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First Steps to Creating a Corporate Sustainability Report

Half of the Fortune 100 produced a CSR report last year, and this trend will continue to grow with reporting likely to become mandatory in the coming years. Businesses that aren’t currently creating a CSR report are missing an opportunity to communicate their impact in an open and honest way that stakeholders are demanding. A CSR report is an essential piece of any responsibility effort, but getting started can seem like a daunting task.

Start Small

Reporting efforts don’t have to be a massive undertaking. To get started in creating your first report, look at where your business makes the greatest impact, good or bad. Sustainability may touch many parts of your company, but by starting small and focusing on what matters most, you can avoid some of the challenges of a more comprehensive report while establishing the processes and systems that can later translate to a larger report.

Once you’ve identified the areas of focus of your report, develop a plan that addresses who you’re talking to. What does your audience care about, what do you want them to know, how do you want them to feel, why does it matter, and how best do you reach them? A plan will help you identify those material issues that matter most to your audiences as well as guide the way you distribute your report.

Gather the Data

The value of a CSR report comes from communicating the actual impact of your sustainability efforts. To do this, you need data. A great place to start is by reviewing the Global Reporting Initiative framework. The GRI is the gold standard of sustainability reporting and can provide guidance on the metrics to be used in reporting. At the same time, to differentiate and benchmark your efforts, evaluate organizations and competitors that are leaders in sustainability. Identify the metrics they are using, and the metrics recommended by the GRI framework, and select those that are most relevant.

Who Should Be Involved?

While creating a dedicated team, including executive leadership, is the ideal way to ensure that sustainability efforts are built into the organizational structure, few companies have the ability to dedicate resources exclusively to sustainability. One approach is to create a team of passionate individuals from throughout the organization that can act as sustainability champions, encouraging a culture supportive of your CSR initiatives and gathering the data needed for the CSR report.

Promote It

Once you’ve finished the heavy lifting of your first CSR report, it’s time to spread the word. CSR reports can take many forms, but two popular options for a first report are an online PDF or a microsite within your corporate website.

Use existing communication tools, such as your company’s website, social media, e-newsletters, annual reports or marketing materials, to encourage customers, employees, and business partners to view your report online. And remember, feedback is key to improving CSR over time–reach out and listen to what your audiences think about your report so you can incorporate those perspectives in your process and your next round of reporting.

Don’t Let Up

The first sustainability report is always the hardest, but once the process is in place, it’s easier to add more information and grow the report year after year. Each year, review possible metrics to add and establish the data stream to feed it.

A successful report sets clear goals, and reports against those goals, for your ongoing CSR initiatives, creating accountability within the organization, encouraging a culture of sustainability, and demonstrating a commitment to corporate sustainability.


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4 thoughts on “First Steps to Creating a Corporate Sustainability Report

  1. I concur with most everything in this article except the suggestion that reporting is likely to become mandatory. I think we’re much further away from required reporting than any of us who would like to legislate change would like. That said, the opportunity is real, and a shake out between brands that care and those that don’t may provide the incentive en lieu of law.

  2. @Florian: Yes, a lot of our customers have decided to integrate their sustainability reporting into their entire EHS program, which I think is a good thing. But it can be difficult to start from scratch by yourself to shift from no sustainability reporting to full throttle, so a CSR is at least a good place to start. From there I’d even suggest working toward ISO 14001 certification, since a lot of the steps are similar.

  3. @Alex I don’t believe Florian was talking about integrating with an EHS report. Integrated reporting is one report financial and non-financial, not EHS/CSR. This are the types of reports that will replace CSR, EHS, Sustainabiltiy reports, etc.

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