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Sustainability Storytelling: More than just an annual opportunity

Issuing a regular (usually annual, sometimes biennial) CSR/sustainability report is now standard practice for many companies. Others will most likely be doing so in the next three to five years.  Of course, such reports can be quite a bit of work to pull together, with input and content coming from many sources within the company. On the other hand, it’s a great opportunity to be able to share a rich picture of all the sustainability/CSR activity that took place during the year.

I find it a shame, however, when companies confine all of their great content – examples, stories, data points, photos, etc. – only within the sustainability report. Once the report is published, these companies rely on readers to find the report themselves and read the entire thing in order to access each story. And no matter how good the report is, it’s unlikely very many stakeholders will do so! (Sorry, GRI reporting gurus, but that is the reality.)

On the one hand, I get it. CSR/sustainability reports are time- and labor-intensive, and once the report is finally completed, those involved have plenty of other items on their to-do lists to tackle. But what if we approached sustainability reporting as more than an annual check-the-box task and, instead, began to integrate sustainability storytelling across all of our ongoing communications channels?

One of the easiest ways to do that is to leverage your company’s existing social media channels to share specific stories from the report throughout the year. Create an editorial calendar to manage which stories might be relevant at a specific time, track the most popular content, and then keep sharing it! For example, one of our clients celebrates World Environment Week each year and uses that as an opportunity to reshare its environmental case studies.  

Companies can also do this internally, via their intranet, news site or newsletter. Keeping these stories in front of employees can inspire them to continue with such efforts – and, hopefully, share more stories with you for the next report. 

Thinking about “storytelling” instead of “reporting” may also lead to re-examining report formats. Perhaps companies could start publishing annual data reports, but use a corporate blog to share stories all year long. For example, in addition to its annual sustainability report, which is chock-full of data and details about its approach, Agrium regularly publishes fresh content on the "our stories" page of its website, bringing its sustainability story to life.  I’d love to see more companies adopt this style of reporting and storytelling!

A good place to start is simply to stay focused on all the great content that exists in your sustainability report and share it throughout the year.  After all, you did a lot of work to gather and package this information – make sure it pays off!

Do you have other ideas for sustainability storytelling? Drop me an email

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