Whatever it is you might be reporting, be it your social, financial or environmental impacts, sustainability reporting, formal or informal, mandatory or voluntary, should be engaging, informative and, most importantly, accurate. In order to deliver a successful report, we must apply a set of principles to our work. These principles allow us to deliver reports that are valuable, compliant, and perhaps most significantly, are relevant to your key stakeholders.
To give you a helping hand, we've put together a few principles that you should apply when collecting and reporting your sustainability data. We’ve drawn inspiration from the SECR guidelines, and the GRI Standards, to ensure that whatever data you collect and report is well on its way to being compliant - even before you put your pen to paper.
Collecting irrelevant data is a waste of time. Yes - believe it or not - more of a waste of time than doing the prep work in advance of beginning your data collection.
Before you begin your data collection process, take the time to complete a materiality assessment. This will help you to understand what impact areas are relevant to your organisation – write them all down, get senior management involved, and even include aspirational reporting areas.
Completing a materiality assessment provides you with the opportunity to engage your key stakeholders, to make sure that you are reporting on relevant information to them. Providing your key stakeholders with this information will help them to make informed decisions about your company. The key here is to listen - really listen - and act.
The KPIs you choose need to be measurable. Setting yourself targets can help you to reduce your impact, and gathering quantitative data allows you to evaluate, compare and manage your progress year on year. It is useful for validation purposes, too.
When reporting your measurable data, don’t just leave it alone on the page for people to interpret how and when they like. Give your data an accompanying narrative: What is the purpose of this data?; What is the impact?; How does this compare?
Beware of bad data. Make sure all of the data you collect is accurate, and that you reduce any uncertainties in your figures where possible. Along with reporting accurate data, your figures should also be detailed. Any uncertainties, approximations, or predictions should be clearly explained. You want to be able to provide your stakeholders with sufficiently accurate data that will enable them to make decisions confidently and to view your report with integrity.
There’s nothing less appealing for stakeholder buy-in than supplying them with an insincere, inaccurate report.
All of your data must be complete. That means that you must cover all of your KPIs and their boundaries. The point is to provide sufficient coverage of your significant economic, social and environmental impacts, which will enable your stakeholders to assess your performance easily and without doubt. If anything is excluded, you must disclose the exclusion and justify it.
As the saying goes: Consistency is key. Whatever you decide to report, it’s important to use consistent methodologies to allow for meaningful comparisons of your data over time. Data, as with your organisational boundaries, your methods and much more, will naturally change as time passes and your business grows. Just be sure to document any changes that occur, so that nothing is missed and that there’s always an explanation for any changes to the consistency of your methodologies.
Comparing data year on year allows you to manage and evaluate your long term performance, it helps you to benchmark yourself against your peers and competitors, and it allows your stakeholders to analyse any changes in your performance over the years.
It’s recommended that you report data using accepted KPIs instead of just inventing your own. It’s fine, of course, to add additional achievements, progress and failures which fall outside of the accepted KPIs, but note that these additional impacts are voluntary and will not contribute towards legislative compliance.
When providing comparable data, allow space for a narrative to be written: did any tensions exist between providing comparable data and reporting company-specific KPIs?
Saving the world one business at a time is no small feat, and with all journeys (sustainability journeys included) there are always ups and downs, victories and defeats, cliffhangers and “to be continued’s”. It’s a story worth sharing. It’s also a story your stakeholders will love.
As you may well know, transparency is one of our sustainability reporting categories here at Studio Republic. It’s an essential part of any sustainability journey, and at times can be quite challenging.
It’s difficult to always know if everything you’re doing has been made sufficiently transparent. And perhaps the most difficult question is: What needs to be made transparent in the first place anyway?
In sustainability reporting, transparency is essential to producing a credible report. All relevant sustainability issues must be addressed in a factual manner, and all assumptions, calculations and methodologies used must be noted and referenced where applicable.
Tell people about your internal processes, systems and procedures, and make sure that your data comes with a “How and Why” explanation of its collection. If you’ve made some mistakes, perhaps picked yourself up a few environmental fines, or maybe you just didn’t meet this year’s target, don’t worry. People will really appreciate it if you just talk to them. Tell them what happened honestly, give the details and make amends. We don’t call it a sustainability journey for nothing, you know.
As mentioned above, you will need to balance your sustainability wins with your sustainability losses. Don’t skim over the negative stuff and focus only on the positive - that wouldn’t make a good story now, would it? Besides, everyone makes mistakes one way or the other, and certainly we all have areas in which we can improve.
As with all reporting, it’s important to give a holistic view of your impacts, to show an accurate picture of all your actions. This way, you’ll be able to make a reasonable assessment of your company’s overall performance.
Key questions to ask yourself to ensure your report has clarity:
- Who is my audience?
- Will people understand my report?
- Is it accessible?
Producing a clear report, which is understandable and accessible to all of your key stakeholders, is imperative to having a successful report. It’s all well and good having a scientific, jargon-laden report which meets all of the mandatory compliance criteria, but if your customers can’t understand it, is it really worth the work?
Of course it is, but if you don’t make your report relevant and understandable to the masses, consider making two versions of your report: a formal one for compliance purposes, and a more relatable, jargon free version for your key stakeholders. That way, you know that no one is being missed, and all of your efforts are being communicated sufficiently to the people that matter.
Time management is so important. No one wants the mad last minute rush of gathering data. Trust me. It’s really easy with sustainability initiatives to get lost in what’s going on. You may have multiple team members working on different aspects of your sustainability project, on top of doing their regular day job. You may even be the sole sustainability champion in your company, juggling multiple tasks at once and chasing information from colleagues in different company locations to you. Whatever your situation, it’s important to keep track of the progress being made, set up regular reporting schedules to make sure that you always have access to the most up to date information. This way, if some of your key stakeholders need last minute sustainability input, you will be there with all the relevant information to hand to ensure they’re making fully informed decisions.
These ten principles will help you massively with your sustainability reporting journey. Use them as a guide, and ask yourself at each stage of your data collection and reporting: “Am I meeting the 10 principles?”. From experience, I know it’s easy to get carried away in the sustainability rabbit hole, and confuse yourself with all the data, regulations and requirements. Stay clear headed, and walk through the process step by step, checking in with this post every now and again to make sure you’re on the right track.
Despite it seeming like a lengthy, “tick-box” exercise, sustainability reporting is a really valuable and inspiring activity to complete. You’ll learn things about your company, your colleagues and your community that you never knew before, and you’ll become inspired to implement positive change. If you need further guidance for environmental impact reporting, check out our post on the Government’s updated SECR guidelines. Alternatively, should you want professional assistance with your sustainability journey, we offer in-depth sustainability consultancy services tailor made to your business. Send us an email, or pick up the phone and a member of our team will be more than happy to help.
Become a changemaker, the world and your business will thank you.