15 Nov, 2022

Sustainability reporting has become a key function for most companies, large and small, across India and even the world. When done the right way, it has the power to change the way how companies work. Engaging in sustainability reporting helps them reduce risk, and show their commitment and efforts toward investors and other stakeholders. In our previous article, Why has Sustainability Reporting become Crucial for Organizations? we talked about two things. Why it’s become one of the most important practices and what benefits it offers to companies. Sustainability reporting can be adapted to each company’s needs, taking into consideration the industry, intent behind disclosure, and stakeholder expectations. Keeping all this in mind, it’s time to level up your sustainability reporting with these 5 tips mentioned below.

Take note of your investors' and stakeholders’ needs

One of the first, and most important things to do when it comes to creating a sustainability report, is to focus on what is most important to your investors, stakeholders, and business. However, this is easier said than done. There’s no shortage of issues or sustainability topics that a company can face in a given year. This makes it somewhat difficult to compile the information required. Therefore, a materiality assessment needs to be done over the course of a calendar year to at least create a basis for the report design.

Now, you may not be familiar with ‘materiality’ or what a materiality assessment is supposed to do. Let’s understand the term a little more. Materiality, also known as the process used to identify and prioritize issues, is a critical tool that’s used to understand the sustainability landscape along with sorting out which issues which are of the highest priority to the business. This means that anytime you need to create a sustainability report, your materiality assessment must also be well-researched and documented. A great report design will focus on what the most pressing issues are and include suggestions or possible solutions to fix them.

Use visual elements that make your sustainability reporting stand out

Let's face it, reports are usually filled with information that’s put out for a multitude of reasons. However, most of the time, this information is text-heavy and too confusing to understand. Therefore, it’s entirely necessary to use compelling visuals that will attract the target audience’s attention and keep them engaged in the report.

Keeping this in mind, all the content that goes into a sustainability report must have an equal balance of text, tables, or charts along with strong visual elements to engage anyone reading it. Make use of graphs, charts, and infographics intentionally with the exact goal of emphasizing important pieces of information. You may also use photos or illustrations which can also be key visual elements in a sustainability report. They have more of an impact on stakeholders when they read about a company’s sustainability initiatives, as the information is not just presented in textual form but in actual visuals.

Monitor and measure performance consistently and carefully

Monitoring and measuring your performance is a vital action. You can’t be too careful when it comes to sustainability reporting, remembering to quantify every piece of data that can be quantified. You need to have the right metrics and KPIs for your company, in place. In turn, they must support your strategy and align with the key priorities and impact areas identified. Going forward, you can then set your targets and goals to commence reviewing year-on-year performance. Keep in mind that you require short-, mid-and long-term targets to propel your objectives. These are your benchmarks.

Of course, you need to have a proper balance of KPIs. You can’t only show areas where you’ve performed well and leave out the less desirable KPIs because performance is bad. It will result in questions about how transparent your sustainability reporting is. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to include a performance table, covering all impact areas, whether positive or negative. This can be inserted at the end of your report design. It will provide the proper benchmarks for the company’s performance from the time it began till date.

Show support from Frameworks to give your data more validation

There are a number of official and essential frameworks in place when it comes to reporting. These are the Global Reporting Index (GRI), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), CDP, Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), and many more.

The most common and widely used sustainability reporting standards globally are the GRI Standards. GRI Standards assist companies to understand and communicate the impact their businesses have on critical sustainability issues. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are another frequently used framework for sustainability reporting and measuring how a company can contribute towards a better world.

Show real commitment to your sustainability reporting

Sustainability reporting is a crucial part of any company’s modus operandi. However, there are still some companies that don’t take it seriously. If you read sustainability reports from such companies, it’s easy to pick up on. How then can you actually show your commitment to sustainability and sustainability reporting?

One of the most important things to remember is that sustainability must align with the company’s vision and mission, and business strategy right from its inception. This means that the company CEO and board of directors must also be attuned and committed to it. An opening statement from the CEO or a senior board member can go a long way in showcasing this. However, what will make it an actual reality is incorporating it into the company’s rules and regulations. When you merge sustainability with the company’s core business, it not only adds credibility to your reporting but also offers tremendous support for commercial and strategic objectives.

Other aspects like environmental and social risks and opportunities should also be included in your report. Not only do you need to talk about the issues and their impact but also include an explanation of how the company is managing these risks and any financial implications. Up until maybe a decade ago, social and environmental risks and issues weren’t even considered to be important or even included in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual risk report. However, that’s not the case today. ESG-related risks actually make up most of the world’s top risks in terms of impact. It’s dangerous to ignore or underestimate any of these given just how they can damage a business as well as a company's reputation. It's essential to recognize this and include both in your sustainability reporting.

Choose the right channels for your audiences

Sustainability reporting can’t be done without some finesse. You have to consider two important things – who you are trying to engage and influence and what medium or channel will work best for your reporting and subsequent sharing. While an independent sustainability report might be a critical piece of your communication, incorporating your informing and achievements across more extensive channels - including your website, annual report, social media, and internal updates - will empower you to contact a more extensive crowd of partners, further develop commitment and rejuvenate your report.

It is imperative to remember that reporting isn't just about the booklet which you create toward the year's end. You have to consider the entire process, from start to finish – starting by distinguishing needs and perceiving risks, to selecting KPIs and lining up with frameworks like the SDGs. All of this will completely reinforce the way you handle sustainability business, while additionally expanding straightforwardness and building credibility with key partners.

Ensure that you remain transparent in your sustainability reporting

All the above-mentioned points are vital when it comes to delivering a great sustainability report. However, there’s one last point that remains even more so. Your sustainability reporting has to be, without question, transparent in every way when it comes to delivering it to your stakeholders. However, you need to do it in a way that makes them trust you. This means ensuring that any and all information you present has to be supported with consistent, fact-based evidence. Present your working objectives and well-documented efforts, keeping them aligned with a framework. Ensure that you verify and validate everything with a 3rd-party assurance body. Only once you do all this, will your sustainability gain any kind of credibility.

Sustainability Reporting with Professional Assistance

Sustainability reporting is not easy. There are so many elements that go into creating a compelling sustainability report. These are just a few of them. However, while you may be able to do the work, the end result might be less than satisfactory. That’s where Design Report and our highly skilled design team will jump into action. We’re here to answer any questions you have and help you design clean and crisp sustainable reports as you need them. Head to our website and check out all our services, among them sustainable reporting. Go through our portfolio and either call us at 1800 121 5955 or email us at [email protected] to get the ball rolling.