Now more than ever companies understand the importance of reporting their environmental and social commitments in a way that real people can quickly understand and engage with. The more companies can effectively demonstrate and transparently communicate these commitments to the public, the media, NGOs and investors the more their credibility and license to operate increases. And sustainability reporting is a key opportunity and tool for companies to approach this in a structured way, creating real human stories for a wider audience and sharing performance data in more creative and engaging ways.
And now there appears to be a growing interest by some companies to produce what the GRI calls ‘almost real-time’ sustainability reporting. Advocates of real-time reporting argue that it brings the twin benefits of engaging a wider range of people on the sustainability agenda and better enabling decision-making based on key sustainability issues. Our response to this as a Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CRS) Consultancy is what does your ‘traditional’ sustainability report look like and what does it contain – or rather what doesn’t it contain which the digital almost real-time version will? When prepared and communicated correctly sustainability reports are a great tool for presenting the strategy and powerful evidenced-based storytelling, more than just a document that records information. Stakeholders look to the sustainability report for deep, current information on specific issues, to understand its relevance for the business and to break performance down market by market.
Simply Sustainable believes the discipline of the annual reporting cycle will continue to hold its own as it benefits the business whilst allowing analysts and other stakeholders to make year-on-year comparisons and identify forward-looking trends based on consolidated information. It is encouraging that companies are experimenting with new formats where real-time sustainability data can further inform decision-making by external stakeholders — as this example from Marshalls shows, sustainability information about products can be made available in real time to consumers.
Used in the right way, for a clear purpose and audience, this can be a very effective way to enhance but not replace, annual sustainability reporting and engage key audiences throughout the year.