Sustainability reporting: How to write a report in six steps

sustainability reporting

Sustainability reporting has become a requirement in many industries and refers to the process of creating a document that communicates the impact of a business’s social, economic, and environmental activities.  It is a vital tool in managing corporate sustainability strategies and driving sustainable development. 

Additionally, it is an essential communication tool for the company’s stakeholders, shareholders, customers, employees, and regulators. From reading the report, stakeholders gain an understanding of the company’s sustainability strategies, risks, and how dedicated it is to climate action. 

How to write a sustainability report in six easy steps

Below are the steps for effective business sustainability reporting

Start the sustainability reporting process by identifying material sustainability issues

Before you even get into the writing side of sustainability reporting, you’ll want to gather all the relevant information and data. This includes material sustainability issues; concerns, and challenges that matter the most to your business and its stakeholders. Material concerns encompass environmental, social, governance, and economic factors that have a major impact on the natural environment and your business. 

The best place to start with this is by doing a materiality assessment, and this can be done by speaking with your stakeholders to get their perspective on what their sustainability concerns and priorities are. Doing this will give you a stronger comprehension of the most vital sustainability issues that should be reported and prioritised in your future sustainability efforts. Examples of materiality issues could include greenhouse gas emissions, labour practices, or supply chain management. 

Start determining your sustainability goals and objectives

The next step of the sustainability reporting process requires you to take a deeper dive into your company, looking at its goals and objectives and ensuring they align with your sustainability efforts. Through refining your sustainability objectives and goals, you will be much better equipped to showcase your dedication to sustainability. To ensure they are effective, it is a good idea to make sure your goals and objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART).

Drive your sustainability reporting efforts by collecting all the relevant data and analysing it

To accurately measure your sustainability progress, you will need to collect all relevant data and analyse it. Start by looking at your previous sustainability goals and assess them next to the metrics that show what you achieved. For instance, the goal could be reducing water usage, and you are on track to have a 40 percent reduction by 2025. With this step, it is vital to ensure you are collecting reliable and accurate data, and one of the easiest ways to make sure of this is by implementing tracking and monitoring systems within your organisation. 

For instance, you could install sensors to track your water and energy usage or systems to manage your waste better. In this part of the process, you may also have to collaborate with your external consultants and partners to collect and assess data on different elements of your supply chain and business operations. This section of the sustainability reporting process will enable you to identify patterns and trends in your performance, so you can better understand where you are doing well and where you could improve. 

Tailor the sustainability reporting framework to suit your company’s needs

The sustainability reporting framework is a very important part of any sustainability report. It is the reporting framework that gives a sustainability report its structure, but it also drives consistency and transparency. 

Common reporting frameworks many companies use include The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards. 

It is essential to tailor the reporting framework to suit your company’s unique needs. This process entails selecting the most relevant reporting indicators and standards and customising the report to your objectives. You will also want to make sure the report is consistent with your sustainability vision and strategy. 

Finish the brainstorming part of the sustainability reporting process by connecting with your stakeholders

Connecting with stakeholders is a vital step in any business sustainability reporting process. The report will only be effective if your stakeholders can easily understand it and engage with the information provided in it. In other words, they will ensure that you are communicating effectively, which has a knock-on effect on trustworthiness, credibility, and value creation. 

You can engage your stakeholders and get them involved in the sustainability report through focus groups, public consultations, surveys, or interviews. Be sure to ask them a mixture of open and closed questions to allow for the feedback to be as valuable as possible. By taking this important step, you will ensure your sustainability report is aligned with your stakeholder’s expectations and needs. 

Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and start writing the report

Once you have completed all the above sustainability reporting steps, you are finally ready to start writing. There are some best practices for organising and structuring your report to make it the most impactful it can be. 

Consider incorporating some storytelling as it can help you make the report more relevant, memorable, and relatable. Sustainability reports are excellent avenues for powerful storytelling, and this allows you to connect with emotions to highlight the urgency and importance of your actions. 

Storytelling also enables you to show people that you do not embellish or fabricate your sustainability performance but rather that you are authentic, transparent, trustworthy, and honest.

Some of these include giving context behind data you have collected, incorporating visualisation tools to communicate complex areas clearly, and summarising key findings at the beginning of the report so readers can easily navigate it. 

The main rule of thumb is to ensure your sustainability report is concise and doesn’t include any unnecessary details. Before you publish, be sure to double-check everything, make sure the language and formatting are consistent, and get feedback from other people. 

Examples of effective sustainability reporting 

Below, we share examples of two effective sustainability reports.

IKEA

IKEA’s sustainability reports incorporate storytelling but also share all the facts and data clearly and concisely. At the beginning of the report, there is an opening statement by the founders that is both thought-provoking and inspiring. The structure of its sustainability reports is strong, allowing them to delve into the many areas that fall under the umbrella term of sustainability. Their reports cover becoming climate-positive, transitioning to a circular business, and how they are working to regenerate resources, protect ecosystems, and enhance biodiversity. Additionally, their reports include stakeholder engagement details and an SDG index at the end to demystify any jargon. 

Coca-Cola

Another example of an effective sustainability report is Coca-Cola’s 2022 Business & Sustainability Report. This report was their fifth one and reflects their continued journey toward driving sustainable business practices into their core strategy. The report featured strong storytelling in the executive summary and other opening elements. Additionally, it was well-structured, covering a variety of areas and activities spanning topics like water leadership, climate, Beverages For All, sustainable agriculture, and people and communities. They also included a data appendix at the end of the report and the relevant reporting frameworks they utilised in curating the report. 

Summary

According to KPMG, ten years ago, just 64 percent of N100 companies reported on sustainability and today, nearly all of the world’s top 250 companies create sustainability reports. Given that environmental and social opportunities and risks have a strong potential to affect the long-term success and security of a company, businesses must dedicate resources and time towards sustainable activities. Sustainability reporting is a strategic cornerstone, allowing every business to effectively counter and confront emerging challenges and build up resistance. 

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