by D&E Staff

June 4, 2014

By now, you’ve probably heard – or even had conversations – about the importance of sustainability initiatives and reporting. The list of business areas a strategic program and report might impact is hard to ignore: reputation, brand value, employee engagement, recruitment, customer relationships, possibly investor perception, and more.

And, of course, it might sometimes feel like every other company but yours is issuing a report. While not quite true, a majority of major companies are. According to a June 2014 study by the Governance & Accountability Institute72 percent of S&P 500 companies published CSR/sustainability reports in 2013, up from 53 percent in 2012 and 20 percent in 2011. In its analysis, G&AI called sustainability reporting “the clear norm in the U.S. capital markets represented by the S&P 500” and notes reporting companies are demonstrating “greater intensity of focus of what really matters” to them.

In truth, many companies that aren’t currently reporting are engaging in CSR/sustainability-related activities – corporate giving, volunteerism, recycling, maybe even measuring greenhouse gas emissions. A key challenge is getting a full understanding of the scope of those activities (because they probably don’t have an internal “owner”), let alone effectively communicating about them, both internally and externally.

If your company finds itself in this situation, here are three action items to help you get started on CSR/sustainability communications, including reporting:

Develop a structure

As with any major initiative, your company needs someone or some group to help drive the initiative, as well as an executive sponsor. We often see communications or EHS take the lead, though what makes sense for your company depends on its structure and culture. No one person or group can do it alone, though, so establishing a cross-functional advisory team will be critical to success.

Identify the issues material to your business

A “materiality assessment” is not as daunting as it sounds, though it does require resources such as time and energy. Start with peer benchmarking – especially if most other companies in your industry already report. You will also want to understand the activities currently happening internally – they are fodder for your communications – and then conduct several key internal interviews to fill in any gaps.

Map out a clear plan for the report

Development of a CSR/sustainability report is a significant project, but having an understanding of the timeline and process at the outset can help make things go more smoothly. Additionally, you will want to have a handle on the type of content and visuals you can expect – if this is your first report, you should expect more stories than data, for example. And think through in advance how you want to distribute the report once it’s completed in order to maximize its effectiveness as a communications tool.