Opinion: The Future of Sustainability Reporting

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Opinion: The Future of Sustainability Reporting

Lucinda Hensman, Head of Sustainability Communications at CCE, discusses the future of the "one-size-fits-all, 40 page report”
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Friday, February 1, 2013 - 9:30am


By Lucinda Hensman, Head of Sustainability Communications at Coca-Cola Enterprises

At Coca-Cola Enterprises our ambitious sustainability plan requires us to collaborate up and down our value chain in new ways as we seek to influence behaviour outside our organization and create wider change. Traditionally, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CRS) reporting has been an important tool through which we have engaged stakeholders. We are proud of our credentials – our reports have been recognised with industry awards for creativity, carbon reporting, disclosure, performance and more.

As a company that aims to be a leader in sustainability, we must now challenge ourselves to find the next evolution in sustainability reporting. Today’s ‘best practice’ – Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)-based, material issue focused, third party assured - works very well for dedicated sustainability professionals and we have built strong credibility with this group. But given the huge challenges facing us a society, maybe the time has come to make sustainability reporting relevant to a wider world? Can we improve the way we communicate the right messages to the right people through to achieve the stretching sustainability goals we have set ourselves? How can we make our reports and our CRS stories more engaging for a wider range of different audiences?      

However, our company’s need to engage more people in our sustainability work is seemingly at odds with the direction in which sustainability reporting guidelines are moving. Indeed, increasingly prescriptive  requirements of expert audiences (the GRI G4 guidelines which will bring additional requirements for value chain and management approach disclosure, among other things, are a case in point here), may in fact make the audience for our reporting more limited. In short, there is a danger that we are creating an industry in which sustainability professionals write for sustainability professionals – one which preaches to the converted.

In the long run, this must change. We need to re-focus on who we actually want to reach, and how best to engage them and innovate in how we communicate with them. For us at Coca-Cola Enterprises, it is increasingly clear we need to tell our sustainability story to those drinking our products, those in our communities and to policymakers in order to build a more sustainable tomorrow. We need to let people understand what we do and how we do it - that Coca-Cola and all our other products are made locally and sustainably. And we must encourage our consumers to be educated about the way they consume our products and dispose of the packaging.

Our challenge is to balance the demands of these audiences – to meet the substantial requirements for sustainability disclosure from the more technical, sustainability expert audiences, the SRI and investment community among others, but also tell our sustainability stories in a way that can engage the man on the street who has never heard of GRI.  

Our CRS reporting team is working on this evolution as I write.  We are considering how to reach fresh audiences using new methods of communications such as apps, tablets and on-pack messages to drive real sustainable behaviour change. Our aim is to produce more accessible, online reporting which can provide different levels of detail to different audiences depending on their interest level – a tool that is as interesting to a consumer as a sustainability expert.

This is a challenge – and one which we will be better equipped to meet with your collaboration. So we’d love your thoughts on this. Are we heading in the right direction? How can we meet the different stakeholder demands required and still communicate key messages in an engaging way? What else should be considering? Please email me at lhensman@cokecce.com with any ideas and thoughts you may have – and help all of us at CCE move reporting to the next level. 

Keywords: Volunteerism & Community Engagement | Coca-Cola Enterprises | Reporting | communications | csr | global reporting initiative | stakeholders | sustainability