10 top reporting tips from the experts

Overwhelming stack of reports
ShutterstockOleg Golovnev
If you're new to reporting, it may look like too high a mountain to climb. Here are the hints to help you find the right path.

For many of you, it’s reporting season, and you’re knee-deep in data.

We’ve got reporting on the brain too; 2degrees recently held its Reporting and Performance Masterclass, tackling the headache of materiality, stakeholder engagement and all things troubling that sustainability report of yours. For those of you who couldn’t make it to London, we’ve rounded-up some tip-top advice from speakers and delegates.

The advice below is aimed at those just starting out their reporting journey — but if you've checked these off, you can check out the advice for the improvers and for the seasoned pros. In the meantime, let’s go over the basics of what works, what doesn't and your need-to-knows in the reporting realm.

1. Don’t let reporting frameworks hold you hostage

“Nothing is one size fits all,” said Briana Inlow, engagement manager at Sky. External frameworks can help you compare with other companies, but she said they should be used as guidance rather than a bible.

2. Remind yourself why you’re spending money on this

“Consumers care, and they are quite a powerful stakeholder group,” said Mark Greenwood, group health, safety and environment director at DS Smith. “Of our biggest customers … 68 of them explicitly in their materiality analysis said packaging and packaging waste is one of their material issues. You can’t ignore that kind of feedback.”

3. Use qualitative and quantitative data

Substantiate progress in different ways, said Inlow: “When it comes to measuring long-term impact, for example, have some qualitative measures around that. We have a charter approach for some of those issues.”

4. Reporting isn’t separate from what you’re doing on the ground

“We need to understand the business and the bigger picture,” said Claudine Blamey, chair of the ICRS and head of stewardship at The Crown Estate.

5. Start earlier

Things take longer than you think, said Inlow. “That’s not just about data but having the skeleton of your narrative in place, and for each of the key issues having the key messages ready to go, so it’s a lot easier at your end.”

6. Don’t be afraid not to include everything

“One of the problems with being a b2b company with a really broad customer base is we just got overwhelmed with stuff that matters, utterly overwhelmed,” said Greenwood. The cure in the first instance? “Some issues transcend materiality for all customers,” he said. For DS Smith (and for many others), that means carbon and waste reduction.

7. What gets measured gets managed

Crystal Crawford, corporate responsibility manager at Liberty Global, asked the head of its finance department about the importance of financial reporting. He said without it, “it’s like driving a car with a blindfold on.” Crawford thought this to be a great analogy with sustainability reporting. “The reporting cycle adds value to the business by providing insights and driving internal management processes,” she said.

8. Don’t be too ambitious

“Focus on what matters,” said Jennifer Lansen-Rogers, partner, head of report assurance services at ERM CVS. “Think about what’s material and what you really want to report.”

9. Don’t try to be perfect

“You can’t be perfect from the start,” agreed Andrew Van Hees, EVP business excellence at AirTies Wireless Networks. “Try to understand what you’re reporting and push on.”

10. Reporting is no longer weird and geeky

Rowland Hill, sustainability reporting manager at Marks & Spencer, reflected on changing trends, having worked in this arena for over two decades. “I was working in this area when there were no rules, there was no guidance; you could do what the hell you liked. It certainly wasn’t cool and trendy as it is now.”

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