Sustainability Reporting – 10 tips for getting it right

There’s no doubt that a well written and presented Sustainability Report can be a valuable agent for change. It will encourage transparency and accountability and help to ensure that your organisation stays focused on the things that matter most.

However a well-written and produced report can deliver many benefits that will help you to embed a sustainability culture into your organisation and deliver on your commitments.

So, here are our top ten tips to get your sustainability reporting right;

Provide a context for your reporting

An overview of the organisation’s activities and how it has determined where it should focus its efforts to improve performance will enable you to provide a context for your reporting. Whilst an outline of the governance structure that provides the framework for your sustainability initiatives will also enable your readers to understand the terms of reference under which your sustainability initiatives are developed.

Report with the reader in mind

Your reporting must be clear, concise and easy to read. Above all it should be prepared with the reader firmly in mind. Consider the information your audience wants and needs to know about. Then engage with them through carefully targeted, tailored and powerful reporting using visual ‘call outs’, charts and tables to illustrate your achievements and plans for the future, all the while focussing on the most material impacts affecting your organisation.

Deliver Measurable Content

It will be much easier to encourage accountability amongst your people if you provide your detailed data in a transparent and measurable manner. Use SMART (Specific, Measurable, Aspirational, Realistic and Timed) targets to help people understand how you are performing against your strategy. You can also set and use KPIs to relate and explain performance against targets.

Show how sustainability is embedded into policy making

A greater understanding of your objectives and performance can be sustained if the reader understands how sustainability issues are incorporated within your overall strategic policy making. In your reporting set out how you prioritise sustainable development in relation to your other corporate objectives and clearly describe the policies you have for managing your environmental impacts.

Demonstrate what your most material sustainability impacts are The reader will more readily buy-in to your strategies if they understand that you are addressing the impacts that are most material to your organisation. Showing how you arrived at determining the materiality of these impacts will give your audiences the confidence that your approach is thorough and that key issues have not been overlooked.

Report in a balanced manner

You want your reporting to be trusted by your readers, so make sure they get a consistent and balanced view of your progress. Report your successes and failures - the good and the bad. Also make every effort to explain the risks and opportunities coming out of your sustainability agenda.

Focus content on reader/stakeholder needs

Readers take investment, purchasing and partnership decisions based on what they read. Design your sustainability reporting so that you can identify and give information your stakeholders need to make these decisions. Develop your content so that it is quickly understood and easily retained. You could also include calls to action to readers on specific desired behaviours.

Introduce a Champion

If you have a ‘Champion’ for sustainability issues within your organisation why not introduce them to your audiences from the pages of your Sustainability Report? Let them explain the importance of your sustainability initiatives to the organisation and challenge everyone to contribute to the delivery of your sustainability commitments. They will add gravitas and impact to your messaging and it won’t do their sustainability credentials any harm either.

Engage with your whole team

Collecting the raw information, verifying it and then producing a concise, trusted and behaviour changing report is no easy task. To get best success engage with everybody in your team, from the data collectors and the number crunchers in finance to the writers and designers charged with crafting your finished report. Run a kick-start meeting so that everybody gets the same briefing and knows what’s required and then regularly follow-up to recognise achievement and offer support as necessary.

Make Your Report Accessible

The more accessible your sustainability report is to all audiences the more effective agent for change it will become. You have to issue your Sustainability Report as part of your Annual Report and Accounts, but you could also publish a web version and use key messaging extracts on notice boards, posters and the displays you prepare for out-reach events. You could also post details and get feedback about your progress on social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.