It’s the new year—which means a new cycle of sustainability reporting! A lot of us are already waist-deep in sustainability data, but there’s still time to daydream about a sexier sustainability report, a better way to share our stories.
We now know that compliance is NOT communication. While it’s essential that we inform all our stakeholders, the report only satisfies some stakeholders. Amita Vaux of Ethical Corporation says it best: “Remember, your report is a piece of communication, a story; it is not a directory of everything you have ever done.”
More and more organizations are sounding the call for a revolution in reporting, and the Internet is already awash with rules and recommendations on how to best communicate our sustainability performance: from Five Steps and Three Vs to Reporting 2.0 Blueprints and Five-Point Plans. Here are some of the common themes that run through them.
Know your Why. The idea of a corporate social purpose has been gaining momentum, especially in the face of evidence that “business as usual” will no longer do. And finding, understanding, and living one’s purpose is not some New Age exercise. Writes The Purpose Business founder Pat Gallardo-Dwyer, “What sustainability is actually trying to achieve is just good business sense. Manage our operations well. Be fair. Be excellent in what we do and create an impact that everyone can share. The concept is not new. The concept is in fact inextricably linked to an organization’s purpose.” Futerra, a UK-based sustainability communications agency, says in The Guardian, “[The Why is what] people and ultimately customers are interested in, so it’s vital that you understand it yourself in order to share it effectively and more widely.”
Example: Chipotle’s Back to the Start
Know your audience. Nothing new here. A lot of us already know this is at the heart of communications. And yet, somewhere along the gathering of data and conforming with protocols, we lost sight of our audience. While the reporting process lets us gather all the proof points of our economic, environmental, and social impacts, we need to translate the science into a message that is on brand and at the same time connects with our audience cares about. The stakeholder engagement process provides a mine of insights on what motivates our audience, what is important to them, and what can inspire them to act.
Be authentic. Society puts a premium on transparency and accountability. A company’s sustainability communications plan should leave behind those old notions of PR where it is only about the good and the glitzy. Any claim should be backed by sound data. Environmental Leader recommends using the “language of everyday consumers, employees, and other mainstream audiences, minimizing the arcane language of the CSR reporting insiders.” Stakeholders want the truth and want to be able to engage you in conversation. Doing so can not only provide you insights that can lead to innovation, they can even share your sustainability story with others.
Example: In 2010, a leading environmental academic challenged Marks & Spencer’s Plan A sustainability strategy as “fuzzy” and “premature”. Rather than getting defensive, the retailer conceded that there was “no current benchmarking system” and then proceeded to connect with its stakeholders to set clear targets and, ultimately, define sustainability leadership. See Marks and Spencer’s Plan A report here.
Pat Gallardo Dwyer, founder and director of The Purpose Business, Camille dela Rosa, a project manager of Drink, and Harris Guevarra, CEO of Drink, share their favorite sustainability stories.
Pat: Biografica, a Madrid-based studio used this stop-motion report for Spanish insurance firm Seguros Pelayo features everything from cut-out figures to an impromptu papercraft football match. A great example of how a slick delivery can make even the most straightforward information appear more engaging. (and you want to tear out the paper football players!) Imagine an Insurance company NOT boring you at all.
Camille: As the world’s leading health soap, Lifebuoy aims to make a difference by creating accessible hygiene products (soap) and promoting healthy hygiene habits. I love the Lifebuoy campaign because it embraces culture and is emotional without being sentimental. It tells the sustainability story, the community story, and the product story. From a creative standpoint, it’s so well-shot and the motif (hands) is used so thoughtfully. It’s a real pleasure to watch.
Harris: Nike takes it up a notch by making their materials sustainability index useful to more people. True to its Just Do it tagline and aligned with the company’s vision of innovating better solutions to create a sustainable future, Nike introduced the Making App, a mobile tool to inspire designers and creators to make better choices in the materials they use. The application can provide an estimate of GHG emission during the production of each material the designer is using. It aims to educate new designers on the value of sustainability and help them make better choices. The Making App is available in Apple store for free.