What makes a trustworthy sustainability report ? – Part 1

Posted by: InfoSymm Comments: 0 1 Post Date: August 22, 2018

As specialists in narrative reporting, we often find ourselves pondering the ultimate question in our line of work. How can you create a report that convinces investors to believe in the long-term sustainability of your business, employees to feel proudly representative of your business, and the public to acknowledge the societal value of your company’s presence? Without further ado, here are the 5 things we believe you should strive for, in order to craft a sustainability report that inspires trust.

Sincerity – rather vague to measure, yet crucial to building trust. The last thing you’d want is for your report to come across as hollow. The best way to convey sincerity? Back it up with quality sustainability efforts. Actions do speak louder than words after all. But regardless of the quality of your initiatives, just making your efforts seem well-thought-out can go a long way to inspire trust.

Be sure to explain how your CSR efforts align with your mission, values and guiding principles – things you likely already have as part of your corporate identity. Having defined values and clear purpose signals maturity, commitment, and consistency – signs that you will not lose sight of what you stand for, even when life throws you one curveball after the next. To many, this is what separates adulthood from immaturity, the righteous from the deceitful, and the wise from the foolish, and this very much applies to organisations as well. Lenovo’s CEO Yang Yuanqing certainly seems to understand the importance of values and commitments. In fact, in his executive letter, he clearly mentions how Lenovo’s entire workforce of over 50000 people are united by the credo of “We do what we say (ownership and commitment), we own what we do (accountability), we wow our customers (customer centricity).” Addressing your values at the executive level is a good sign that they’re not just lip service; that there’s actual leadership commitment to reinforce these values throughout the organisation itself.

Of course, it goes without saying that values and principles alone do not make the world go round. Only by aligning your organisational purpose with clear ESG strategies and objectives can readers be convinced that you have a good idea about concrete steps to take, and aren’t just making it up as you go along. To reinforce consistency, it’s also important that your organisational purpose and direction are not only mentioned in your introduction or executive letters, but also frequently referenced throughout the main body itself.

No matter how well thought out your CSR efforts seem to be however, it is meaningful only to those most affected by your business – your stakeholders. The goal is therefore not simply to inspire trust, but to inspire trust from the right people. That is why materiality assessments and stakeholder engagements have to be done carefully and meaningfully. And from a reporting point of view, clearly demonstrating alignment between your efforts and the concerns of your stakeholders goes a long way to show that you’ve carefully thought about the specific nature of your business impacts.

To that end, acknowledgement is a powerful way of establishing trust, be it in an apology, in a reconciliation speech, or in a sustainability report. Dedicate a portion of the report to acknowledging individual and organisational stakeholders, including what they do, their missions, challenges, and how they align with those of your own. Make your stakeholders feel appreciated and included, and they’ll be more inclined to return the favour.

Another useful means of demonstrating the relevance of your sustainability efforts is to align them with international norms. For that purpose, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are as universal as it gets. They help establish a common language for addressing the biggest global concerns, and speaking that common language helps readers understand the broader relevance and context of your sustainability efforts.

Needless to say, the more relevant information and details you voluntarily disclose, the more truthful your report would seem. Include plenty of supplementary information explaining your data, figures, and conclusions. Couple that with external assurance, and you already have a fairly trustworthy report.
But perhaps the most important indicator of transparency, and also the most difficult step for many to take, is the willingness to talk about your successes AND shortcomings. After all, no company is ever perfect. There is always room for improvement, so long as there is demonstrated progress. In other words, having the courage to acknowledge both the good and the bad goes a long way toward humanizing your efforts and acknowledging specific problems to be solved, otherwise your narrative would just seem biased and frankly, “too good to be true”.

To be continue…

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