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Top 3 reasons to take your sustainability report online in 2015

Increased transparency and external reporting are essential for companies. Yet, getting stakeholders to read a company sustainability report and derive value from it is one of the biggest obstacles for corporate responsibility reporting. When done right, online reporting helps to overcome this challenge. Online CR reports are more accessible, engaging and measurable than stand-alone print reports.

1. Report accessibility

Offering your sustainability report online and supplementing it with additional formats for a variety of readers is the best way for stakeholders to have maximum accessibility to it and thus, greater opportunity to read it. A stand-alone print report limits its accessibility by virtue of its medium; the report is only available to the number of people less than or equal to the printed quantity, and only those who can physically get their hands on it.

In addition to offering your report online, several other supporting formats expand readership.

Stakeholders like customized PDF downloads from a Build Your Own Report tool, such as this one from Merck, for the ability to download the areas of the report in which they have the most interest and save it to their computers or devices for future reference.

ForestCity's print-friendly PDF download of the online report gives stakeholders a quick and efficient way to download the entire online report and save it to their computer for future reference. Optimized for a letter-size format, users can print desired pages using the least amount of paper.

The printed executive summary report provides a traditional alternative for stakeholders with limited or no digital access, or who prefer a tactile reading experience. A summary report shares highlights in a low page count and limited print run. In addition to the positive environmental impact of using less paper and ink, this reduces the overhead, production and material costs of printing large quantities of hard copies.

A PDF download of the printed executive summary report delivers the highlights of the full report in a compact way that readers can download for future reference.

Having the report available digitally scales readership to the increasing number of people accessing content from their home, office and on-the-go. According to eMarketer, the Internet will hit 3 billion users this year, and by 2018 nearly half of the world’s population will have regular access to the Web.

You can promote online reports quickly. Consider leveraging communications channels to announce your report launch by linking to a report page, informational graphic, featured highlight or interactive tool. These include internal communications, social media, company websites, media distribution and external newsletters. Newswire services such as 3BL Media, PR Newswire and Business Wire can amplify content through targeted mediums to reach a wider audience. Having a report available online also gives access to free marketing through search engines and social sharing.

2. Engaging content

Offering your sustainability report online creates opportunities for a value-added experience. By integrating interactive functionality into an online sustainability report, companies are able to communicate with their stakeholders in a clear and more engaging way. Static informational graphics transform into dynamic data visualization and brief statements turn into visual storytelling through videos and blogs. Stakeholders not only will absorb more information through supporting media, they also organically will share what they are learning with friends and colleagues on their own social media accounts.

With the emergence of the GRI G4 framework, reports focus on impacts most material to the company and most material to its stakeholders. Companies can depict the material topics and where they rank (in terms of impact) through a detailed interactive materiality matrix. By making the matrix interactive, stakeholders can see details on impacts, opportunities and risks all within a single interface that a still image can’t match.

Making your GRI Content Index linkable allows readers to connect the individual aspects and indicators to the related source material. Provide a link to the GRI Content Index on the report site’s utility toolbar or main navigation for direct access by stakeholders and reviewers.

With limited time to capture user attention, digital video consumption is an effective approach to communicate messages in a quick and engaging way.

By targeting areas of the report to highlight, as Nike does, you direct readers to key content and site tools on the home page, in sidebars and below the main page content. Where page space limitations exist in print, scrolling and links to more information expand a reader’s experience online. Guide stakeholders through the site in a way that gives them quick access to the areas of most interest.

Coca-Cola sustainability blog screenshot

Coca-Cola's sustainability blog shares stories that shareholders and customers may find compelling.

Data visualization that reacts to user requests is more engaging than static graphs, charts and tables presented in a print report. Within the same page space, stakeholders can view multiple informational graphics within a single interface (year-over-year comparisons) which, within a print report, would use multiple still images and excessive page space.

AEP provides at-a-glance performance metrics in a visual way using informational graphics, which allows stakeholders quickly to interpret ESG performance highlights. Where possible, using graphics instead of copy enhances readability.

Companies such as Coca-Cola offer industry thought leadership by authoring blog articles. Openly debate and ideate by sparking discussions on posts.

Share yearly highlight sustainability success stories within a blog-style format. Parse out report stories and achievements by adding new stories throughout the year. Give stakeholders a reason to return to the site regularly.

Reader engagement is higher with online content, as people generally read static print content once, but return to updatable content on their mobile device daily. Consider adding relevant feeds from existing social media platforms or blogs that automatically pull sustainability news into the online report.

Inform stakeholders about your company’s history and sustainability journey in an interactive timeline so they can gain context and understand company strategic goals.

Providing additional sustainability communications through a resource library of PDFs and videos helps support a company’s CR messaging and provides valuable information that otherwise would be cumbersome to include in print.

Screenshot of website

Some companies use services such as to build a daily feed of customized content.

Provide customized reading experiences by pulling relevant content and feeds based on user interests into personalized dashboards.

It is important to give stakeholders an engaging experience and optimize mobile accessibility. With the rapidly increasing use of smartphones and tablets accessing the Internet, responsive web design is imperative. It is also advantageous to target the user’s device, adding to the convenience of the mobile experience (including functionality that accesses mobile features such as maps, phone and location services). If mobile usage is high on an online report, consider developing a mobile app for increased sustainability awareness.

3. Measurable analytics

A big advantage to online reporting is the ability to track the pages, content and functionality that are getting the most traction with users. Analytics tracking tools, such as Google Analytics, help optimize the report. With the ability to measure and assess, content and functionality adjustments can be made on an ongoing basis or for the following reporting year. This will help target those topics resonating with readers. Including simple browser-based forms and surveys are additional ways of efficiently gathering valuable stakeholder feedback online.

It’s no longer a question of whether you should consider online sustainability reporting in 2015. Having a strong online sustainability presence and supplementing with supporting sustainability communications is the clear approach. Drive stakeholders to get the information they want quickly and easily. Make the experience enjoyable, and they'll return for more.

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