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How Can Social Media Improve Sustainability Reporting?

Posted in: CSR Reporting, Sustainability & Social Media Started by 

How Can Social Media Improve Sustainability Reporting?

This is a redit of a blog post I posted some time ago on Wizness Community and updated yesterday on Medium. To read the whole story on Medium, please visit: https://medium.com/p/102bc30a25ad.

Companies who will win market-shares on the long-term are those who will have discussed about their environmental and social challenges in a two-way dialogue with their stakeholders. Will you be one of them?


Few months ago, the CEO of BSR, Aron Cramer, published a very interesting article in the Guardian: « Will Social Media Save or Kill Sustainability Reporting ? ». Indeed, what better tool than social media to listen to stakeholders and respond to them in total transparency? But still, very few companies fully embrace social and engaging reporting methods when its comes to Sustainability. What can they be afraid of?

PDF Reports Are Obsolete

Aron Cramer starts with an observation shared by a growing amount of Corporate Social Responsibility experts: “Sustainability reporting is missing out on opportunities for dynamic engagement online”. Indeed, as we stated few months ago:

« 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 conceived to be attractive and appealing to non-experts. In other words, long documents full of information looking for the right audience.»

But where is that audience? And how do people stay up to date with corporate information? The Cone Communications Global CSR Study 2013 tells us about the new trends in these matters:

• 62% of global consumers report use social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues
• Websites, Social Media & Mobile/Cell Phones represent 24% of favorite communication channels for information about social and environmental programs and products

It is clear that online & mobile communication channels are emerging and should not be ignored by companies on any topic. Aron Cramer even adds:

“Sustainability reports, with their data, official letters, and assurance statements play the uptight grandparent to social media’s unruly teenager. These formal data are immensely important, but they will lose relevance — and audience — if they don’t wake up and live. They need to be brought out of the vine-covered castles of corporate websites. Regard your report as a repository. The repository itself isn’t often used, but the fascinating, unique and relevant data within it can be used in the social media debate.”

In fact, social media debates do happen out there, even if they’re not all approved by the Communication Departments of big international brands. It is then illusionary to ignore them, but relevant to take the initiative and open dedicated spaces to discuss in full transparency with stakeholders, without any censorship. All the brands aren’t ready to play this game, however Cone Communications’ report also states an interesting figure: “85% of this year’s respondents say it’s okay if a company is not perfect, as long as it is honest about its efforts”.

With that in mind, Yes, we do believe that Social Media and Transparency are the future of Sustainability Reporting and on a broader scope responsible marketing practices. We bet that companies who will win on the long-term are those who will have discussed about their successes, but also their challenges, in a two-way dialogue with their stakeholders without greenwashing or doublespeaking.

“How can we fill the gulf between 140-page PDF report and 140-character tweet?”

We know that stakeholders can’t really have their say in current Sustainability reports, which are often documents that no one can comment, read on mobile devices or share on social media. PDF viewers may look like an interesting approach, however Ideas on Purpose highlights some limits in terms of interactivity, engagement and customization: « The benefits of these viewers are questionable, as they provide a much compromised user experience and represent a lost communication opportunity ».

However, truly digital formats are emerging in some major companies like GE, Levi’s, or Starbucks. Out of the 100 companies we studied in the SMI Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index 2012, we found:

• 70 had dedicated Sustainability blogs or magazines
• 40 had shareable Sustainability reports (compared to 15 in 2010)
• 4 shared those reports using iPad apps

According to Ideas on Purpose, 28% of the Fortune 200 companies create interactive sites as their Sustainability reports: Coca-Cola, Kellogs, Volkswagen or Ford being among the pioneers. This tendency fits into a larger trend of instantaneity between corporations and stakeholders, transparency of information, but also storytelling through interactive and multimedia content which cannot be used in traditional paper reports.

Our ambition with our new project is to help companies take this track and this is how we came up with the Publisher idea: enabling all-size organizations designing and publishing interactive and digital Sustainability or CSR reports through a unique and experience-driven web-service. Organizations like UPS, Lavola or MADE-BY joined our little revolution and now present Sustainability reports which are:

• Online & interactive, with videos, graphics and maps
• Tailored to stakeholders with filtered views according to readers’ interests
• Available everywhere and anytime on tablets or smartphones
• Shareable on social media
• Fully transparent and engaging with a commenting system
• Customized to their brand image

Lavola Sustainability Report 2012

If you’d like to give it a shot or just exchange on our project, feel free to send me a tweet @mariondupont, I would love to chat and listen to your stories.

But always keep in mind this quote from David Jones at Havas:

“Stakeholders don’t expect you to be perfect, but expect you to be honest”.


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