How Leading Firms Make their Sustainability Reports Stand Out

It's springtime and most sustainability teams are in the midst of finishing or have just finished their corporate sustainability reports, Carbon Disclosure Project submittals and other external surveys. This now-annual spring ritual provides sustainability leaders the opportunity to re-secure management commitment to sustainability definitions, goals, and projects and to further strengthen their CSR reports with detailed environmental and operational data.

Many CSR reports are heavy on the platitudes and light on specific data. Like traditional annual reports, CSR reports backed with strong data are more credible.

The increase in public reporting of environmental sustainability data, especially among large companies, is the last ten years remains stunning. The majority of Fortune 500 companies now issue a CSR report, GRI-based reports are at a all-time high, and the number of companies reporting to the CDP has increased tenfold in seven years (from 350 in 2003 to 3,050 last year).

In fact, companies that don't publish basic sustainability information and an organizational carbon footprint information are justifiability viewed as laggards.

Despite ClimateGate, the recession, lack of carbon regulation and flattening consumer interest in sustainability, it is unlikely there will be any abatement in reporting trends. Notwithstanding the variance in reporting breadth, quality, and data veracity, sustainability reporting is here to stay, driven in part by the need to maintain a positive company brand image, requests from top customers, and a corporate desire to be responsible.

Like the company's annual report, the yearly update of the public CSR offers an opportunity to review sustainability goals and secure re-commitment from senior management and employees toward achievement of these goals. Public goals and progress reporting drive organizational focus in ways that internal goals often cannot.

When reading traditional annual reports, financial analysis quickly skim pass the glossy pictures, platitudes, CEO letter and other marketing fluff and head straight to the financial numbers and footnotes.

Savvy CSR report readers do the same. The value is in the numbers.