How to conduct research of a Sustainability Report?

Research process

A sustainability report is a compilation of research about an organization’s environmental, economic and social impacts. The goal of this type of report is to measure the success or failure of an organization’s eco-friendly initiatives.
A company should conduct sustainability reports on a yearly basis to assess changes over time. Before conducting any research, companies need to define what their goals are so they can better evaluate whether or not they have been achieved.

What is sustainability reporting?

Research for sustainability reporting is a crucial aspect of producing sustainability reports. When research is conducted poorly, a host of issues can arise. The report might lack clarity, be misleading, and put forth unrealistic targets.
All of these issues can be avoided by taking the time to develop a research strategy that is conducive to success. In this article, we’ll be walking you through the necessary steps for making this a reality in your reporting efforts.

As with most types of business reporting, the process of developing a sustainability report will vary depending on a variety of factors including business size, industry, location, etcetera. However, some have generalized the process through a repeating cycle consisting of five steps:

A sustainability report is a compilation of research about an organization’s environmental, economic and social impacts. The goal of this type of report is to measure the success or failure of an organization’s eco-friendly initiatives.

Sustainability research

A company should conduct sustainability reports on a yearly basis to assess changes over time. Before conducting any research, companies need to define what their goals are so they can better evaluate whether or not they have been achieved.

What is sustainability reporting?

Research for sustainability reporting is a crucial aspect of producing sustainability reports. When research is conducted poorly, a host of issues can arise. The report might lack clarity, be misleading, and put forth unrealistic targets.

Sustainability Research

All of these issues can be avoided by taking the time to develop a research strategy that is conducive to success. In this article, we’ll be walking you through the necessary steps for making this a reality in your reporting efforts.

As with most types of business reporting, the process of developing a sustainability report will vary depending on a variety of factors including business size, industry, location, etcetera.
However, some have generalized the process through a repeating cycle consisting of five steps:

Collecting Data for your sustainability report
Collecting Data for your sustainability report

Planning

Research

Production

Publishing

MeasuringIn this article, we’ll be focusing on step two: researching for your sustainability report. If you’re curious about other aspects of the sustainability reporting cycle, Sandpaper has a variety of guides and articles to look through for guidance.

The Research Process

Below, you’ll find five steps that should form the foundation of any sustainability reporting effort. Though your practical steps may differ by necessity, these represent a common framework for many businesses and organizations.

2) Identify Target Audiences

The first aspect of research needed to produce a quality sustainability report is identifying benchmarks.

Collecting Data for your sustainability report

This involves looking at sustainability reports produced by other organizations in your industry and noting what it does and doesn’t include. Here, it’s important to identify reports that were produced by industry leaders.

The benchmarking process allows you to gain insights into:

Standard disclosures and KPIs

Performance issues and metrics

Good ideas and bad ideas

That last point is crucial. The aim here isn’t to copy, but to improve upon a solid foundation.

“When things aren’t sustainable, they eventually have to stop”.
@Anders Ankarlid

2) Identify Target Audiences

Before research for a sustainability report can begin, you’ll need to think about who will be reading the report when it’s published. Ideally you will have begun to think about this in the planning stage of the reporting process. Some common audiences include:

Investors and insurers

Employees

Consumers and users

Senior management

Government agencies

Each audience will be reading the report for different reasons, and the research you conduct and include needs reflect this. For example, investors are typically interested in raw data while consumers appreciate narrative.

3) Choose a Research Framework

Sustainability Framework

4) Locate Sources of Information

Choose a Research Framework

The next step is choosing a research framework for your report, considering how each will address – or fail to address – the needs of different segments of your target audience.

Using multiple frameworks can lead to more robust reporting, but in practice, there is usually quite a bit of work that needs to be done to harmonize their different definitions, standards, and methods.

Sustainability Research

With a framework (or multiple frameworks) selected, you’ll need to identify any gaps that it leaves open. Here, you’ll need to refer back to step one. If reporting on X is standard in your industry and the GRI framework doesn’t specifically address X, you’ll need to find a way to work it in. This is part of the evolution of sustainability reporting.

Sustainability research

Best reporting tools for your business
Best reporting tools for your business

Locate Sources of Information

With a framework established, it’s time to think about where you’ll be getting the information for the report. The options here are essentially limitless, but there are a few sources that appear frequently.

Internal Data

Unsurprisingly, internal data will almost always play a significant role in sustainability reporting. Inevitably, there will be issues related to the scarcity of data.

Collecting Data for your sustainability report

But if you are a small business or do not have an existing sustainability program in place, it can be difficult to obtain much data at all. So this makes it more important than ever that companies begin to track metrics early on under a robust framework for future reports.

Industry-Specific Datasets

After internal data has been assessed, industry-specific datasets can be examined to see how the company measures up in terms of its competitors and peers.

Sustainability Research

Social media sources such as Twitter or Facebook are common sources for this type of information as many companies advertise their sustainability reports through social channels.

Generic Datasets

These datasets may not be specific to one particular industry but still provide insight into companies’ performance on a broader scale. Datasets from governments, NGOs, IGOs, and multinational companies are typically the most common type in this category.

Sustainability Research

For example, companies might want to learn how their carbon emission rates compare with those of other businesses around the world. So  information can often be found easily through simple internet searches.

Qualitative Data

Qualitative data sources (stakeholder experiences, case studies, etc.) are frequently overlooked by companies with limited reporting experience.

This is almost always a mistake. Many stakeholders look to qualitative data when reading reports and are disappointed when it’s absent.

Sources

Your sources of qualitative data will vary but think about ways to introduce narrative to the report by including relevant anecdotes and personal experiences. Show the human impacts of your effects.

5) Collecting Data

Collecting Data

The final step in the research stage of sustainability reporting is collecting the necessary data from the sources you’ve identified. There are two related principles to guide you here are: accuracy and organization.
Accuracy can only be achieved when the people supplying data are aware of the report’s standards and requirements.

Collecting Data for your sustainability report

This awareness is only possible when data collection is well-structured and organized.

Several tools can help you at this stage including reporting tools like ClicDataTableau, and Think-step.

Conducting high-quality research

Conducting high-quality research for a sustainability report is a prerequisite for the production of a high-quality report. Companies must take their time at this stage to ensure accuracy, transparency, and stakeholder satisfaction.

Thanks for checking out my blog post! Please leave a comment below. 
If you would like to get alerts and updates when new eBooks and Blogs are published please subscribe and by clicking on the link below and entering your name and e-mail address.

[/vc_column_text]

Based in Dubai for over 10 years, Peter Caush is the founder of Sandpaperme.com
A trusted authority on digital marketing Peter is passionate about helping SME’s grow their business in the Gulf region. But when he’s not in the office Peter enjoys playing squash, often more times than his knees can cope.

About Sandpaper

Sandpaper

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 a stay ahead of its competition; by developing and adapting to changes in both the global and local corporate landscape in the United Arab Emirates.

[/vc_column][/vc_row]

Annual Reports : Sustainability/Environmental, Financial/AGM, Impact and Special Focus Reports.

Sustainability Reports, Annual Reports 90%
Report planning, research, collating, drafting, copywriting, proofing 50%
Concept creation, layout design, infographics, photography 70%

View the latest work Sandpaper has designed and published.