With the SEC asking dozens of companies for climate disclosers, corporate boards are intensifying their focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG). That said, now is the best time to begin preparing to publish a corporate sustainability report at your company. If you’re not familiar with how to create such a report, don’t worry: This article will cover everything you need to know, from the nitty gritty of what, exactly, a corporate sustainability report is, to great examples from notable companies.
What is A Corporate Sustainability Report?
A corporate sustainability report is usually published annually and is intended for the public, investors, and stakeholders of the company. According to the Global Reporting Initiative, a CSR report can be defined as:
“A report published by a company or organization about the economic, environmental and social impacts caused by its everyday activities. A sustainability report also presents the organization’s values and governance model and demonstrates the link between its strategy and its commitment to a sustainable global economy.”
Corporate sustainability reports have many benefits, from improved customer sentiment to heightened investor interest. In fact, many investors won’t even consider backing a company unless it discloses its environmental and social impacts.
Are Corporate Sustainability Reports Mandatory?
That depends what country, state, or city your company resides in. Companies of all sizes and types are encouraged to produce sustainability reports in order to increase awareness of their environmental footprint and let investors and clients know where the company stands in terms of sustainability. A 2020 study by Carrots and Sticks revealed that there has been a substantial increase in sustainability reporting regulations around the world. A few of the countries that have mandatory sustainability reporting are:
The United Kingdom:
In the United Kingdom, quoted companies are mandated to provide a report disclosing annual greenhouse gas emissions under the Companies Act of 2006.
The European Union:
The EC Directive on Disclosure of Non-Financial and Diversity Information (2013) is a major reporting instrument of the EU. Certain large companies and public-interest companies are required to disclose material environmental matters.
The United States:
According to regulations issued by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), all listed companies should disclose their environmental compliance expenses. Another sustainability reporting instrument, New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), mandates the listed companies to adopt and disclose a code of business conduct and ethics. Additionally, many cities require reporting to ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, a benchmarking platform with a strict set of emissions standards.
China has seven regulations that act as instruments of mandatory disclosure on sustainability matters. The Environmental Information Disclosure Act of 2008 mandates corporations to disclose environmental information according to the regulatory requirements. A separate report with an environmental disclosure is also requested from large companies listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.
Like China, India has seven instruments with a mandatory status that can be used for sustainability reporting. The Securities and Exchange Board of India requires the top 100 listed companies to produce annual Business Responsibility Reports.
Note that mandatory sustainability reporting is usually only applied to state-owned companies, large corporations, or listed companies. Additionally, some instruments have a “comply or explain” approach to sustainability reporting.
What’s In a Corporate Sustainability Report?
Now that we’ve explored what a corporate sustainability report is and whether it’s mandatory, let’s get into how to prepare your report. There is no one-size-fits-all approach – some organizations choose to write a standardized report, while other companies opt for a free-style sustainability report. Whichever you choose, these are the common features often seen in a sustainability report:
- A CEO statement briefly introducing the vision and the drivers behind the sustainability report
- A presentation of the organization’s governance structure and business model
- The sustainability context, i.e., an analysis explaining what’s happening at the market and industry levels
- An impact assessment that identifies the organization’s main negative impacts and business risks (indicators to measure progress are also identified here)
- An identification of the organization’s main stakeholders and the issues that worry them the most
- A materiality analysis in which the main worries of the organization and stakeholders are identified as the priorities
- An overview of performance in which progress over time is shared – via key indicators and metrics like emissions data, energy use, and carbon accounting data
- Anecdotes and/or pictures of how the sustainability strategy benefitting employees, investors, and the public.
How To Write A Corporate Sustainability Report
One way for your company to share its sustainability policies is to comply with strong standards and apply for certifications such as the ISO 26000, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Integrated Reporting, the B-Corp Certification or the FTSE4GOOD Index. Such certifications demand impactful changes and carry a great reputation. However, the sustainability proof or report submitted to get these certifications is usually exhaustive and therefore might not be best for smaller companies who just want to share their sustainability information with interested customers.
That said, another approach your organization can take is to create a personalized sustainability report template. This allows you to inform your stakeholders about your sustainability strategies, letting the policies that are in place and the outcomes achieved so far. However, because this option comes without official certification, your stakeholders may be wary of the validity of the information you are providing.
Because of this, the best option is often to do both types of report: A standardized one that follows an official guideline and a more informal report that extracts the main points of the formal report and translates it into simpler terms for the public.
Examples Of Great Corporate Sustainability Reports
How WatchWire Can Help
WatchWire can help streamline, automate, and standardize your sustainability reporting process through our cloud-based energy and sustainability management software. The platform stores, validates, and analyzes all energy, water, waste, and emissions data, providing a single source of truth for your organization’s ESG data. With multiple integrations to LEED Arc, GRESB, and more, standardizing your sustainability reporting process is possible. WatchWire also provides real-time data monitoring, so you can see how well your sustainability measures are working and provide the most recent energy and emissions data to your investors.
If you are interested in seeing how WatchWire can make standardized reporting easier and help your company get a handle on material energy and sustainability issues, download the Watchwire Sustainability Brief here. Or, to learn about corporate sustainability reporting more in depth, download our e-book, “Utilizing Sustainability Reporting in the Journey Towards Net Zero.”