(2023) A Guide To Drafting Your First Sustainability Report
Educational resources surrounding sustainability reporting tend to focus on the processes of planning and researching a report. There are good reasons for this—planning and researching are two of the most complex and important steps in the sustainability reporting journey.
However, there is a third step that often gets overlooked—actually writing the report.
Writing your first sustainability report can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. This Sandpaper guide provides an overview of the key considerations and best practices you should keep in mind when drafting and writing your first sustainability report.
Drafting Your First Sustainability Report (7 Steps)
1. Formalize Your Report Team
Your sustainability report will be a collective effort, so it’s essential to assemble a team of people who have the skills and knowledge necessary to make it a success from the outset.
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to roles and responsibilities in sustainability reporting. That said, there are a few roles that you’ll probably want to fill as quickly as possible:
Project Manager: Responsible for setting the overall direction of the report, establishing deadlines, and making sure that all parts of the process are completed in a timely manner.
- Content Writer(s): The person(s) responsible for writing the content of the report and helping to create a narrative around your sustainability efforts.
- Researcher(s): A role that focuses on gathering necessary information and data from both internal and external sources.
- Graphic Designer(s): Responsible for creating visuals to support the narrative of your report
Lastly, consider consulting with external experts to provide additional insights and advice on drafting your report.
2. Create an Outline for the Report
Your outline is the roadmap that you’ll use to structure and write your report. If your outline is confusing (or worse, non-existent) you’re likely to have trouble while drafting the report.
To create your outline, brainstorm structures that will help you summarize and present the information in a meaningful way. Once you have a promising structure in mind, translate it into a hierarchy of:
- Chapters (e.g., “Example Company and the Environment”)
- Sections (e.g., “Conservation Efforts”)
- Subsections (e.g., “Water Conservation Initiatives”)
For each entry in the outline, create a brief summary of the content (text and media) that will be included. This will help you stay focused while drafting your report.
Sections To Include in a Sustainability Report
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to the sections and subsections that you should include in your sustainability report. However, some of the most common sections are:
- Introduction: An overview of the company’s history, values, mission, operations, stakeholders, etc.
- Environmental Impact: A discussion of the environmental impact of your company’s operations and/or products.
- Social Impact: A discussion of the social and human impacts of your company’s operations and/or products.
- Governance & Management: A discussion of how your company is governed and managed, including policies, procedures, etc.
- Goals & Objectives: An overview of the goals and objectives that the company has set for itself.
- Sustainability Performance: A detailed analysis of the sustainability performance of your company, including metrics, results, etc.
- Conclusion and Recommendations: A summary of what you’ve learned from writing the report and recommendations for improvement.
3. Organize Internal Data & Information
By the time you’re drafting your sustainability report, the vast majority of the internal data and information you’ll use in your report should already be collected. This data and information will form the backbone of your report, so it’s important to make sure it is organized and easily accessible.
Begin by organizing the data into logical categories (e.g., environmental performance, human rights practices, etc.). Then, group related items together and assign labels to each group that clearly indicate its content.
Use a data storage system (like a database or spreadsheet) to store the data in an organized and searchable format. The tool you use will depend on the size of your organization—but we can recommend a few great options:
- Microsoft Excel: Best for beginners
- Notion: Best for no-code simplicity
- Airtable: Best for small teams
- Normative: Best for carbon accounting
All of these database tools are taggable and searchable, which will dramatically decrease the workload of your research team.
4. Gather External Sources & Evidence
Your sustainability data is important, but it’s not enough to tell a comprehensive story. You must also supplement it with external sources, such as:
- Peer-reviewed research
- Industry benchmarks
- Case studies
To find these sources, first search through your company’s existing resources (websites, databases, etc.) for any information that may be relevant to your report. If you don’t find anything, then broaden your search by utilizing research databases like Google Scholar, PubMed, and JSTOR as well as online archives like the Internet Archive.
Once you find a promising source, review it to make sure it’s appropriate for your report. If it is, add it to your collection of evidence and decide where it should go in your outline.
5. Draft Your Report
Now that you have a plan, data, and sources—it’s finally time to start writing!
You can begin by drafting the introduction and conclusion for your report. The introduction will lay the groundwork for the report, while the conclusion should summarize your main points and provide a high-level overview of any actionable insights.
Once you have these two sections drafted, you can fill in the middle with content from your outline. As you move through each section, make sure to include compelling visuals (like graphs or photos) that will help bring the story to life.
Finally, remember to keep your language clear and concise. Avoid jargon and focus on conveying the most important information in a straightforward way.
Best Practices for Drafting Your Sustainability Report
- Make sure your data is accurate. Double-check that all the information you include in your report is accurate and up-to-date.
- Keep it consistent. Ensure that the tone, language, visual style, and format of your report are consistent throughout—this will help make each part easier to understand.
- Clearly define each term used. Include definitions for any terms that may be unfamiliar to readers, or use visuals to illustrate complex concepts.
- Include actionable insights. As you draw conclusions from your data and sources, try to provide actionable insights that will help guide future decisions in sustainability initiatives.
- Use visuals when possible. Including graphs and charts will help readers quickly comprehend the data you’re presenting—so use them whenever it makes sense!
For more best practices, be sure to have a look at our article on the subject.
Start Your Sustainability Journey With Sandpaper
A Sandpaper, we specialize in helping businesses across the MENA region produce high-quality sustainability reports.
Our team of experienced report writers and graphic designers can help you develop a report that reflects your organization’s unique identity, while also providing valuable insights into the impact of your sustainability initiatives.
So what are you waiting for? Get in touch with us today to start building your own sustainability report!
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Based in Dubai for over 10 years, Peter is the founder of Sandpaperme.com and TheSchoolAgency.com.
A trusted authority on digital marketing Peter is passionate about helping SME’s grow their business in the Gulf region.
When he’s not in the office Peter enjoys playing squash, often more times than his knees can cope.
At Sandpaper We have been around long enough to realize the importance of good report writing, research, and design. A thoroughly planned and executed report builds loyalty and trust among stakeholders.
In the 10 years of service, Sandpaper has managed to adapt to changes in both the global and local corporate landscape in the United Arab Emirates.
Annual Reports : Sustainability/Environmental, Financial/AGM, Impact and special focus.
View the latest work Sandpaper has designed and published.