Twelve reasons why I won’t read your corporate responsibility report

1) It’s badly designed

2) It’s too long

3) It’s not aimed at me

4) Worse, I can’t see who it is aimed at

5) It’s not properly copy written, so I can’t understand a lot of it

6) I don’t really trust your assurance company

7) You don’t have credible voices in your report

8) You don’t show me progress at a glance clearly

9) You don’t show me really clearly your best wins

10) Your failings are hidden in corporate-speak

11) I can’t see the context of your targets

12) I can’t see how sustainability links to your business strategy

Change the above, and I’ll read your report.


  1. Love #12! Talk is cheap after all.

  2. hi toby, always love your insights … though, for me, the 12 reasons for not reading csr reports are precisely the reasons we SHOULD read the reports… and then give feedback to the reporting company. If the report was a genuine atempt to reflect csr progress, and for one or more of your twelve reasons they failed, you will be doing your bit for sustainability by telling them why. That's what reporting is all about – stakeholder engagement. Noone can be expected companies to get it right all the time. If the report is nothing more than marketing blurb, you will be doing your bit by making sure the company knows they dod not suceed in pulling the wool over anyone's eyes. This is why i spend a LOT of time reviewing CSR reports on http://www.corporateregister.com/reviews as the feedback to companies is crucial if we want to see improved reports in the future.
    For me, one of the most common issues with CSR reports is your number 10 – failings hidden in corporate-speak. I think we all share a responsibility to shout out about this. Oh, and by the way, when is Ethical Corporation producing its first CSR report ?


  3. Hi Elaine, thanks for the comments.

    I don't think a company of seven people is really the right size to produce a CR report.

    We could do one, but I am not sure who the audience would be. I doubt our readers would be much interested.

    Having said that, we could do a statement on our own ethics, in publishing and event organising.

    We have published various statements in the past.

    I quite like Malcolm Gladwell's statements on this area. Perhaps we ought to take a leaf from his book and produce something similar.

    How about you, will you be producing a CR report on yourself?

    Best wishes,


  4. hello Toby, glad to see your counter post on reasons to read reports 🙂 Do you only have 7 people ? Wow. You do an amazing job with a small staff.

    Reporting – i dont think it's the size of the company that counts, or the number of people employed. It's about impact. Ethical Corp has a significant impact on the sustainability landscape both indirectly, via your publications, conferences and other activities,(how many people think/act differently about sustainability as a result of your interventions? how many discussions do you provoke as a result of your lectures? who uses your research publications and how? etc) and directly by the way you travel, organize conferences (phyical vs virtual, carbon offsets at conferences, green venues etc), and publish (eco-inks, recycled or sustainable paper etc). What ethical guidelines do you follow in conducting your business? How do you connect with your stakeholders ? What's material for the sustainability of Ethical Corporation? What goals to improve your organizations sustainability do you have for the coming years? Transparency and accountability to stakeholders is important to all businesses. What makes you think your readers (or conference participants or all stakeholders) would not be interested? One might even suggest that Ethical Corp, who does so much to promote sustainability, and comments on the sustainability practices of others, should be one of the first to practice transparency by producing some form of csr report (Disclosure: I would love to write it :)) ).

    Yes, my company will be issuing a first report next year. This will be the first full year we have operated as a new Company, Beyond Business, having merged two consulting firms at the end of 2008. We will do a GRI report and target for A level transparency. We have less than 7 permanent full-time people, but like you, we make a lot of noise for sustainability.

    Not sure what you mean about Malcolm Gladwells statements. Do you mean THE Gladwell. Have read all his books but dont recall anything about sustainability.

    Thanks for the discussion.
    And for your great blog which i enjoy reading

  5. Hi Elaine, thanks for the comments.

    I'm afraid I disagree.

    We have such high capital costs (journalism, hotels for events) that I don't think it's a good use of our time to do a CR report.

    Frankly, we are incredibly lean. We have to be, we don't have the margins not to be.

    Consultants don't have the capital outlays that we have (content, plus event hotels, plus salaries, plus office costs). You just have salaries and office costs, plus marketing.

    It's a different ball-game.

    Lots of our staff walk or commute to work by bike and tube. No-one drives, we don't have air-conditioning and sometimes barely have heating in our office.

    So our physical impact is low, except for flying and events.

    On Events, we work with Marriott wherever we can, as they seem among the best on environmental policies that we can afford. (Inter Continental claim to be better but we can't afford them, and Hilton are a total mess.)

    We can't use green venues as so few meet commercial requirements. A couple of wrong experiments in this environment and we're in trouble, as an SME. We haven't yet found an affordable eco-venue in London or Brussels, where we do most of our events.

    We do fly a bit (me more than the others) but one of my best friends just shut down his offset company as he didn't feel he could get ethical enough offsets and make a living. So I am very dubious about offsets, I'd prefer to spend that money on improving efficiency in our processes. A cop-out perhaps, but I'd like to know what you think are ethical, verifiable offsets that do demonstrate progress. I don't know any. I must confess of not having looked that hard recently. It seems like a market full of cowboys to me.

    Good luck with your report. When profits pick up to a level where i can afford to put someone on it, we may do one, but right now, not a good idea.

    Financial sustainability comes first. And while we are fine financially, there are not enough profits to spare to allocate to doing a report that i doubt many of our stakeholders would read.

    That's not to say we can't put out more statements on our positions. But that's not really reporting.

    And yes, I refer to Malcolm Gladwell's ethics statement on his website about his non-journalistic work.

    best wishes


  6. thanks Toby, appreciate your reply and explanations. And of course, you are absolutely right, every business, small or large, any sector, can make a case for not writing a sustainability report.

  7. Hi Elaine,

    I don't meant to be obtuse, but I'm not in total agreement here.

    I think CR reporting is for companies with large footprints, for now. So I don't agree that:

    "every business, small or large, any sector, can make a case for not writing a sustainability report".

    That is, large companies can make the case, but it's unlikely to be a convincing one! (given that large companies have many more resources than small firms).

    All this doesn't mean Ethical Corporation should not have more written policies and statements about our impacts. We ought to work on this, so thanks for the reminder!

    We too, could and should set some sustainability targets. As part of a 100 person company, (we are a unit of a bigger firm, FC Business Intelligence) this would need to be done for the whole business.

    So a challenge for us in 2010…

    Best wishes,


  8. toby, a final post summarizing my thoughts:


    thank you for being open to debate and for your frank responses


  9. How about:

    you don't really show me your key impacts!


    You don't really show me your big failures and its real reasons in the period!

    Those are the main reasons for me not reading a report. Let's remember that sustainability reports are about social control over corporations and stakeholder awareness. At least that was the idea a few years ago…

    Seriously, who cares about the design if a corporation is being really transparent about its main impacts.

    When you are not addressing your most material issues in a really forth coming, clear and transparent way is when the design starts to gain relevance.

    Sorry for unloading on you..


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