What makes a trustworthy sustainability report ? – Part 2

Posted by: InfoSymm Comments: 0 1 Post Date: August 29, 2018

Suggest you read the part one of this article first.

There is the saying that “people may not remember what you made them think, but they certainly remember how you made them feel.” The last thing you’d want is for your readers to be frustrated by the process of fishing information out of your report. But if your report is difficult to find, if its contents and structure are hard to follow, and if the narrative is convoluted, then it is difficult to blame readers for suspecting that your report, and by extension your CSR efforts, doesn’t actually have substance nor impact.

So make sure to take into account the reading experience of your report as well. Use simple and concise language throughout, and avoid overly complex sentences. Make supplementary information as well as relevant contacts easily found via direct web links. And structure the report so that different stakeholders can quickly find sections of information that’s relevant to their unique concerns. Such is exactly what MTR has done in its report. Written not only in a language and format that is easily understood, the report is presented using a dedicated report microsite and interactive PDF file that makes finding information from different sections and issues a breeze. To top it off, the report includes supplementary “Did you know?” sections that provide further explanation about important relevant information, such as how the business model works, and even an overview of the ISO 14001 standard that they adhere to. They have made it simple enough that even a beginner in sustainability reporting can quickly grasp its contents with little ambiguity.

The bottom line: Whenever and wherever you can, make your readers’ lives a little easier when finding information from your report. Sometimes, it’s little things like these that matter the most.

Tales and legends have existed since the dawn of human history. Good storytelling is how novels and films manage to appeal to human empathy and imagination and draw people even into worlds of complete fiction and fantasy. Storytelling is of course extensively used in marketing and advertising, and it is entirely possible to harness the power of storytelling in the narrative of your sustainability report. Now the million-dollar question: What makes a good story?

An inspiring story is about overcoming challenges.
If life were all smooth sailing, then there wouldn’t be any incentive to improve and grow, and that would be rather boring. It is by overcoming the seemingly impossible, against all odds and adversities, that a hero is born. Take the story of famed entrepreneur Elon Musk in his biography, where he doggedly recovered both Tesla and SpaceX from the verge of bankruptcy in 2008 through sheer tenacity and ingenuity. It’s certainly a story inspiring to all who aspire to walk the path of an entrepreneur, and the principle can be applied to your sustainability report as well. Chronicle the unique challenges that your company has faced, but of course, be sure to also describe the efforts undertaken to overcome these challenges.

An inspiring story also includes characters people can relate to.

Take the MTR report for example. They seem to understand that telling the story of their stakeholders can be a very powerful means of establishing compassion for the value that MTR brings to society. Immediately after the introduction, MTR included links to a total of 10 “stories”, each telling the tale of an ordinary passenger with ordinary struggles, whose life has benefited from MTR’s services. A housewife who can finally spend more time visiting friends and family; a financial planner whose travel-intensive job nature was greatly simplified by the MTR service; a consultant in London who even found a nice flat in the up-and-coming area of Stratford due to MTR’s Elizabeth line construction and property development efforts. These stories, although hardly extraordinary, can be easily related to many Hong Kongers, myself included. And to top it off, each story even includes an employee testimony as well that brings a human face to each corresponding service. This artful inclusion of stakeholder voices serves well to humanize the MTR report in a way that few others have even attempted.

Remember that your sustainability report is a valuable opportunity for telling your company’s unique story, a window to a memorable impression of your company, and for your stakeholders to empathise with the ongoing struggles of your sustainability journey. So make it count. Just remember to chronicle the shortcomings of your sustainability efforts as well, and get your report assured if possible, because without them, your story could very well be viewed as heavily biased in the eyes of your stakeholders, and no different from mere fiction.

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