When you take sustainability seriously, you like to talk about it. When you want to be taken seriously about sustainability, you should talk about it. A sustainability report is a great way to do that. You put everything in the right order. However reporting does take some effort and it is crucial to start the reporting process on time.
Lead time Many sustainability reports are published in the spring. The whole process has a certain lead-time, often around 9 months or more. A structured approach is necessary because various interests are involved. 7 Reasons to start the reporting process on time:
1) When firstly starting out with reporting, some trust needs to be gained. In particular with senior management, they should 'feel good about it’; they need support the process. It is not going to be the ‘good-news-show’, because also things that did not go so well are going to be addressed. When support is lacking, action must be taken (e.g. through a workshop) and that must be planned.
2) Sustainability is not a department but it affects the entire organisation. The larger the organisation, the more people are involved. And they all have a say in the matter.
3) Regardless of how structured the approach is, collecting and checking data from different sources takes time. To avoid surprises in the end, it might be a good idea to introduce a well-structured process (supported by appropriate software) for the non-financial performance indicators providing clarity on the sustainability performance early.
4) An audit is an excellent way to create credibility. It is therefore advisable to agree with the internal audit group to also audit the non-financial results. To exclude all possible discussions enlist the help of an external auditor. These audits too take their time.
5) Senior management should support it. Not only because of the input, but also because they have to approve the report. Sometimes this requires some lobbying and time will need to be allocated to this activity too.
6) Not only the content of the report is important, but also the form. Data comes to life in tightly formatted figures and tables. Appealing, matching pictures make it complete. Because it is still true that: pictures speak louder than words.
7) Last but not least, many discuss their ambitions towards sustainability, but this might not lead to clear and tangible activities enough. Creating a sustainability report is an excellent ‘reason’ to start making these ambitions a reality.
True for all: quality takes time. And sustainability reporting too requires the necessary efforts. But it also provides you with an insight into the core strengths and areas for improvement, and this benefits the whole organisation.
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