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Why CSR Reports Are a Useful Tool for Greening Your Business

<p>A sustainability report is all about incremental improvement, and business leaders who aren't reporting may be losing a big opportunity to showcase sustainability efforts.</p>

Let's be honest. Creating an environmentally sustainable business is a challenge. There are several factors that go into the green equation, from water and energy use to ecological impact, but the idea is to start somewhere and, often times, the best way to start is by tracking the sustainability footprint of your own company.

Twelve years ago, Ford Motor Company began releasing its annual sustainability report, designed to both highlight the company's progress in sustainable practices and also show us where our efforts could be improved. Over the years, we've seen significant progress in reducing vehicle emissions, increasing the volume of sustainable and recycled materials used in manufacturing, and putting fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, among other things.

But a sustainability report is all about incremental improvement, and business leaders who aren't reporting may be losing a big opportunity to showcase sustainability efforts.

A sustainability report reminds stakeholders of the progress companies are making, and also gives businesses a roadmap for their future in sustainable business. Another reason for companies to really engage in a detailed yearly sustainability report is that it keeps us all honest, transparent and striving for improvement, especially as all can see our yearly progress.

This week, we release our 2010/2011 report, titled "Blueprint for Sustainability: Driving Change," offering the public a comprehensive look at our progress on environmental and social issues.

The report provides updates on Ford's progress in key areas of operations, product enhancements on vehicle safety and societal concerns including water usage and supply chain management. It is also important to take a look at areas deemed to be critical issues moving forward. Each company really has the power to focus on the areas that matter most to their company and industry. From one sustainability practitioner to another, it's not easy to measure these efforts and analyze their success, but it is vital to knowing where your business stands in the green spectrum, and where you need to go next.

As you continue to invest in sustainable business practices, pull together your own sustainability report. The findings will help you gauge where you are in the greening processes and determine where you want to be in the future. Remember, greening a company is undoubtedly a challenge, but it's a welcome one with a positive impact both inside and beyond your company's front door.

Ford is on its 12th annual sustainability report, so our content and details are pretty in-depth, and it has been great to see improvement over the past years. Businesses just starting out with reporting though should not worry about historical context right off the bat -- the fact that your business is starting the process is something that will interest and impress both internal and external stakeholders. Start small with targeted analysis and specific reporting, and you can expand from there.

Once business leaders are ready to expand their reporting, some great guidelines for building a credible sustainability or CSR report can be found here. I urge businesses to participate in and be proud of their sustainability reporting, I know we are.

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