30 ways in 30 days

Your sustainability report is not an engagement tool

Janna Irons
November 9, 2023
30 ways in 30 days

Your sustainability report is not an engagement tool

In our 30 ways in 30 days series, we're sharing 30 essentials to developing or refining your company’s sustainability strategy and action plan. To dive deeper, download our Field Manuals.

Let’s be clear: Sustainability reporting is absolutely essential for today’s businesses and a valuable tool for propelling and communicating progress. 

However, a 100-page report is not something most people want to, or will, read. Hundreds of hours go into writing, editing, and designing a report, and yet most companies are not getting the value for the work they put in.

Here are some reasons why your report isn’t being read:

  1. Attempting to be everything to everyone: Companies try to meet the goals of all stakeholders with one report, and end up not fully meeting the needs of any of their audiences.
  2. All the sustainability team’s time is spent on reporting: Let’s be honest: reports take a ton of work. And with a lean team, it’s not uncommon that all the hours in the day are spent working on collecting data, reviewing content, and getting a report to completion. But then, when is there time to actually make progress toward goals?
  3. Not maximizing the fruits of your labor: All the stories, proof points, and progress shared in your report are interesting and valuable to your stakeholders, but when those stories only exist in a PDF on your website, that doesn’t do anyone any good.

All of these challenges can be solved with one simple solution: transform the way you think about reporting:

  1. Understand who cares about what:
  • Your investors (and raters and rankers) want data, progress, policies, and clear disclosure on how you minimize risk and maximize value
  • Your employees want to see stories and highlights that demonstrates they are working for a good company that cares about people and the planet
  • Job-seekers (especially Gen Z) want to know if you’re a responsible company making a positive impact
  • Your customers want to see what makes your different from your competitors, and see how your company can support their own sustainability goals
  • Your suppliers want to know what sustainability topics are important to you and what ESG disclosure data to share
  1. Give the people what they want, the way they want it: A single report that does all of the above will be a beast of a document. Therefore it’s most effective to create a suite of reporting materials, each aimed at meeting each audience's needs and desires. This suite might include:
  • A disclosure PDF with the straight-forward, detailed information, data, and frameworks investors need
  • An executive summary PDF featuring stories, key takeaways, highlights, and proof points aimed at building pride and engagement with employees, customers, communities, and job seekers 
  • A corporate website or microsite that includes your strategy, priorities, goals, and progress, as well as ongoing sustainability updates in real time to demonstrate that sustainability doesn’t just happen once a year when the report comes out
  1. Give audiences a reason to care: One audience that companies don’t often think about are those who haven’t heard your sustainability story yet. Companies think a lot about how to communicate to investors or employees at large, but fail to think about how their story can be relevant to new audiences. A few examples might be:
  • Engage sales teams: Create a sustainability value proposition for each customer segments, then train your sales team how to use those proof points as differentiation
  • Reuse graphics for recruiting: Repurpose report visuals like a diversity, equity and inclusion strategy infographic, employee engagement stats, or Employee Resource Group graphics to supply to the recruiting team to use in their materials, with messaging that reinforces your company’s sustainability strategy
  • Make sustainability your PR hook: Provide your PR team with media storylines and proof points to make it easy for them to pitch sustainability stories alongside their other company news stories
  1. Embed sustainability in your brand: Sustainability communications shouldn’t happen once a year. If your company is truly invested in driving sustainability progress, then that story should be part of your company’s elevator pitch, your company overview materials, your ongoing storytelling on your website and social media, and in how your leaders talk about your company. By building bridges between teams (Marketing, HR, IR, Comms, Recruiting, etc.) and providing tools and materials other teams can easily use, sustainability leaders can elevate sustainability within the company and share the responsibility of communicating about it.

Looking for ways to transform your sustainability reporting into effective sustainability engagement? Download our Strategy to Amplification Insights Paper. Or, drop us a line

Your sustainability report is not an engagement tool
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