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Thoughts on the future of CSR/Sustainability reporting

I’ve been discussing CSR reporting with a few people recently. For a couple of reasons.

Firstly, we have a conference coming up on the topic this week in Brussels, and another one in November in London.

Secondly, we are devising a new product to offer comment on reports for companies, based on our experience reading and reviewing them for years.

There’s more on what we do on this right now, here.

Thirdly, I was exchanging emails with a reporting manager for a big company today and penned a few thoughts on how I think reporting should evolve.

Here goes:

For what it’s worth my view is that reporting should evolve thus:

1) Online data and CSR/Sustainability report on company website

2) Annual report and accounts

3) A brief summary of “this is our company” in PDF / HTML and Print sent out to investors, stakeholders, etc, well written and covering both financial and non financials in ‘headline’ manner (i.e. the main points)

4) Targeted stakeholder and investor communications taken from online report and annual report and accounts and carefully targeted, written for specific groups, and tested relentlessly for effectiveness.

These will tell a story, communicate on a specific issue or issues (depending on the target market), and contain credible data and external viewpoints.

Corporate PR only works if you give up an element of control in the eventual message.

Let others help you tell your story, and take a few risks. There really is nothing to lose, particularly these days…

The MORI/Insert any survey company here, product: “is our company 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 compared to BP” surveys have more than had their day.

I would argue they are in fact counter productive.

I truly think sustainability can be a key corporate reputation differentiator, if only looked at thus:

1) Holistically, as part of the business, and all business communications, not just to opinion formers and people who throw CR reports in the bin.

2) Therefore, resourced appropriately, with the right balance of good communications and sustainability expertise in the mix.

So what do you all think?

2 Comments

  1. I think that the future of CSR/Sustainability as management philosophy and overall strategy as well depend on a different relationship of the corporate with the external world. Namely being less eco-centric. Reporting are just the mirrors of what too often companies consider CSR: a mere PR and communications exercise.
    I am convinced that in order to survive and develop CSR of the corporate sector (and NGOs as well) need to start a real 2-ways dialogue with all stakeholders. This is a practice still poorly used or completely forgotten. Since Freeman the stakeholder approach has been the core of CSR, but apparently an approach where an organisation name itself "responsible" is still far preferred. Apart from technical considerations I fear that a similar approach will result in a staff-only elitist discussion continuing keeping CSR as an UFO for the common people/stakeholders.
    The new digital environment (Wiki, social networking, etc) could facilitate a true kind of 2-ways dialogue. This confirming that the issue is a willingness/opportunity matter, not a medium one.

  2. I think your list of communication tools & content re CSR reporting & promotion is spot on. The only other bit of info absolutely essential to the knowedge, understanding of and subscription to the CSR charter of any company lies in its New Staff Induction process. It is here that the business, no matter what it does, invokes passion & advocacy from those largely responsible for supporting and promoting its corporate citizenship. I have seen quite a few companies doing all the right things on CSR positioning yet overlooking this important initial step for arguably their most important stakeholder group.
    Good luck with the conference & I look forward to reading your blogs.
    Cheers, Kym McInerney

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