Corporate Sustainability Reports – A Massive Undertaking with a Ton of Payoff

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I’m going to give it to you straight – developing a Corporate Sustainability Report for your company is a ton of work. A communications tool that’s growing in popularity and complexity, corporate sustainability reports are more than just a public relations tool – they’re becoming mandatory in some countries, while also being demanded by stakeholders who ask for transparency from companies they choose to support.

Although a massive undertaking, these reports will be unequivocally beneficial to your organization in many ways. With that ton of work comes a ton of payoff (and data supports my belief; but more on that later). Before reading further about how you can create a corporate sustainability report, take a minute to be inspired by a few reports that represent a variety of industries and employ some of the best practices that will be discussed in this two-part MaccaPR blog post series.

What is a Corporate Sustainability Report?

According to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a global standard-setting organization and authority on the subject, a corporate sustainability report is a tool that can help your company measure, understand and communicate its economic, environmental, social and governance performance (positive or negative) to its stakeholders. GRI points out that a corporate sustainability report is also a vehicle that presents your organization’s values and governance model, and demonstrates the link between its business strategy and its commitment to a sustainable global economy.sustainability_venn2.jpg

Yes, corporate sustainability reports are a valuable communications tool. But they’re so much more. Corporate sustainability reports should detail specific social and environmental impacts and build and improve upon those measures year after year. In order to do so, your organization must have a commitment to a sustainability philosophy and strategy that extends throughout your company. An organization isn’t a sustainable one just because it claims to be. People, procedures and processes must all work together to create outcomes that make a responsible difference in society and the environment. A corporate sustainability report reflects a sustainability philosophy and corporate strategy that centers on a belief that improving social and environmental impacts can make a measurable difference at improving operating efficiency, stakeholder support and natural resource stewardship.

Corporate Sustainability Reports Rise in Popularity

In 2013, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and Ernst & Young LLP (EY) conducted a survey on corporate sustainability reports. Its comprehensive report points to an engaged society of citizens who quite simply will not accept things as they are – they ask why. It says that consumers have a variety of concerns, including pollution, climate change, human rights issues and economic crises, which has prompted the development of ongoing public discourse about the role of business in society and the need for greater transparency, sustainability and responsibility in business. Organizations across the globe have taken heed. According to the GRI, fully 95 percent of the Global 250 corporations issue corporate sustainability reports.

(The accounting firm Ernst & Young not only studies corporate sustainability report trends, but publishes its own sustainability report.)

While a rise in popularity might not be enough to inspire you to embrace corporate sustainability reports, the value it can bring to your organization should be convincing. Read on.

The Value of Corporate Sustainability Reports Goes Beyond Just Reporting

Want to improve your organization’s reputation? Increase employee and consumer loyalty? Reduce waste? The Boston College and EY Report show that corporate sustainability reports can have those impacts. The Boston College and EY Report points to a number of bottom-line benefits that organizations receive when publishing a corporate sustainability report, including the fact that 50 percent of respondents say that those reports helped improve firm reputation (see Figure 1 below). (Its comprehensive findings can be found here).

Figure 1
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Another survey by EY and Green Biz found that more than 30 percent of respondents saw increased employee loyalty as a result of issuing a report. Further, a global survey concluded that 88 percent indicated that corporate sustainability reporting helps make their organizations’ decision-making processes more efficient. EY.com writes, “Sustainability reporting requires companies to gather information about processes and impacts that they may not have measured before. This new data, in addition to creating greater transparency about performance, can provide companies with the knowledge necessary to reduce their use of natural resources, increase efficiencies and improve their operational performance.”

In responding to my question about ‘why global CPG company General Mills produces a sustainability report,’ Catherine Gunsbury, Director of Sustainability & Transparency at General Mills told me, “For 150 years, General Mills has been serving the world by making food people love. And for 46 years, we’ve been reporting back to our communities and stakeholders on performance in key areas such as Health & Wellness, Sustainability, Workplace and Community. Reporting is one of the ways we communicate our strategies and progress in our efforts to treat the world, its people and its resources with care. It gives us a vehicle to share more openly our work on topics important to our business and to stakeholders, be they consumers, investors, employees or NGOs.”

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“For example, in 2015, General Mills made significant commitments in the areas of climate, water, human rights and animal welfare,” adds Gunsbury, "which you can read about here.” 

Convinced enough of the rewards of corporate sustainability reporting to begin developing your own? In two weeks, I will share a second MaccaPR post on corporate sustainability reports that will include four insider tips on how to create an effective corporate sustainability report for your company. I’ll be in touch.

Get part two delivered to your inbox, subscribe to MaccaPR today!

About the Author

Jean Hill

Jean Hill is senior vice president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics:  Corporate Communications

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