Sustainability Reporting 101 - Part 3: Five Key Elements of a Good Sustainability Report

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Sustainability Reporting 101 - Part 3: Five Key Elements of a Good Sustainability Report

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Not all corporate #sustainability reports (CSRs) are created equal. See why http://bit.ly/QuMMmo via @EmotiveBrand #CSR #Reporting
Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 3:30pm

CAMPAIGN: Sustainability Reporting 101

CONTENT: Blog

Not all corporate sustainability reports (CSRs) are created equal. Some reports areglossy marketing brochures that lack substantive data. Others are so data focused that reading them requires a strong cup of coffee to resist boredom-induced sleep. The best reports provide a balance of accessible, engaging text and comprehensive, material data presented in a well-designed format. It is both art and science.

But what are the elements that go into making a good report? Which reports should you look to for inspiration? A good place to start is the list of finalists for the Ceres-ACCA North American Sustainability Reporting Awards. For years, these awards have been the highest accolade for U.S. sustainability reports. According to their press release, “The awards are not intended to endorse or reward corporate sustainable performance, but rather to acknowledge exemplary disclosure that places performance in the broader context of sustainability challenges, risks, and opportunities.” The last awards came out in 2011 (recognizing 2010 reports).

Referencing the most recent reports from companies on that list as examples, here are five elements we believe are vital to producing a quality report:

Transparency

Aside from collecting and compiling the data, which is no small challenge, transparency requires putting new company information into the public domain. There is organizational inertia and a fear that additional data could reflect poorly on the organization, or even on individuals. The other fear is that the information could in some way benefit the competition. As a result, many reporters take a shortcut by including superficial data rather than truly transparent information. True transparency requires context and parameters. For example, if a company reports a 20% reduction in water usage, readers shouldn’t have to ask; “20% of what baseline? Over what time period?”

The UPS Corporate Sustainability Report demonstrates a solid commitment to transparency. The data is detailed and well defined in the body of the report, but extensive backup is also included in the appendices. All this is evidence of a meticulous dedication to full disclosure of the data scope and boundary. In addition, UPS’s report is examined in detail and assured by an external assessor. [Note: To be completely transparent here, Emotive Brand worked on the UPS report and I managed this report within UPS.]

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Rebecca Treacy-Lenda, a Strategist at Emotive Brand, is an award winning communications professional with more than a decade of experience in corporate communications and public relations. Rebecca specializes in sustainability strategy and communications having managed the industry-leading UPS sustainability report for several years.

Rebecca is part of the team at Emotive Brand, an award-winning brand and design consultancy that transforms businesses by making brands matter more to people.

For more posts from this series, click here.

Keywords: Research, Reports & Publications | Baxter | Corporate Social Responsibility | Emotive Brand | Events, Media & Communications | GE | Reporting | Responsible Business & Employee Engagement | UPS | csr | csr reporting

CAMPAIGN: Sustainability Reporting 101

CONTENT: Blog