When starting out, ESG and Sustainability reports are manageable. As companies’ complexity and ambition grow, there is an ever-increasing pressure to disclose—and explain—more. The reporting puzzle is not simple.
Companies need to address industry standards and expectations, manage risk, court investors, engage stakeholders, grab employees, and prepare for and meet ever-changing regulatory requirements. Reporting should be part of the fundamental communications strategy, not just another item on the to-do list.
As requirements grow, competing demands get harder to satisfy in a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Although information on the web is key, we see a strong demand for a PDF take-away from power-users, and the need to boil all the complexity down for a broad consumer or employee audience. Companies—and the hard-working reporting team—want to get the most out of their efforts and investment, and reach the right audiences at the right time. Increasingly, companies will need to think about a strategic set of communications — leveraging multiple channels and vehicles to bring their purpose and sustainability/ESG story to life.
An emerging trend: the Report Suite.
What’s a Report Suite?
A full report is the kitchen sink of information and it is a “single source of truth” across topics. This may be all you need and is helpful for experts and those who want it all. But, the ESG/Sustainability Report has been growing and increasing in content over the past few years, with no end in sight, leaving some overwhelmed. However, this full report content can provide the foundation for a number of ancillary communications, that can be either more or less in depth, based on audience needs. It may be that there is not one-stop shopping, the true “full report” may be a collection of all the communications.
The Suite approach is a new way of thinking. One that ties all the parts and pieces together, presenting the collection as the full story. What are some of the common pieces of this collection? Glad you asked:
Highlights or Summary
Less technical audiences, employees or potential employees, consumers and even the executive team or Board of Directors, might want a top-line summary. This approach can provide the key takeaways, progress and proof. And links can lead to more information in a full report or on a website.
Issue- or Topic-Specific Reports
Often, one issue or topic is of special interest, or increased focus. We see growing adoption of a separate DEI Report for many companies. It is a powerful recruiting and re-recruiting tool. Certain topics that have a more technical or niche audience might want a separate report (The World Without Waste report is a good example from Coca-Cola; see below). Some might even include their CDP response in this collection.
Frameworks Stand Alone
We see some companies crafting separate reporting framework-driven documents (TCFD report examples from BlackRock, Verizon, and Ford are a few examples ). Or issuing their indexes as more content-rich, expert-focused documents. At a minimum, some companies separate out the indexes for easy access in separate PDFs.
Financial Reporting and Proxy Inclusive
U.S. companies use the 10-K as their definitive financial report and the Proxy contains relevant Governance information. There is an opportunity to address them as a suite—even if they all don’t publish simultaneously—and communicate unified messages across the documents. Below is Broadridge’s Annual Report, Sustainability Report, Proxy and Web highlights.
Creating a Digital Hub
Whether you integrate content into your corporate site or create a stand-alone microsite, a digital hub can help audiences find the information they are looking for: stories, frameworks, policies, data and the company’s overall approach. Increasing visibility of this information has positive implications, helping reinforce what is important to the company and to your stakeholders, increasing visibility for rankers and raters, and clarity in your commitments.
The Report Suite can complement the web content, and links can lead from one to the other as appropriate. Importantly, if you will have several documents, you need a place to house them so the relationship is clear. But the big benefit is one central place readers can expect to find the latest. And, a location that will be easily found in search engines.
Whether you integrate all content into one full report, or divide and conquer, it’s important to identify what your various audiences care about, what’s required, and your level of ambition. It’s never too soon to start thinking about your next report. Make a plan to share your story, progress and data so that it is accessible to all, without making it harder for raters and rankers. Increasing the accessibility and visibility of your ESG information has positive implications, helping reinforce what is important to the company and to your stakeholders. And, consistency in your communications reinforces all the efforts the company is making, and increases understanding.
How Ideas On Purpose Can Help
For over 20 years IOP has been helping companies of all sizes with their purpose-driven communications, including corporate reporting and ESG storytelling. Our strategy, content, digital and creative teams are ready to help you define and tell your ESG/Sustainability story and meet your reporting goals. Feel free to email us, we’re happy to discuss the possibilities.