Although a new report helps readers gauge the value of information in corporate responsibility reports (CSR), it also provides valuable insight into how CSR reports should be written.
In addition to helping readers quickly and easily identify the most valuable parts of CSR reports, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship’s Institute for Responsible Investment’s report, “How to Read a Corporate Social Responsibility Report: A User’s Guide,” helps identify the key elements of a comprehensive CSR report.
With a growing emphasis on CSR reporting by both the financial community and the public — growing from 26 such reports in 1992 to more than 3,000 in 2008, according to the CorporateRegister.com — it is becoming increasingly important for companies to provide comprehensive reports particularly for those in industries that directly impact the environment.
Here are ten best practices for writing a CSR report gleaned from BCC’s new report:
— Don’t focus solely on community affairs such as charitable giving and volunteer programs. Provide substantive information that helps assess the strengths and weaknesses in a corporation’s interface across a full range of stakeholders.
— Include information on general policies in areas of social or environmental concerns because they are the centerpiece of a company’s comprehensive programs.
— Provide details on actual practices such as reductions of volume of waste produced per unit manufactured or absolute levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Specific facts and figures can be an indication of a carefully monitored program.
— Provide anecdotes about a particular program at a specific location, which can provide useful insights into experimental efforts or one-off initiatives.
— Company-wide data is also necessary in order to compare one company with its peers or measure a company’s overall progress year to year.
— Present a list of the company’s future goals to show where it is allocating resources for social and environmental issues.
— Provide a table of goals announced in the previous year with progress in achieving those goals.
— Balance good news with bad news to indicate a company’s credibility as well as to show how the company is handling the challenges.
— Address industry challenges head on and what steps the company is taking to meet those challenges.
— Integrate CSR reporting with traditional business strategy and financial reporting to show the financial implications of the company’s initiatives.
Overall, the key elements of a CSR report remain the same, according to the report. These include the CEO’s letter, mission statement, summaries of key facts and figures, tables and graphs for data comparability, pictures and other graphics for better readability, GRI index and GRI grade, third-party assurances, interviews and surveys.