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10 costly mistakes of CSR reporting

<p>Don&#39;t let your CSR reporting do more harm than good by avoiding these 10 mistakes.</p>

CSR reporting has become the norm for any company committed to responsible business practice. But when done incorrectly, reporting can do more harm than good.

The following are 10 mistakes to avoid when planning, conducting and promoting your CSR report:

1. Weak goals: Sustainability reports built around weak organizational goals are doomed to fail. Know what success looks like for your company and build your CSR reporting around that.

2. Mismanaged data: Good data collection is essential to gaining meaningful results from initiatives such as auditing or footprinting. Assign data collection responsibilities to trained people – either inside or outside your company – and continuously check the numbers for accuracy.

3. Disordered priorities: Recognize that the pillars of the triple bottom line are interconnected, and that long-term sustainability goes beyond shareholder profits. A good manager will prioritize sustainability in the CSR reports by weighting it equal to financial performance.

4. Discounting feedback: Reporting shouldn’t be a one-way endeavor. Take the advice of third parties such as auditors and stakeholder panels, who can comment on your report and help verify data accuracy.

5. Breaking the rules: Good reporting should follow a trusted framework or guideline. The Global Reporting Initiative is an excellent example.

Reports image by Yanik Chauvin via Shutterstock.

6. Tenuous comparisons: Companies are inclined to track their progress internally. Accept that you’re one fish in a large sea. Stakeholders will want to know how sustainable you are compared to your industry peers, not necessarily your own benchmarks.

7. Unreachable targets: Targets in CSR reporting should be linked to corporate priorities. Make them relevant and aggressive but still achievable.

8. Underreporting: Don’t limit communication of your sustainability performance to the CSR report. Use a variety of media to communicate your progress and challenges. Ensure your message is consistent across media.

9. Thinking short-term: Don’t turn down a sustainable opportunity simply because it has a higher price tag or longer payback period. Yes, quarterly results are important, but keeping your eye on the prize will pay off in the long run.

10. Inadvertently greenwashing: While it’s important to convey your environmental and social progress, it’s a mistake to focus solely on the positives or on programs immaterial to your organization. Make reporting meaningful by acknowledging the areas where you still have room for improvement and tying your CSR goals back to your company mission.

Done correctly, CSR reporting increases share price and bolsters stakeholder confidence in your firm. Done poorly, CSR reporting opens your company up to consumer derision and stakeholder criticism. As you roll out your CSR reports from 2012 and think ahead to next year’s report, keep this list in mind.

This list was adapted from the article "The Best Sustainability Reports are Built on Trust" by management researcher Irene Herremans.

This article originally appeared at Network for Business Sustainability and is reprinted with permission.

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