Five ways to make your sustainability reporting stand out

Corporate sustainability is rapidly gaining traction; is your company clearly and thoroughly communicating its efforts? Here are some sustainability reporting tips from the leaders.

Sustainability reporting isn’t just about chronicling what a company is doing to manage risks and opportunities related to environmental, social and governance issues. It demonstrates an organization’s commitment to these issues, to both internal and external stakeholders.

If you’re looking to improve in this area, you may find inspiration from the top sustainability reporters in the 2016 Awards of Excellence in Corporate Reporting. The shortlisted companies, Barrick Gold Corporation, BMO Financial Group, Goldcorp, Resolute Forest Products, Rogers Communications and Suncor Energy all offer smart, readable and balanced reports.

In the final tally, Goldcorp claimed the Award of Excellence, followed by Suncor with the honourable mention. They are seasoned reporters who exemplify an impressive level of reporting sophistication.

Five ways to enhance your sustainability reporting

Here are a few tips about what stands out and makes for a winner in sustainability reporting:

1. Follow through on materiality analysis
As sustainability reporting comes of age, judges’ expectations with regard to materiality are rising as well; that is to say, the importance that is placed on social, environmental or economic issues, and impacts for the organization and its stakeholders.  It’s not enough to discuss the materiality process and show the results. Top-tier reporters use it as the basis for organizing their reports (Barrick). Suncor made its material topics a focus of their CEO’s message to shareholders. Rogers demonstrated how different stakeholder groups prioritize material topics.

2. Integrate sustainability with strategy and governance
We know sustainability has gone mainstream when we see detailed reporting on governance structures for sustainability (BMO), as well as disclosure of how stakeholder input affects strategy. Resolute Forest Products, an award finalist in 2016, is in step with a trend we see globally of making the sustainability report the annual report. Goldcorp’s overall corporate vision, “Together creating sustainable value” also demonstrated strong sustainability integration.

3. Know your audience
Reporters are increasingly challenged to decide who their reporting is for: professional analysts, community stakeholders, mobile device users or some combination thereof. Online reporting offers more opportunities for innovative engagement but can frustrate users who want to download a report to read later. It’s important to know who the user is and how they prefer to access information. Goldcorp, for instance, satisfies diverse user needs with effective graphics, drill-down capability and photos.

4. Be transparent about challenges
Mature reporters are comfortable talking about the key risks facing their company and, in some cases, their industry. They are able to discuss controversial issues with depth and balance, and provide ways to find more information. Our judges pointed to Goldcorp’s handling of human rights, Suncor’s call for collaboration on climate change and Rogers’ disclosure regarding releasing information to law enforcement agencies, as examples of appropriate transparency on challenging subjects.

5. Explain performance trends
It’s essential to support sustainability claims with performance data. Top reporters all provided at least three years of data for most indicators; Suncor provided five years of data. Leaders in this category also excelled at making sense of the data with analysis and context; comparisons to short- and long-term targets add credibility to your data.

 

Companies in the early stages of developing a sustainability reporting strategy may be interested in this offering from CPA Canada to learn more about giving readers the necessary information in a clear, simple and effective manner.

For more information on sustainability reporting and the other three judging categories (Financial Reporting, Corporate Governance Disclosures, and Electronic Disclosures),check out the 2016 Judges’ Book

Entries for the 2017 Awards of Excellence in Corporate Reporting are open until June 30.

Keep the conversation going

Got any tips on making sustainability reporting stand out? Post a comment below.

Disclaimer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.

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