Sustainability reporting is a journey

First, do you really need a corporate sustainability report? The answer is: In most instances, yes. CSRs disseminate how you are aligning values and behaviors around sustainability with the expectations of your stakeholders. And by "stakeholders" I don’t just mean customers and investors; I also mean employees, suppliers, communities, regulators and special interest groups, among others. And, while CSRs aren’t mandated, stakeholders are beginning to ask about what you’re doing and requesting details of your actions.

Beyond stakeholder interest in your efforts, there is a direct impact on your organization’s bottom line. Our research tells us that 46 percent of Americans say corporate environmental reputation impacts product choices, while 30 percent mention that CSR reporting influences purchase decisions. Those are big numbers, whether you’re a traditional B2C or have a B2B model. In essence, sharing your story not only answers to your stakeholder audiences, it also has the potential to grow your business.

With increased focus on reporting, we’re being asked more and more to work with our clients on their CSRs. Along the way, we’re hearing things like, “Should we do one? What are the benefits? Won’t we get called out if we aren’t perfect? Do we have to air all of our laundry?” The answers vary by category and brand, but we can help navigate the waters and get to the right answers.

Speaking of answers, what I’ve listed above are tough questions to answer. Sustainability reports do potentially open you up to scrutiny. But you’ve got to keep in mind that sustainability is not a destination. Rather, it’s a journey, and the reporting of your actions is the first of many steps you’ll take along the way. In the next post in this series, I’ll address the idea of full transparency, a key ingredient to a successful report. But for now, it’s important to understand that as long as you are open and honest about the metrics you’ve set, the actions you are taking and the progress you have made, you’re doing okay. Truly, your stakeholders won’t expect any more than that.

The CSR reporting journey has to begin somewhere and the first one is always the most difficult. But once you’ve established your process, it becomes an easier path to travel. I look forward to walking through this with you over the course of the next few months – and I look forward to your comments along the way.

Image photocollage by GreenBiz Group