Tell us a (sustainable) story

BUSINESSES ARE moving away from bulky reports and towards more effective ways of communicating their performance on social responsibility.

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While politicians debate lengthy new reports on climate change, businesses are preparing some studies of their own. According to research by BSI, the business standards company, and the independent sustainability analysts Verdantix, every large UK firm they surveyed is planning to produce a sustainability report this year, with 91% of them integrating financial and sustainability data into their annual report.


The most commonly reported sustainability data will be carbon emissions (99%), energy (98%) and social responsibility (93%). A large majority – 77% – will report on waste, water and other greenhouse emissions.


The survey of 150 executives from 20 industry sectors, including retail and consumer products, also found that although 70% of businesses identified sustainability as a key driver for growth, only 51% believe that sustainability issues will affect their firm’s financial performance over the next two years.


However, those who have made the connection between sustainability and business performance are willing to invest in internal teams to manage and deliver sustainability. Four out of five (81%) of the respondents said they have more than five staff dedicated to sustainability at a programme management level – with some of the increase likely to have come from larger reporting schemes.


Reporting can take time, effort and money, but that can all be wasted if it’s not communicated effectively. As such, businesses are moving away from the trend for bulky reports of a few hundred pages. Twitter, for example, has enabled a transition from stats to stories.


October’s 2013 RepTrak CSR survey, run by the Reputation Institute, found that 73% of global consumers are willing to recommend companies that are perceived to be delivering on their social responsibility programmes. What’s more, 59% would go “out of their way” to communicate something positive about companies they see as being good corporate citizens.


The flip side to this more openly conversational style of reporting is that companies can attract negative feedback – which means this isn’t necessarily a low- labour route to sustainability reporting.


Journalism professors always say it takes twice as long to write a shorter story. And that’s true. One of the beauties of electronic forms of communication is that you can have various levels of detail. So the person who wants to read it all can dig deep and get it. Those who want a summary can get that, too.


Footprint Forum members debated “Sustainability Reporting” in 2012. Red the report HERE and watch the film report HERE