Earth hovering over a newspaper signifying the importance of sustainability reporting

How to Write a Sustainability Report

The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement has been gaining steam in recent years, as more and more businesses are taking it upon themselves to be good stewards of their local communities and the environment. One important part of CSR is environmental, social, and governance reporting (ESG), which can help companies track their progress in sustainable practices and assess their impact on society. But moreso, they are the benchmark standard to publicly exhibit your sustainability efforts to all of your stakeholders. There is no downside to creating a sustainability report because no matter what the data shows, the fact that you ar making an effort accounts for more than the numbers. If you’re looking to create an ESG report for your company, you are in the right place to begin to understand all of the benefits that come with being accountable in today’s marketplace. So, keep reading!

With over two years of pandemic and the recent invasion of the Ukraine disrupting the world’s economy and the global supply chain, the pressure to shift to a sustainable circular economy is greater that it has ever been. In case you didn’t know, business activities are responsible for 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (ghg) and are therefore under more scrutiny than ever before. That is why every business should know how to write a sustainability report. But not to worry, we have you covered on form and function, and we have you a few immediate things you can do to improve your ESG Score.

What is a sustainability report?

If you are in business, you may suddenly be asked by your clients and other stakeholders, what you are doing to be more sustainable? And that is where an ESG or sustainability report will come in handy. A sustainability report is an effective way to communicate your company’s environmental and social initiatives to interested stakeholders. But more importantly, a sustainability report can help you track your progress and identify risks & opportunities within your company structure. In this blog post, we will outline the key components of a successful sustainability report, offer some tips on how to get started and show you how to improve your score before you even begin your audit. So, strap-in because you are about to become the company expert!

You may also want to read What is ESG?

What is the definition of an ESG or sustainability report?

Am ESG or sustainability report is a document that analyzes an organization’s long-term success and prospects for the future. The goal of such a study is to offer stakeholders with enough information so that they can determine if investing in a firm is worthwhile. And when we say investing, we are not only referring to investment for publicly traded companies, but we are also referring to the investment by consumers, partners, governments, the communities you serve and other stakeholders who are directly or indirectly affected by your business practices. And when you start to collate data, you will soon realize that your business is affecting considerable more people that you were previously aware of.

But an ESG report isn’t just report card to fend off critics. It is an opportunity to reveal your potential risks and can often unearth new opportunities which you weren’t aware of before. But in the end, your report will answer the question: is this business sustainable for the long term, or not. In other words, should I as an individual or we as an organization, give our time, effort and/or money to this company. And the quality of your report will determine whether the answer is yes, no or maybe. The key concepts of an ESG report are transparency, credibility and materiality. In this post we will detail what goes into a report and give you a few options to get ahead of the curve. Get ready to take some notes.

The 3 elements every sustainability report should include

  1. Environmental reports should include information about the company’s effect on the environment, both beneficial and detrimental. This will cover your carbon and water footprints.
  2. A social report should feature information regarding how an organization contributes to society through its policies and practices, as well as any innovative initiatives it may have. This may be accomplished by using phrases, figures, and photographs.
  3. A financial report should include a discussion of the company’s financial performance (i.e., turnover or revenue) as well as any investments in innovative methods (such as R&D programs).

*Keep in mind that each industry sector has its own set of standards and benchmarks which are also geographically specific. Compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.

Quick Tip: The average ESG audit can take months. But many companies have discovered how to get a head start on improving their ESG score before they even begin the auditing process.

Want to have a positive effect on your ESG score right away? Then keep reading…

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How many copies should a sustainability report have?

A company can decide how many copies of its sustainability report to print and distribute, but most companies produce a single copy for each shareholder. The number of shareholders varies from country to country. In the US alone, more than two million people own shares in public companies. As an alternative, some companies use their website and social media to make this information available.

There is no required format for the layout of a company’s environmental report, but most are in an annual or quarterly printed document divided into 5 main sections…

What format does a sustainability report have to be in?

There is no required format for the layout of a company’s environmental report, but most are in an annual or quarterly printed document divided into 5 main sections. These include:

1. Strategy and Profile: A high-level overview of the company’s business, including its history, mission, and values.

2. Governance: A description of the company’s board of directors and management team.

3. Performance: A detailed account of the company’s financial and operational performance.

4. Sustainability: A description of the company’s environmental and social performance.

5. Outlook: A description of the company’s plans for the future.

Each section includes a variety of data points and performance indicators. The exact data points will vary depending on the company’s size, industry, and location.

How long should sustainability reports be?

A company’s environmental report may be any length. The World Resources Institute suggests that companies follow the Global Reporting Initiative reporting guidelines, which recommend a maximum of 30 pages for an issue-based annual report. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board publishes the top 20 US corporations ranked by revenue for which it has sustainability data, ranging from 38 to 872 pages. Most companies publish an environmental report at least once per year, but some companies choose to do it quarterly.

The 8 elements a company’s sustainability report should have

A company’s annual or quarterly environmental report can be a powerful tool to help increase its public image and encourage more sustainable practices among employees, investors, consumers and communities.

  • Details should be provided on how to read the report, including what is included in each category, along with a glossary of editorial terms used throughout the document. Companies should also provide information about any benchmarking or other non-environmental reports that are produced by experts who have worked for the company’s suppliers or competitors.
  • The company can also provide information about its organization’s structure, including the departments responsible for various environmental activities.
  • Companies should describe their employees’ roles in sustainability activities and give examples of how they are training them to be more sustainable. They may highlight some employees by name, particularly if they have received awards or other special recognition for their actions.
  • Companies can also include information about the company’s board of directors, including a list of all current members and their academic qualifications. They may also provide a statement from a member of the board, indicating his or her commitment to sustainability issues.
  • The report should be written in clear language that is easy for investors or other stakeholders to understand. The executive summary should provide readers with an immediate overview of the report’s main points.
  • The body of the report should be concise, using sections to highlight different aspects. Each section can have a short introduction that provides some context for the information presented in that section, including how it relates to the company’s sustainability goals or other environmental policies.
  • Companies should include a table of contents and references.
  • Information should be presented in a way that is relevant to readers, including stakeholders such as investors or communities where the company operates. Presentation materials, such as photos or graphs, can also help make information more clear and interesting.

What else does a sustainability reporting framework include?

A sustainability report will often include the company’s goals and its news releases, along with information on products or issues that are of particular interest to the public.

The report should also offer a list of materials used in production and distribution, such as packaging and paper for printing. A glossary should be included to help readers understand technical terms.

Information on certification or awards received, such as ISO 14001 or EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme), should also be included.

The report may include information on community outreach programs supported by the company, along with highlights of its corporate giving activities. Corporate social responsibility reports are another useful resource that can be linked to from a sustainability report if they are available.

A company’s annual or quarterly environmental report can be a powerful tool to help increase its public image and encourage more sustainable practices among employees, investors, customers and communities.

Creating stakeholder reports: Finally, companies often find it useful to create separate reporting documents for different stakeholders. This way, each group can read about what’s relevant to them and learn how the business is improving its social and environmental impact.

*A typical ESG Report can take months to collect, quantify and correlate the data. Many companies get a head start on improving their ESG Score by investing in Verified Emission Reductions (VERs) for voluntary climate action.. Get ahead of the competition.

7 steps to writing a good sustainability report

  1. Conduct a Materiality Assessment: This entails outlining the key issues and impacts that your organization experiences. Make sure to include environmental, social, and economic factors in your assessment so that you can achieve a holistic view of your operations.
  2. Assess Current State (Baseline): Perform an internal audit to establish a baseline of your organization’s sustainability performance. This will help you to identify improvement opportunities and track progress over time.
  3. Set Objectives & Targets: After conducting a materiality assessment and understanding your company’s baseline performance, you can set realistic objectives and targets for sustainability improvement.
  4. Analyze Gaps to Achieving Future State: This step involves analyzing the difference between your current performance and desired future state. Doing so will help you to identify priority areas for improvement.
  5. Develop ESG Strategies, Roadmap and Framework: After gaps have been identified, you can develop strategies and initiatives to address them. Make sure that your plans are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).
  6. Implement and Monitor Initiatives: Once your strategies and initiatives have been developed, it’s time to put them into action. Regularly monitoring your progress will help you to stay on track towards achieving your sustainability goals.
  7. Reporting & Communicating Results: Finally, it is important to report on the results of your sustainability efforts in order to communicate progress to stakeholders. This will help build trust and confidence in your organization’s ability to create lasting positive change.

First, it’s important to define the goal of your report. This can be achieved by asking yourself who you are writing for and what type of information they need? For example, if you are writing for suppliers or customers, you’ll want to explain more about how stakeholders benefit from your sustainability efforts. If you’re writing primarily for employees, on the other hand, you may want to provide more detail on how sustainability affects the business.

How to Identify and analyze key sustainability indicators to measure progress

Second, identify and analyze key sustainability indicators. These are metrics that can be used to track social or environmental performance over time. Some examples include carbon footprints, water usage, waste sent to landfill, number of employees across different demographics or number of staff trained.

Identify who is responsible for tracking each indicator and how often it should be done. Then set targets for the future based on previous reports’ results. This will help you determine whether your goals are realistic and achievable.

How to Present Findings in a Clear, Concise way that is easy for Stakeholders to Understand

Third, don’t assume your stakeholders will read between the lines. If you want them to understand how social and environmental performance has improved, present findings in a clear, concise way that is easy for all readers to understand. Avoid technical jargon and use specific measurements such as quantities or percentages. Avoid using inconsistent metrics, such as one metric for external stakeholders and another for internal stakeholders.

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How the results compare with targets and goals set out in previous reports

Fourth, how your current results compare with past progress is an important part of reporting. This process will help you identify strengths and weaknesses and determine whether future goals are realistic.

What worked well in the past? Why? What didn’t work? How could you improve your reporting process in the future? What lessons did you learn along the way, and how can you apply them to your upcoming reporting cycle?

…if you met targets in one area but missed them in another, detail how this will influence future goals.

Quick Tip: The average ESG audit can take months. But many companies have discovered how to get a head start on improving their ESG score before they even begin the auditing process.

Want to have a positive effect on your ESG score right away? Then keep reading…

The Best Carbon Trading Platforms

How to Conclude by summarizing what has been achieved so far and identify next steps for future work

Fifth, conclude your report by summarizing what you have achieved so far and identifying next steps for future work. For example, if you met targets in one area but missed them in another, detail how this will influence future goals.

For instance, If you take action on environmental performance or social reorganization, you can include a few lines about what has been achieved and how this will impact future goals.

How to Include appendices with relevant data or other supporting material as needed

Finally, include appendices with relevant data or other supporting materials as needed. These might include maps, graphs, charts or tables that clarify key points in your report so readers can understand them more easily. This helps ensure your conclusions are reliable and verifiable.

Caveats and Disclaimers

We have covered many topics in this article and want to be clear that any reference to, or mention of external stakeholders, supply chain, brand loyalty, strategic goals, environmental goals, data collection, key areas, material issues, press release, sustainability, large companies, write a report, business, decision making, reporting, companies, environmental, specific recommendations, progress, relevant, transparency, achieve, performance, assessment, focus, benefits, reports, identify, efforts, processes, process, operations, identifying, writing, governments, insight, challenges, world, wide variety, example, sustainable, discuss, create, objectives, tips, employees, targets, investment, governance, data, industry, write, risks, csr report, commitment, costs, project, environment, accountability, critical, businesses or trends in the context of this article is purely for informational purposes and not to be misconstrued with investment advice or personal opinion.

We have covered many topics in they article including an ESG report design, ESG report development best sustainability report design and CSR reporting best practices. We hope that you have found it useful and we appreciate you stopping by. We wish you luck in your quest for sustainability, whether it is in your personal life, your business life or through ESG investing. Remember, we are all in this together, truly. Thank you for reading.

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