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What is the Future of Sustainability Reporting?

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What is the Future of Sustainability Reporting?

A month and a half ago, I realized a synthesis of the « Smarter Sustainability Reporting » conference, regarding CSR and Sustainability Reports. This problematic is one of high importance to Wizness as it gathers CSR on the one hand, and communication and stakeholders ‘engagement through social networks on the other hand – although this increasingly tends to be the norm. To go even further, I read several reports that attempt to draw the lines of what CSR reporting will tend towards in the future. Could you guess?

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First thing first, let’s start with a statement that has been shared via Ancona, SAB Miller & JohnstonWorks’ report “Multiple Messages : Sustainability Reporting in Transparent times” (attached at the end of this post).

Currently, most Sustainability & CSR reports are built on the same format: a unique, non-differenced content for all readers, an average length of 60 pages, a KPIs or specific data section only CSR “experts” can really appreciate, all of this packaged under a design that is actually conceived to be rather attractive and appealing to non-experts. In other words, “long documents full of information looking for the right audience.”

According to the Multiple Messages report, and the SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index, little do companies actually use the whole range of different tools they could benefit from: digital communication, social media, advertising and direct communication, specific and permanent micro-sites. At a first glance, using these new tools could seem like requiring a lot of efforts – nevertheless, such efforts will result in building an assertive audience, therefore a better engagement. Because new technologies increase the volume & transparency of exchanges between stakeholders and companies, and make these exchanges instantaneous, making good use of them should result in improving a company’s reputation.

“Polls on CSR reporting reveal an increasing preference for online reports, especially on social networks.” This first large trend is therefore widely favored and asked by the stakeholders. But what are the other trends?

1. The use of Materiality Matrixes: to agree upon themes which are important to both the stakeholders and the company.
2. On-demand information: thanks to new technologies, stakeholders will be in position to have access to “on-demand” CSR information via search engines and syndication tools.
3. The famous integrated report: the integration of the CSR report to the financial report is still being debated. A workshop has been organized by the IIRC committee, by the way.
4. Local reporting: the possibility for subsidiaries (especially in the BRICS) to produce their own CSR reports, pointing out on more local issues.
5. Highlighting products history: companies will increasingly highlight the origins and impact of their products, throughout eco-friendly or fair trade labels, or even carbon footprint ones.
6. Internal and external validation: so to keep credibility, any information advanced in the reports has to be approved by third parties, both internally and externally.
7. Content standardization, especially with framework agreements like the GRI, here to help companies list their KPIs
8. Tailored publications: the different groups of stakeholders are increasingly asking for tailored releases, adapted to the needs and interests of their own groups.

Actually, the latter trend is one we have been particularly focusing on at Wizness.com. It is crucial to address different information to different groups of stakeholders:

– ONGs & Associations
– Investors
– Analysts and Rating Agencies
– Opinion Leaders
– Students and Academicians
– Employees
– Clients (B2B, B2C)
– Partners and suppliers

As it has been clearly explained in the report: “A company may want to broadcast a story about its own culture to its employees, that would be inappropriate to an external audience. An ONG on the other hand, will be rather attracted towards precise technical data, regarding specific projects, which would be meaningless to the employees.”

“Technology already enables stakeholders to select the content they want to receive, versus reading the whole report.” Social networks, and Wizness in particular, present new ways to engage companies stakeholders. Yet these companies are still reluctant to use them because of the risks implied in regards to their reputation – while these could help filling in a certain lack of transparency and balance reports that are most of the time not so homogeneous.
To settle things down, the Multiple Messages report has attempted to identify 5 possible case-scenarios regarding the future of sustainability reporting. What came out of it is that none of these scenarios is likely to occur more than another. The only things that are to be taken for granted about tomorrow’s Sustainability reports are that they will be :

– Plural: via several documents and broadcasting channels
– Tailored: different auditors will ask for different content
– Continued: companies will use social networks to communicate all along the year, in a narrative world where information is supplied “on demand”.

What’s your opinion? How do you imagine your next sustainability report?

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