How can companies turn detailed sustainability reporting into meaningful communication?
Reporting on sustainability doesn’t come cheap. According to a 2011 study by the Centre for Strategy & Evaluation Services, European companies can pay up to €604,000 (£517,000) to produce a comprehensive sustainability report.
But sustainability reporting can generate a treasure trove of information about a company’s operational activities, and from this a narrative can emerge. Peter Knight, president of sustainability consultancy Context (and an Ethical Corporation columnist), says: “There is reporting, and then there is communication of the stories that are embedded in the report.”
Sustainability reporting is only truly valuable if it is a basis for these stories, Knight argues. A “formulaic, process-driven” approach, as promoted by frameworks such as the Global Reporting Initiative, is useful for some investors and environmental campaigners that want to see the detail of a company’s sustainability performance, but this is essentially preaching to the converted. It is less relevant for broader audiences.
“A data-driven disclosure document is a terrible form of communication because it doesn’t really tell the corporate narrative,” Knight says. “But it contains all those major elements that some people want to know about.”
In particular, if a company’s sustainability strategy is in part based on driving behavioural change in employees and consumers –...