In order to assess this impact, the organization connects with different stakeholders and experts, identifies the impact to be considered, and prioritizes the impact which is considered material.
- In order to help organizations identify their material aspects (or other material topics), the G4 Guidelines describe a sequence of four steps to be implemented. This four-step process provides a structured way for organizations to implement the ‘Principles for Defining Report Content’ and identify their material Aspects and Boundaries:
Now let’s consider a few practical examples.
Your company can apply the following four steps to identify and prioritize material topics:
1- Formulate broad topic areas. As a starting point, your company should consider where it makes an impact — environment, employees, customers, and/ or community. Begin by thinking broadly, then you may refer to more detailed lists (e.g., GRI standard disclosures) to ensure that specific topics are considered under each area. Do not forget to take your stakeholders’ views into account.
2- Analyze/ rate these topics internally. Engage staff and executive team members to evaluate the importance of the shortlisted material topics in terms of achieving the strategic goals of your company (rate them as high/ medium/ low).
3- Analyze/ rate these topics externally. Engage external stakeholders to evaluate the relevance of shortlisted topics to key stakeholder groups (rate them as high/ medium/ low).
4- Prioritize and map material topics. Compare and apply the insights from internal and external stakeholders, to map the topics by their level of priority against the company and its key stakeholders.
This map helps identify the material topics that must be addressed in your sustainability report.
The stakeholder concern diagram (above) shows that it is important to understand that different stakeholders may value the issues very differently. Such a diagram forms the basis of stakeholder concerns.
Below, you will find more examples of the materiality matrix.
- It's useful to read GRI’s research ‘Sustainability Topics for Sectors: What do stakeholders want to know?’, which presents analysis of different stakeholder groups. It identifies sustainability topics relevant to them, in relation to the different business activity groups.
- See the Material Topics Hub, where material topics for 55 specific business activities are presented. Material topics are divided into four aspects: economic, social, environmental, and other (additional specific aspects for specific business activity). The Material Topics Hub helps to better understand which material topics are relevant to your company, visualising examples of material topics’ disclosure in benchmarking reports.
Choose key performance indicators
After identifying material topics and key reporting frameworks, companies must be able to measure what they intend to manage. Begin by identifying the key performance indicators (KPIs) that correspond to each material topic.
- One way to evaluate a potential KPI is to apply the S.M.A.R.T. approach, considering whether it meets some or all of the following criteria:
- Specific — addresses a clear and specific aspect rather than a general one
- Measurable — offers a criterion for measuring progress and staying on track
- Attainable — considers an aspect that is realistic for your company to track
- Relevant — addresses an aspect that is a high priority to your company
- Time-Bound — provides value by tracking performance over time
While your company may have already identified some KPIs, GRI can be a useful resource for identifying others. As indicated in the following chart, GRI has indicators that correspond to standard disclosures linked to economic, environmental, and social responsibility.
Develop the concept, overarching theme, structure and key messages of the report
- The concept of the report is the main message that you want to deliver to your key stakeholders. The concept may be framed according to:
- achievements made by your company in the reporting period;
- an ambition corresponding to your company’s strategic goal;
- general company strategy.
Companies typically place the concept of the report on the front page, often as a slogan.
Key messages of the report should be strong, clear, and concise. Formulate a few key messages for each of the material topics and present them in context. These messages should be underlined in the text, as well as in the design of the report. The report theme is the overarching theme that should carry your company’s unique, key message throughout the report.Report structure
Please note that during the preparatory period, the company prepares a draft of the report. The final structure of the report can be prepared during Step 2 (when information is collected and analyzed).
- Report Adviser recommends basing your report’s structure on the following three key elements:
- GRI elements Please visit the GRI Elements Hub on Report Adviser. The hub includes all relevant information about GRI standards and reporting principles on one page. Report Advisor’s team created a useful tool – TIPS – which presents Report Adviser’s recommendations for each GRI indicator and general disclosure, the aspects to focus on, mistakes to avoid in disclosing information, and practical examples of how to present information in your report while taking into account benchmarking reports.
- Material topics
Please visit the GRI Hub at Report Adviser to connect your material issues with GRI material topics. To further link with GRI performance indicators or other types of disclosure, GRI developed a list of (grouped/ container) topics, organized around one or a few connected issues/ impacts. All topics are structured around three main areas (Economic, Environmental, and Social topics), have intersectoral characteristics, and are commonly used by all types of organizations. This list of grouped topics does not cover all possible topics, but rather the most commonly used ones.
On reaching the sectoral level, you will face sector-specific material issues (widely described in “Sectoral Material topics”, called the “Materiality Hub”) which are only relevant to your organization or closest peers. Such situations reflect the concept of business variety in operations and impact, which in turn provide plenty of options with regards to what is important or material for a specific sector or company. This also takes into account strong connections to the local environment in business operations and the nature of its operations, as well as a product life-cycle.
Please note clear differences between GRI topics, which are organized in Topic-specific Standards (“container logic”), and Sectoral material topics. The issues form the “fields”, which reflect a diverse set of issues and matters of concern in a specific sector.
SECTORAL MATERIAL TOPICS (“Materiality Hub”)
Sectoral material topics is a hub presenting material topics for 55 specific business sectors. Material topics are divided into four aspects: economic, social, environmental, and other (additional specific aspects for specific business activity). The Material Topics Hub helps to better understand which material topics are relevant for your company, and providing examples of material topics’ disclosure in benchmarking reports.
- Typical reporting elements TYPICAL REPORTING ELEMENTS HUB The Typical Reporting Elements Hub presents a list of typical reporting elements, including content elements of a report and standard elements of a report, recommended for disclosure. This hub includes examples for how to disclose specific reporting elements for each business sector according to the best benchmarking reports.
- Develop a strong theme for your report that will be an overarching motif throughout.
- Formulate clear key messages for the report and separate chapters such as, Stakeholder Engagement, H&S, Employee development, Ecology, Energy Efficiency, and Society.
- Think about ‘talking heads”. Which stakeholders should be quoted for the report in order to build trust effectively?
Plan and manage the reporting process
When planning the reporting process, start early to secure the availability of key team members. This reduces last-minute demands on staff.
Establish a working group, including representatives of the departments involved in the report’s content preparation (PR, Corporate Strategy, HR, HSE, etc.).
A working group on sustainability report preparation is a team that works toward a common goal, preparing the sustainability report. Make sure that all managers and decision-makers for sustainability issues within your company are involved in the reporting process.
- Included in the working group may be employees responsible for the following areas:
- Corporate governance and strategy
- Human resources
- Health & Safety
- Corporate communications
- Social programs
Carry on the kickoff meeting
- The reporting team must meet to confirm roles, clarify responsibilities, and establish key steps and timelines.
- The team must agree upon the desired outcomes by considering what you want the report to achieve. This often-overlooked step helps ensure that a report meets its strategic objectives.
- Assess your company’s internal resources. If they are lacking in any area, you can plan and budget for additional support where required.
- Identify the project manager. This person is responsible for coordinating the people and resources required to produce the report.
- The project manager should communicate key steps, outcomes, budgets and a timeline for your report.
- The timeline should include review dates and realistic turnaround times for the company’s senior team.
- Management level oversight should be confirmed, so that key executives, such as CEO and CFO, and board members ensure that reporting meets company standards and that they understand their expected involvement in the reporting process.
Improve practices and communication
- Ensure team members can apply tools to effectively track, evaluate, and manage sustainability reporting.
- Project managers and team members should keep relevant colleagues informed about the overall progress of the project, as well as any changes to the project plan.
Develop a detailed plan for preparing the report, with a concrete timeline and designated areas of responsibility for working group members.
An example of a simple sustainability reporting development timeline.
|1||Preparatory stage||November (December)|
|2||Collecting and analyzing data||January-February|
|2.1||Collecting information and data||January|
|2.2||Analyzing information and data||February|
|3||Writing the report||March (April)||Usually writing takes at least 4 weeks.|
|4||Report’s finalizing and approval||April|
|5||Report’s design||May (June)||Work on report’s design (concept) in parallel with writing the text report.|
|6||Report’s publication and communication to stakeholders||June||Plan the communication campaign in advance.|
STEP 2 COLLECTING AND ANALYZING INFORMATION AND DATA
Collecting information and data
Prepare questionnaires in order to collect data according to material topics and key performance indicators that have been identified.
Usually, questionnaires include requests for qualitative (narrative) information (for example, strategic approach, management system, description of the activities/ projects, etc.), and for the numerical data (for example, investments, total headcount, air emissions, etc.).
Questionnaires can be divided into separate sections according to specific areas (Business ethics, HR, Health & Safety, Environmental Protection, Product Responsibility, etc.).
According to "Comparability", one of the essential GRI principles, the reported information should be presented in a manner that enables stakeholders to analyze changes in the organization’s performance over time, supporting analysis relative to other organizations. Within the questionnaire,include questions regarding the achievements of the company’s strategic goals during the reporting period, as well as questions regarding progress in each sustainability area in comparison to the preceding reporting period. Numerical data should be collected and presented in periods of two to four years.
To ensure high-quality data is available on time, make sure that staff responsible for gathering data understand your requirements and any associated data management tools and software in advance of all delivery deadlines. Data should be subject to controls to ensure accuracy and completeness (e.g., supervisory review and approval).
Many companies have their own comprehensive data acquisition systems (special tools, software) for collecting quantitative and qualitative data. Such systems are important for managing sustainability issues.
Analyzing information and data
Analyze the collected information and data. Select the most essential information to include in the report, keeping the key performance indicators and material topics in mind. Indulge the details. Remember that the objective of the report is not to present all available information, but to focus on key material for the company and its stakeholders.
To ensure that your company’s information is reliable and meets the needs of key stakeholders, consider having an internal audit and/or review by third party assurance providers.
- Some companies have internal consultants (auditors) who are responsible for checking the validity and reliability of the data. Some companies outsource data assurance. Types of external assurance to consider are:
- Data/ process assurance. To review diverse performance data and the processes used to gather and evaluate that data, you may involve an accounting firm or an accounting-based service provider.
- A stakeholder advisory group. This involves a panel or advisory group made up of a diverse set of key stakeholders. This group complements more formal types of assurance by evaluating the overall “spirit” of a report, and can comment on whether high-priority issues have been addressed in a meaningful way.
STEP 3 WRITING THE REPORT
Once all information and data have been collected and assigned to the material topics, the next step is editorial work.
Before you begin writing, consider the audience of your report: your investors or shareholders, customers or clients, employees and suppliers, government agencies, and/or others. What, from your sustainability strategy and practices, will most interest these groups? How can you write the report in a way that brings value to and engages your audience?
A schemed example of report writing.
Draft report outline (concept summary)
Before you begin writing the report, prepare a draft outline to ensure the report represents key sustainability issues (material topics) applicable to your company, and that it is aligned with stakeholder concerns and expectations (stakeholder engagement).
The report outline is an executive summary that gives a brief description of what the report contains, with minimal amounts of detail. The subsequent sections provide greater and more in-depth detail. Order the sections of your report so that they create a logical flow and so that you won’t have to backtrack because one section discusses something you don’t reference until a later section.
- Report outline example:
- About the Report. Reporting guidelines, principles, materiality matrix, etc.
- CEO Statement. The company's vision and strategic goals, sustainability achievements and challenges in the reporting period
- Introduction. Financial highlights, snapshot of sustainability initiatives
- Company Profile. Values, goals and examples of sustainable products or services
- Business Organization. Operations, customers, competition, products, services, competitive advantage
- Business Strategy. Integrating sustainability and corporate strategy
- Corporate Governance. Corporate strategy, sustainability strategy, accountability, addressing sustainability issues, executive compensation, measuring shared value. Risk management: risk assessment and oversight, business continuity, succession planning.
- Ethics. Code of conduct, responsibility and accountability, training, communicating with employees, shareholders, customers; treatment of workers.
- Stakeholders. Engagement with stakeholders (investors, customers, employees, suppliers, governments, communities where a company does business).
Occasionally, especially in highly regulated companies, very big companies, or companies with large scope or distanced unit locations, approval of the report concept is required prior to drafting of the report’s text. In this case, the report outline typically has a very deep structure (5-10 pages) in which details of each chapter/ passage are described. It makes sense, as far as it is useful for general coordination within a big company, that everyone can see the big picture and their place within it. If information in some chapters has a different origin (different departments responsible for information gathering and preparation), it helps to avoid both overlapping and/ or overlooking something important.
It is up to you to decide the level of detail your report outline will have.
Draft the written report
Once you have finished your report outline, make a draft of the report. Use the outline as a guide.
State the company’s strategic goals: Write a list of the ‘big-picture’ goals you plan to include in the report. Think of these as strategic “why we’re doing this” goals, rather than tactical “how we’ll achieve these” objectives.
List the company’s sustainability activities. Draw up a draft of specific activities that the company is using to address sustainability and achieve strategic goals (using the results of the questionnaires – see item 3.2.). In different areas (for example, Business ethics or Health & Safety), the company could define sustainability in terms of the reduction of its impact on the environment. Its tactics could then include installing more efficient lighting, starting a recycling program, paying for employees’ use of public transportation or carpooling, sourcing materials and supplies from green vendors, or reducing the size or energy cost of product packaging.
Create a story when drafting the written report
Your report should tell a story. While it contains sustainability must-haves, consider the story behind it. Is it a story of change, success or moving toward your strategic goals? How can this story impact stakeholders’ and your predictions and expectations for the year to come?
Try to keep your report readable for stakeholders so that they better understand the company’s sustainability strategy and actions. Find a balance in the description of the strategy, goals, company approach to sustainability, and company actions.
While writing the report, it is important to prepare a clear, understandable and accessible text for your stakeholders.
- We recommend you consider the following types of content to present your achievements:
- Strategy and policy
- Infographics with key figures and explanations
- Interviews with the company’s representatives
- Quotes from stakeholders
- Margin notes to highlight relevant information and key messages
Revise the content
After you have finished the draft, review it. Ask colleagues to review it, such as relevant specialist departments responsible for the different areas covered in the report – Strategy, HR, HSE, etc.
Make final changes to the written report and prepare for the text to be finalized and approved.
- Write the report in a clear and comprehensive manner. Avoid using overly technical wording.
- Always put data into context and make it easier to track and understand changes in performance. Link sustainability data to your company’s strategy, programs and performance.
- Show that your sustainability commitments are aligned with your corporate vision, strategy, and business plan.
- Have a copyeditor check your report for grammar, spelling, style, consistency, and accuracy.
STEP 4 REPORT’S FINALIZATION AND APPROVAL
As soon as the text of the report is completed, make sure that quality checks are conducted by your colleagues (the relevant specialist departments responsible for the different areas covered in the report – Strategy, HR, HSE, etc.). This will ensure that all topics and key figures are correctly communicated.
If you decide to discuss the draft report with stakeholders (as a part of stakeholder engagement), organize and carry it out properly, making sure that you have included stakeholders’ feedback into the final version of the report (or further improved its content).
Now your report is ready to design and publish.
STEP 5 DESIGN OF THE REPORT
Once you complete the final text, it is time to put the report into the design layout.
Pay attention to the report’s design. Visualization of information is very important for effective communication of the report.
- It is important to accent:
- Key messages
- Infographics with the most important information and data
- Case studies
Infographics are one of the most valuable tools to use when reporting numbers. Read through data and information; develop ways to showcase data. You may use the Report Adviser tool to find a solution for the design, as well as on GRI indicators or Material topics, both typical reporting elements.
Create charts or graphs to show the impact of data in the report. For example, instead of writing out the numbers in paragraph format, icons can be used to show demographic information. This format is easier to understand and creates a visual element that draws the user into the information.
Every piece of information in your report should be linked and contained in a way that makes it easy to understand. Break down a complicated document, such as an annual report, into chapters of information that naturally fit and flow.
Design a cover for your report, alongside a few introductory pages that tell a story before you get into the numbers.
You may also consider producing an interactive web version of your report. This provides many more opportunities for visualization and real-life presentation of information. The report becomes available in one click and, even more importantly, each new visitor provides an opportunity for you to engage, inform, and create a new informal “ambassador” for your product.
Usually the preparation of web interactive reports starts just after completion of a printed version. If you are interested in preparing a web version, or you want to make a joint presentation of both the printed and online interactive versions of the Report, earmark extra time, because the process can take up to a month.
- Use interactive and innovative design techniques to keep readers engaged with the complex content of a report.
- Make the report interactive through dynamic content which encourages readers to engage with it.
STEP 6 REPORT’S PUBLICATION AND COMMUNICATION TO STAKEHOLDERS
Traditionally, businesses produce a printed sustainability report or an online, PDF version. Communicating reports through social media has also become very popular.
Promote the report to your stakeholders such as board members, senior managers, key clients or customers and investors. These are all of the people who have a major interest in the company's success and long-term growth. Reports should be an effective instrument for stakeholder engagement. They can be distributed in electronic form or featured on a business's website so that a wider range of stakeholders can easily access it.
To plan a promotion campaign for your sustainability report, involve your communication team. Identify how you can communicate the report to key audiences. What will be the key messages to focus their attention (e.g. offering product incentives, discussing hot topics, educating on complicated topics)?
Choose the media format. Emailing or sharing a report with key stakeholders from a personal address is often well received, but also consider variety of options to promote the report to broader audiences:
- press release
- social media post (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)
- email campaigns to key stakeholder groups
- post the report on your website and other high-traffic sites
- partner with industry associations to promote to members/peers
Communicate in a concise and clear manner:
- Ensure that your reporting avoids “hard” technical definitions that keep readers from understanding and engaging with the report.
- Promote high-priority topics within the report to ensure key audiences are drawn to the content that matters most to them – use infographics to this end
- Use visual aids, such as graphics, tables, or pictures to help communicate messages.
Manage your contacts and approach: Build a database of key peers, clients, suppliers, investors and other high-priority stakeholders to whom you want to send the report; track their response to promotional/ media methods. Be ready to provide feedback to the audience recommendations regarding your report.
Submit your report for awards and contests. Reporting contests exist worldwide. These not only promote your report, but also provide the possibility for you to receive expert feedback.
You may wish to prepare a promotional video for social media. Video content has much better coverage and open rates. Here are some examples:
- DANONE Integrated Report 2015
- CrestNicholson Annual Integrated Report Video 2016
- Bosch Annual Report 2015: Simply.Connected
- ACCIONA Annual Report 2016 Summary
- AGCO Annual Report 2016
- ACCA Integrated Report 2016
Examples of interactive data visualizationBP Energy charting tool
BP’s energy charting tool is an example of user-friendly data visualization. Users can explore the world of energy through interactive data, charts, and downloadable reports from the Statistical Review of World Energy.
The interactive graphics enable the comparison of environmental, social, and financial data of the Bosch Group. This is presented over several years alongside key figures by region and country.
- Develop an online version of the report and make interactive content for the report’s promotion.
- Use blogs and social media to promote your sustainability report.
- Use videos and short documentaries to communicate your key messages in a quick and engaging way.
- Use interactive and innovative design techniques to keep readers engaged with the complex content of the report.
Companies who have the most impact have extended the life of their sustainability story. They keep people coming back for more through the use of social media updates, blog posts, and web campaigns that engage and update stakeholders on year-round initiatives.