How to Get Ahead in Sustainability Reporting

February 16, 2016 Lucie Frideling

How to Get Ahead in Sustainability Reporting

When it comes to sustainability, transparency is the answer. Consumers and shareholders are keen to see organizations get better at benchmarking climate action initiatives. Governments are also establishing more reporting requirements, which will inevitably multiply through initiatives such as the recent Sustainable Innovation Forum at COP21.

No matter how you look at it, the call for climate action is coming in surround sound. More than 50 percent of customers prefer sustainable brands and are more likely to trust a company that reports corporate social responsibility results. As a result, key stakeholders are asking organizations to measure and disclose performance. This includes consumers and employees, right through to the stock exchange.

The net: integrated reporting is going mainstream.

The race to sustainability

Sustainability programs boost consumer confidence, shareholder esteem and a company’s bottom line. But companies often struggle with how quantify and package program results.

ASICS, for instance, was grappling with timely consolidation of sustainability data as it managed significant business growth, particularly in retail operations. The global footwear and sports apparel leader didn’t have a centralized tracking system – so collating energy and water use, metric conversions and audit data was a challenge.

To address this issue, the company turned to Resource Advisor, a cloud-based data collection and analysis platform. Reporting processes and data access improved dramatically, saving resources and allowing continuous enhancement of open and transparent reporting further down into the supply chain.

Eight steps to effective reporting

However, many companies are failing to capitalize on these benefits simply because they don’t have the expertise and tools to capture and report progress on their sustainability goals. Even companies that want to operate more transparently often struggle with collecting and wrangling sustainability data, which is typically scattered across different silos and platforms. According to research firm Verdantix, organisations have adopted more than 2,500 unique metrics for use in sustainability reports, which gives a sense of scale to the challenge facing companies.

Companies can develop effective sustainability reporting strategies using the following steps:

1. Create a roadmap 

A roadmap provides a high-level guide for how reporting will function. It should set out expectations for governance, shareholder engagement and disclosure. And it should consider performance across all the following areas:

  • Operations
  • Supply chain
  • Transportation and logistics
  • Products and services
  • Employees

2. Develop a governance structure

Identify the data owners of your sustainability program and establish communication pathways between them and the sustainability team. Bring in site contacts and enterprise stakeholders to make sure they buy into the goals. Short conversations up front can save significant time chasing information later.

3. Develop accountability structures

This is a framework not unlike an org chart in that it shows the different groups involved in reporting. It includes an outline of the roles and responsibilities of each group, and describes the processes, people and support necessary to function effectively. Accountability structures provide clarity, structure and communication.

4. Leverage technology

The right systems allow you to house various data points from all owners in one place. Rather than manually inputting data from a variety of sources, which is time intensive and error prone, implement a cloud-enabled SaaS. That way, data can be more easily analyzed and acted upon. This platform should also offer drill-down capability into single-site, interval-level data to find inefficiencies that can be hidden in monthly reports.

5. Identify quick ROI opportunities

Use analytics to identify projects with low up-front investments that can result in positive results over a relatively short period of time. Examples include an understanding of the leading and lagging site performers within your real-estate portfolio, or an immediate opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. As much as 50 percent of potential efficiency improvements are low- to no-cost.

6. Communicate successes

Share success stories with stakeholders and highlight the value of what has been accomplished, as well as challenges the company still needs to address. Sustainability communications will only deliver brand value if they are based on brand strategy and integrated with mainstream communication.

7. Continually assess and refine

Examine where the strategy is performing well and expand upon those aspects. Then refine (or discard) the tactics that are showing less success. Outside of your team, industry experts can fill gaps to drive efficiency and improve performance. Reporting strategies should be assessed on a regular basis, and integrated with feedback from internal and external stakeholders.

8. Create a sustainable culture

Companies that see significant returns on their environmental initiatives recruit a diverse roster of employees who have one thing in common: an appreciation for sustainability and a passion for action. That starts at the apex, with the board of directors. For a company operating in the 21st century, the risks and opportunities a board considers must include environmental and social issues.

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