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Sustainability Reporting Methods ‘Outdated’

The current once-yearly model of commercial sustainable development reporting is looking increasingly out of date and will be replaced by myriad forms of reporting, according to research by Acona and SABMiller.

Multiple Messages argues that discussions over the nature and practice of sustainable development reporting are taking place in the shadow of a “tidal wave of social and technological change” that is fundamentally transforming the way we communicate.  Social media, instant access, handheld devices, syndication, and all-powerful search engines have conditioned users to find the content that they want when they want it, the report says.

At the same time the fast-rising BRICs economies are developing their own views on the role of companies in society and affecting the way global corporations think, the report argues. As a result, annual reporting on such issues is behind the times, the report says.

Multiple Messages concludes that the future of sustainable development reporting will be “plural, bespoke and continuous”: plural in that the content will be spread through multiple documents and channels; bespoke in that different audiences will require different content; and continuous in that companies will be expected to communicate regularly – and the development of the story will become as important as the facts themselves.

The annual report will be replaced by tailored multi-stranded communications to different audiences, using technology to allow regular updates, Acona and SABMiller argue. This, they say, requires a more nuanced view of verification, breaking the task into pieces dependent on the nature of the content and the requirements of the audience.

“Sustainable development reports may work as a ‘document of record’ but they fail when judged as an exercise in communication,” said Simon Hodgson, managing partner at Acona and one of the report’s authors. “They tend to be long documents full of information in search of an audience.  To succeed in the new connected, plural future, they must recognise the audiences in search of the information.”

“Leading global companies are often at the forefront of efforts to tackle environmental and social issues but more and more stakeholders are looking for deep, up to date information on their specific issue, to understand its materiality for the business and to break performance down market by market,” said Andy Wales, global head of sustainable development at SABMiller. “It’s a significant communications challenge, but one which companies cannot shy away from.”

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4 thoughts on “Sustainability Reporting Methods ‘Outdated’

  1. Thanks for the posting. I have recognized this need in agriculture as well. The dynamic nature of agriculture production of ecoservices requires a fluid approach in tracking and compiling – just like it uses in commodity production. This is made possible in agriculture through the use of a reasonable market signal for various ecoservices. I realized, through direct application, that once the market signal is applied, all other market components can be realized. No successful business could exist without a fluid tracking process for all its values and likewise, the more fluid nature of nature, must be respected and accounted for as well.

  2. When stakeholders are thought of as crucial links to the world outside an organization’s CSR department, then developing bi-weekly updates for each group focused on their pertinent issues will become commonplace. Today’s marketplace will not allow companies to work behind the scenes and only provide detailed information annually. This coincides with smaller businesses creating sustainability departments and moving the role of managing social responsibility and environmental health away from their Human Resources and Marketing teams.

  3. This will hopefully bring about ‘adaptive’ management and policy making – this is policy that reacts to the indicators being reported rather than staying to the prescribed objectives. One such example are green buildings – by the time the development is done, it is outdated. With so much complexity and risk we need to remain flexible and aware, so the point about communications in the article is right on the money.

  4. This article slightly confuses the idea of reporting with communication. CR reporting is just one form of communicating with a company’s stakeholders. Formal reporting will remain an important framework for ensuring all elements of corporate responsibility are addressed.

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