(2023) Practices To Guide Your Sustainability Reporting Efforts
It isn’t especially difficult to craft a passable sustainability report that checks all the boxes—the barrier to entry is quite low.
Creating passable sustainability reports shouldn’t be the goal, though.
Best practices should be the cornerstone of any sustainability reporting effort. Such best practices will ensure that your report stands out and provides an accurate, comprehensive picture of your organization’s progress towards its sustainability objectives that delivers real value to stakeholders and the organization as a whole.
In this Sandpaper guide, we’ll discuss a few of the best practices that companies around the world are using to produce effective and inspiring sustainability reports.
- Prepare an Additional, Simplified Report for Consumers
- Focus on Strategic Imperatives
- Include Third-Party Verification
- Invest in Graphic Design
- Create an Organizational Sustainability Structure
- End With Actionable Takeaways
1. Prepare an Additional, Simplified Report for Consumers
Sustainability reports should always be tailored to the needs, wants, and capabilities of the primary audience.
But what do you do when an important secondary audience has vastly different needs, wants, and capabilities? This is a problem that many organizations run into—especially when they’re preparing a report for highly technical business partners or investors and the general public.
The solution is to create two separate sustainability report documents:
- one for the technical audience
- one for consumers
The consumer version should focus on simple visuals and language that can be easily understood by anyone, regardless of their level of expertise in the subject matter.
The oat milk company Oatly does a great job in this regard. They typically publish two versions of their annual sustainability report—one targeting investors and another targeting customers. The information is the same, but the presentation reflects the very real differences between the two audiences.
2. Focus on Strategic Imperatives
Rather than regurgitating old data and concepts, focus your report on the strategic imperatives that will drive success in the future. This isn’t just good practice for sustainability reports—it’s something your stakeholders will appreciate as well.
Your sustainability report should look to the future and address what needs to be done to ensure progress towards your sustainability goals. Talk about how your organization plans to respond to emerging trends and opportunities, and provide readers with a clear view of the actions you’re taking to move the needle on sustainability.
George Fischer’s Sustainability Report 2021 has an entire chapter dedicated to the company’s goals for 2025. The company clearly states their objectives, rates their progress towards achieving them, and provides a detailed explanation of how they plan to continue pushing forward in the future.
3. Include Third-Party Verification
Having third-party verification strengthens your sustainability reporting efforts considerably. It adds an extra layer of credibility and assurance that you’re taking the right steps to reach your goals, and it helps to give stakeholders confidence in the accuracy of your report.
Most organizations opt for Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) certification, but there are other third-party verification services you can use as well, including:
- The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)
- The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)
- B Lab’s Certified B Corporation
While achieving these certifications isn’t exactly easy, it’s becoming increasingly accessible thanks to the emergence of specialized software and consultancies that provide end-to-end sustainability reporting services.
Regardless of which third-party verification service you choose, make sure to prominently feature it in your sustainability report so that readers are aware of the added level of assurance and credibility.
4. Invest in Graphic Design
Accuracy, comprehensiveness, and clarity are all important components of an effective sustainability report. But even if you have all those elements in place, your report won’t be effective unless it looks good, too.
The key to graphic design success is creating visuals that are both informative and engaging. Think beyond pie charts and bar graphs, and look for opportunities to use graphics and illustrations to illustrate your points in a way that will capture readers’ attention and make them want to read more.
The Sustainability Report FY21 from furniture and design company IKEA is a great example of effective graphic design for sustainability reporting. The report balances creative visualizations (i.e., infographics, charts, tables, photos, and illustrations) with ample whitespace. The result is a report that effectively communicates key messages.
5. Create an Organizational Sustainability Structure
Organizational change is difficult. To ensure that your sustainability efforts remain on track, it’s important to create an organizational structure that can help facilitate and manage the changes.
This could include:
- appointing a sustainability leader to oversee the overall process
- forming a cross-departmental sustainability committee
- creating an internal sustainability training program
- setting up regular meetings to review progress and performance
The benefits of having an organizational structure in place for sustainability are twofold. On the one hand, it helps create clarity around roles and responsibilities. On the other, it allows team members to collaborate more effectively on sustainability initiatives. With an effective organizational structure in place, you can ensure that everyone is playing their part in achieving your sustainability goals.
6. End With Actionable Takeaways
Last but not least, make sure to include actionable takeaways in your sustainability report. As well as providing information about the progress you’ve made, your report should include specific actions that readers can take to help you continue to move forward.
This could range from encouraging them to participate in your sustainability initiatives, to providing resources that they can use to learn more about sustainable practices.
For example, the Unilever Sustainable Living Report includes a section about their “Sustainable Choices” program, which encourages readers to make more sustainable decisions in their everyday lives.
By including actionable takeaways in your report, you can ensure that readers will be able to effectively apply the information they’ve read and use it to help support your sustainability efforts.
Start Your Sustainability Journey With Sandpaper
A Sandpaper, we specialize in helping businesses across the MENA region produce high-quality sustainability reports and annual (financial) 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.
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