Communicating outcomes and genuine achievements: Ensuring that sustainability initiatives and achievements are communicated to all stakeholders is an essential part of the sustainability journey.

Reporting can be a complex and time consuming task. It can take many different forms from general marketing and communication collateral to engagement pieces looking at social licence to operate, through to formal reports to shareholders or other key stakeholders. So why do it?

There are two main reasons for reporting. The first is because it is an opportunity to audit your organisation. Consistently using a standard reporting format allows an organisation to see where it is and where gaps exist—allowing them to define a sustainability strategy based on who they are and where they want to be. Such a strategy can then be internally and/or externally focussed—looking at where you want to be according to your own values and where you want to be in the market.

The second reason is credibility. Reporting against a standard—either self-imposed or against a recognised accreditation scheme with an established set of indicators—provides transparency.

Reporting annually also provides visibility to year-on-year progress and allows others to see where you are and what your intention is for the future. It is an opportunity to discuss success and failure honestly in an open forum, which adds credibility to a firm’s reputation.

Over recent years sustainability reporting has become more commonplace. Growing stakeholder pressure, market competition, and the realisation that the business is being adversely affected as a result of the lack of attention to sustainability issues are just some of the factors that have driven such rapid growth. It is vital that reporting should always be:

  • Transparent: used to report the good and the bad,
  • A true reflection of the governance structure the firm has implemented,
  • Suited to the firm (one-size does not fit all), and
  • Structured to encourage reflection and cultural change.

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Reporting objectives and the type of report/s When first considering sustainability reporting, one must consider the underlying aim of the report. If it is a regulatory requirement, it will likely differ from those wanting to seize a marketing opportunity.
  • Could we improve our reputation by publicly reporting on environmental, social and economic sustainability performance?
  • What do we want to gain by reporting?
  • What type of report will best suit us – sustainability, financial, integrated or all of the above?
Integrated reports An integrated report will be intrinsically linked with those other elements of an Annual Report. If an integrated report is desired, ensure it is genuinely integrated. This type of report will not be a separate chapter or stand-alone document. This is a fundamental principle of sustainability itself—it must be genuinely integrated within the firm’s governance structure and operations.
  • Will our current governance structure allow for a truly integrated report or do we need to review our structure first?
  • If sustainability isn’t embedded into our governance structure yet, should we create a separate sustainability report first and produce an integrated report later down the track?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Reasoning For the organisation to benefit it is important to be able to clearly articulate the reasons why you are doing this, and to have tested this with internal stakeholders.
  • Why are we considering reporting?
Audience When considering the report, ensure it is audience ‘fit for purpose’ and materially relevant. Knowing your audience assists in creating a framework for the content and presentation of the report.
  • Who is the audience of the report?
  • Have we considered all audiences from internal and external and from immediate readers to those who they pass on to?
  • What groups/individuals may come to view the report in the future?
Delivery and communication strategy Consideration needs to be given to how to engage with your audience. Different stakeholders will require slightly different messages and modes of communication
  • Where is our audience?
  • Are they online, downloading the report or getting a hard copy?
  • How can I better engage with key stakeholders over this report?
Transparency and accountability to the report data A report must contain accurate data communicated in a transparent way which outlines what information is omitted and why, as well as any underlying assumptions in measurement methodology (i.e. metrics used, how baseline was established, modelling vs. real data etc.)
  • Who decides what goes in the report and why?
  • How do we ensure data is accurate?
  • What supporting documentation do we need to have on hand if the report is questioned?
Resourcing the report To develop a true and genuine integrated report can be a resource-intense activity requiring considerable effort. There must be a commitment to resource reporting, ranging from time commitments, to actual dollars spent. It may also include spending funds on data systems.
  • How closely aligned are our current reporting methods to those we desire?
  • What will need to change?
  • How is reporting going to be resourced?
  • Have we developed reporting capability (e.g. project management, stakeholder engagement, materiality, data collection, analysis and presentation, content development, copy writing etc)?
  • Where is there support for reporting in the organisation?
Externally rated report External assurance or verification is available through select providers. Having a report ‘externally verified’ will demonstrate a non-biased, credible assessment of business activities, Before talking to a service provider, it is important to have a sense of what you intend to gain from this investment.
  • Will we have the report externally assured/verified?
  • Have we researched potential companies and costed this exercise?
  • Is it feasible?