5 tips for improving your CSR/sustainability reporting process

Whether your company is a veteran of issuing corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability reports or is developing its first one, here are five tips to boost your effectiveness.

1) Secure leadership buy-in

The most successful reporting companies tend to have strong commitment and support at the executive level. For them, CSR is much more than a “nice-to-have” initiative. So how do you engage the executive team and make the case for buy-in?

  • Benchmark against your peers’ CSR communications activity and share what you’ve found.
  • Track and report internally all the requests for CSR information the company receives from customers, investors and other key stakeholders.
  • Start with one executive whom you can get on board and engage her or him as much as you can.

2) Align your CSR communications with business strategy, and vice versa

Integrated reporting is a leading-edge means of aligning your business strategy with sustainability objectives. That’s a big commitment! Not ready for that? You could evaluate your current CSR activities and identify which ones best support the company’s value proposition and business objectives. As one early adopter of integrated reporting said recently in a small group discussion, “There’s nothing wrong with CSR activities also being good business.”

3) Streamline wherever possible

One of the biggest struggles many companies have with their CSR reports is the length. The reports seem to keep growing every year to satisfy as many internal and external stakeholders as possible. But is anyone reading them? Assessing which topics are the most important (i.e., material) to your business can help bring some focus to your report. Also remember to leverage other forms of communications that are targeted to certain stakeholders to expand on what’s in your report (e.g., use your employee newsletter or intranet news platform to highlight volunteer initiatives that don’t fit into your report).

4) Evaluate your disclosures across channels

During a recent integrated reporting discussion, one participant pointed out that companies often report different risks in their 10-K than they do in voluntary CSR surveys, such as those managed by the Carbon Disclosure Project. Aligning your company’s disclosures and communications can help clarify how the company views sustainability and provide a unified voice across filings.

5) Engage with your investors on CSR topics – in their language

It’s still a widely held notion that investors don’t care about sustainability and CSR. The truth is probably more complicated, given that ESG investors are becoming more and more vocal, while traditional investors are becoming more interested in ESG all the time. As The Wall Street Journal recently noted (subscription required to read full article):

“Fund tracker Morningstar Inc. reports that 24 funds meeting its social responsibility criteria were started in 2015. At the same time, these investors are stepping up their campaigns for various types of corporate change….Money manager BlackRock Inc. has launched its own version of ESG investing. Ryan LaFond, a former accounting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is head of research for a strategy that steers more than $500 million toward drug companies that are seeking Alzheimer cures, not baldness treatments, for example, or manufacturers that produce more goods with fewer carbon emissions or water consumption. ‘We want to invest in things that lead to outcomes that benefit society,’ he said.”

The key is to message sustainability appropriately for the investor audience – including tying in the concepts of “intangible value,” “risk assessment,” “waste reduction,” etc. Then, select the examples you use wisely to support these concepts and grasp investors’ attention.

Need to kick-start or revamp your CSR reporting process? Drop me an email.

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