Corporate sustainability initiatives — and effective sustainability reporting — can improve brand reputation, help companies attract and keep good employees, and even create new revenue streams.
For example, Unilever’s sustainable living brands, which grew 30 percent faster than the rest of the company’s business last year, accounted for about half of Unilever’s growth in 2015. Unilever has also said achieving zero-waste has contributed about $227 million in cost-benefits to the company.
And General Motors has generated $1 billion in new revenue streams from its recycling and reuse efforts, according to the company’s latest sustainability report.
Corporate reporting has become more of a mandate than an option for companies that wish to remain successful and competitive across industries — 81 percent of S&P 500 companies published sustainability reports last year.
So the question then becomes: how do you drive business value through sustainability reporting and successfully communicate sustainability initiatives to investors, consumers and other stakeholders through your annual report?
Ethical Corporation’s annual review of corporate responsibility reporting and sustainability communications helps companies answer these and other reporting questions. It includes practical advice and case studies from dozens of major firms including Unilever, AkzoNobel, HP and Coca-Cola, among others.
Coca-Cola Enterprises’ Megan Mitrevski Dale stresses using social media to communicate CSR performance, according to the report. She says it can be more effective to break down your firm’s annual report into smaller, more digestible pieces that can be communicated via social media throughout the year and linked to key events and trends.
Steve Wade, Ethical Corporation global project director told Environmental that the key takeaway for businesses from this year’s review can be condensed into three words: “Keep. It. Simple.”
“For reporting to work in practice you need to streamline your efforts and make it easier for stakeholders to interpret and understand your messages, and to contribute on the back of that,” he added. “This means creating simple tools and clarifying your KPIs [key performance indicators] to ensure that your strategy is understood by key audiences.”
The report also highlights a session from Ethical Corporation’s annual Corporate Responsibility Reporting & Communications Summit, held in London last November. In the session, executives from eRevalue, Onimpact, Hermes Investment Management and Munich Airport said companies should use big data in their sustainability reporting — and not just for reporting purposes but to anticipate future risks and opportunities.
“It is also essential that companies do not just present this information to their key audiences as raw data: they have to tie it into something more tangible, whether a story in itself or as a part of the company’s overall narrative,” the report says.
This idea of using big data in sustainability reporting is a key change in this year’s annual review, Wade said.
“The rise of big data and how it can be used in spotting mega-trends that impact your profits, increased engagement with human rights reporting and companies focusing on articulating their purpose in society are three trends that spring to mind immediately,” he said. “Reporting is an area that is continuously evolving, and corporate reporters need to stay informed about changes, or they will be left behind.”
A growing interest in companies’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance and the need to effectively and transparently communicate this was a big theme at Environmental Leader’s recent conference in Denver as well.
Sandy Nessing, managing director of sustainability at American Electric Power (AEP), told conference attendees that materiality matters. “Materiality really helps you cut through the noise and focus on what is most important — and identify trends on the horizon,” Nessing said. “And then you drive the story: this is what’s material to us.”
Corporate reporters, take note: your brand is your message that you are sending to the communities where you do business. Use your sustainability report to take advantage of this.