6 elements of a killer CSR report

Disclosure is so hot rn. According to a 2015 Deloitte report, more and more companies are voluntarily reporting on non-financial figures year over year. They see it as an opportunity to promote transparency, celebrate wins and show progress against environmental and social goals. If you’ve ever explored the great big world of CSR reporting, you’ve probably noticed the wide range of approaches. Some stick to formal reporting guidelines like GRI others see it as an opportunity to be creative in design, format, and key performance indicators (some do both). Working at a food company this summer, I was tasked with exploring the CSR reporting landscape to discover new and interesting ways to communicate this information. I saw parallels across the most effective reports, which, in my opinion, manage to stay on brand, clearly and concisely communicate goals and objectives, and graciously share the good and the bad. Now, not all of these 6 suggestions will work for everyone. If I had to give one piece of advice it would be to evaluate the information you have and decide which approach most clearly represents your sustainability and social responsibility strategy. But no need to reinvent the wheel. Let’s take a peek at what others are doing to get some inspiration, shall we?

  1. Covers that Connects

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Everyone judges books by their cover, CSR reports aren’t any different. It’s what draws people in and should encapsulate the brand and the content in some fashion. I know, it’s a lot of pressure! The companies that I thought did this well showed connection. The image represented the human part of their business. For Ikea, it’s a family lounging on a sofa in a comfy and charmingly cluttered home. For Happy Family (an organic baby food company), its a child outside playing with their product looking into the camera. They’re capturing normal every day moments and interactions with their products that help humanize the brand. That theme should carry through, which makes it a great way to introduce the report.

2. Thinking outside the PDF with interesting formats

It’s pretty unlikely that people outside of your company will be printing out a physical copy of your CSR report and flipping through it. So why are we still using static formats? Some companies are using new and interesting formats to keep the attention of distracted viewers. Patagonia created a beautiful and engaging video that shows highlights from their environmental and social initiatives booklet. They also use a platform called Issu that mimics the flipping of an actual book and allows them to link out to other pages. Timberland has pretty straight forward social and environmental reports, but use their responsibility website to creatively highlight goals and progress. Not only does this involve the viewer, it gives the company additional metrics to understand what matters to stakeholders through heat mapping and online analytics tools.

3. Show what’s important and why

Connecting the mission to the initiatives you’re highlighting is crucial. According to Simon Sinek, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” A CSR report is the perfect long form vehicle to connect your mission to your sustainability and social initiatives. I say show for a reason. Use a format that easily connects concepts.  Ikea and Seventh Generation chose table formats to show how they are delivering on the things they care about.

4. Explain goals. Show progress (and set backs).

Hopefully, this won’t be the reason sustainability goals are created. If you realize you need to create targets to work toward for the report, you should hold off on the report until you have a plan to reach them. If you have goals and are actively working toward them, this is a great opportunity to show progress and be transparent about challenges you’re working toward overcoming. Although not in a CSR report, Timberland features their goal with a rollover feature to show their progress against their target. Plum (another baby food company) explained the difficulties with their pouches and what they’re doing to find a solution. In almost every section of Honest Tea’s report, they feature a section called “real talk” dedicated to the honest truth about their sustainability and social initiatives.

5. Put KPIs  into context

Expecting your readers to understand the impact of saving a ton of CO2e is…a lot. Put your impact into context instead. REI translated their use of alternative and recycled packaging into metrics that people care about – deforestation, road congestion and water conservation. Clif Bar reduced their wrapper contents by 10%. Sounds underwhelming until they make it personal by explaining the impact you can have by cutting out 10% of something in your own life.

6. Tell your story

The beauty of these reports is their humanity. Underneath it all, it’s about people trying to do good. With that, there are some pretty incredible stories that explain way more than pie charts or graphs ever could. Gather quotes from employees about their committment like Unilever did in their opportunities for women report. Spotlight specific initiatives that had direct impact on a community like Honest Tea did. It’s engaging and relatable content that can live beyond the CSR report and even build morale within the company.

Hope that was helpful. If it wasn’t, I get it. There’s no guidebook to these things. They should be unique to your company’s mission, perspective, and progress, but as long as you’re telling your story in an authentic and engaging way, it will be worth the time invested to document the human side of your business.

 

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