What are the contents of a sustainability report?

Environmental Strategy

What are the contents of a sustainability report?

Basis of sustainability content

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What Are The Contents Of A Sustainability Report?
Writing a sustainability report can be a daunting task and many people wind up seeking guidance online. While there is a ton of information out there about the purpose, importance and planning of sustainability reports, there is very little information online about what you should include in one.

Today, we’re taking matters into our own hands by providing an item-by-item list that details the essential contents of a sustainability report.
Notice the emphasis on essential? That was intentional! Every organization is different and this means that no two reports are alike. You may feel the need to include sections not listed here, but we highly recommend including these as a bare minimum.

Contents of a Sustainability Report It’s time to take a deep dive into the contents that should be included in a sustainability report with nine sections we believe are essential in a successful report:

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Contents of a Sustainability Report
It’s time to take a deep dive into the contents that should be included in a sustainability report with nine sections we believe are essential in a successful report:

A statement from your CEO.

Every organization has a person – or group of people – at the helm. They might be the CEO, director, president, or founder. Whomever they are and whatever their title, it’s important you show your readers that they’re on board with the strategies, goals and aspirations laid out in the sustainability report.
The statement doesn’t need to be long, but it does need to be personal, genuine, and purpose-driven.

A summary of the main issues your company needs to address.

For the sake of clarity and engagement, including summaries in your sustainability report is crucial. The first summary you need to think about is one the outlines the main ways your organization intersects with sustainability issues you’re going to cover in the report.

In a report produced by a furniture manufacturer, this summary might include a section describing the ways you source materials and your strategy for moving to more environmentally friendly options. In a report produced by a shipping and logistics company, this summary would probably need to cover the emissions of your vehicle fleet.
No two summaries will be the same since no two organizations are the same.

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We can’t just consume our way into a more sustainable world.” @ecowarriorprincess

A clear expression of your company’s vision for sustainability.
The quality of an organization’s sustainability report is almost always limited by the clarity of its vision. If your vision isn’t clear to you it definitely won’t be clear to the stakeholder’s who read your report.

Clarifying your vision will require some serious thinking. You’ll need to decide what sustainability looks like in the context of your organization. Does it mean going carbon neutral? Becoming more diverse? Producing biodegradable products?
The picture of sustainability you arrive at is your vision for the future. It represents overarching ambitions that inform the smaller goals and targets within the report. More>

A clear sustainability strategy.

Every sustainability report needs a section that outlines the organization’s strategy for achieving its sustainability goals. Without one, your report will read as aspirational rather than action-oriented, and this doesn’t inspire confidence or drive improvement.
Specificity is the name of the game. Here’s an example of what not to write: ‘we will look for ways to cut transportation emissions’. This reads as both vague and noncommittal. Instead, you could write: ‘we will decrease our transportation emissions by investing in more fuel-efficient vehicles’.

Clear targets in each of the main issue areas.

In your sustainability report, you’ll want to provide clear and attainable sustainability targets that are in line with your sustainability strategy and cover all of the areas detailed identified as important to your organization.
Like the strategy itself, these should be as specific as possible. To exemplify the level of specificity you should aim for, here’s an example: ‘we will cut our transportation emissions by 1% annually over the next 5 years by phasing out the older vehicles in our fleet for newer models’.

Bottom line

Communicate corporate goals, to all stakeholders

Policies that show readers you’re taking things seriously.

Once you’ve outlined your strategy you’ll need to show the reader that you’re taking it seriously. The best way to do that is by giving them a look at the policies and initiatives that you’re introducing to meet your targets.
Depending on your industry you may need to simplify this section in the name of accessibility – that’s okay! This section should be aimed at educating a wide range of stakeholders.

A representation of your performance against industry standards.

This section is will likely represent the majority of your report. In the planning stage, you will have identified a set of standards to base your report on. In this section, you’ll compare your company’s performance to these standards.

There isn’t a ‘correct’ way to go about this, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Comprehension is king. You need to present the data in a way that facilitates comprehension and engagement. This means making the data as accessible as possible through well-designed charts and infographics.
  • Failures aren’t failures. You need to remember that purpose of this exercise isn’t to boost your ego – it’s to drive improvement. Your failures represent areas for improvement and need to be included.

Sustainability means different things...

…to different people.

Stories that inspire.

While writing a sustainability report it’s easy to get caught up in the number and data. That’s not a terrible thing – both are extremely important. You need to remember that your readers want narrative and inspiration, too.
This means you should devote at least one section to stories that relate to the content of the report. This will differ from report to report and from company to company. Here’s an example to get you thinking, though.

Find and define your purpose

The credibility of your report will be determined by several factors – how comprehensive it is, how professional it looks, your organization’s reputation… the list goes on.

Including an assurance statement from an independent provider is a simple and reliable way to boost the credibility of your report. An assurance report acts as confirmation that your report is accurate and that your company is in line with regional, national, and international regulations.

Hopefully, you found this article on the essential contents of a sustainability report helpful as you begin to write your report for 2021/2022. If you know what goes into a sustainability report, you’re on the right track to producing a great one!

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About the Author

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Based in Dubai for over 10years, Peter Caush 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.

About 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.

Annual Reports : Sustainability/Environmental, Financial/AGM, Impact and special focus.

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.