Nearly 200 of the Fortune 250 businesses produced a sustainability report in 2006, a vast increase from previous years. As small- to mid-sized business and nonprofits increasingly initiate sustainability initiatives, they too may benefit from issuing this type of report. But is such a report the best way to go? While a sustainability report is one way to keep your stakeholders aware of your progress, some have called it too complicated and cumbersome when a simpler approach may suffice.
First, what is a sustainability report? These reports are similar to, but far more comprehensive than the traditional annual report, which generally considered only economics; a sustainability report also includes social and environmental metrics. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) produces the world’s standard in sustainability reporting guidelines. (See the Ceres website for examples of sustainability reports.)
Since the goal of this communication piece is usually to keep your stakeholders aware of the progress of your business on environmental and social goals, a solid communications plan may work just as well and could provide the added benefit of more regular updates.
Regardless of which approach an organization decides to take, there are some simple best practices to follow to ensure that their message is understood by a variety of stakeholders and to avoid claims of “greenwashing,” defined as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”
Under promise, over deliver. By making any green claims, you will be positioning your company for greater scrutiny by customers, the public, the media, and non-governmental organizations. So be particularly careful about the claims you are making. If possible, have in place some type of quality assurance system by which all facts and figures are double-checked.
Be transparent. If you don’t include certain key facts or figures about your organization in areas where you might be having a large impact, it will look like you have something to hide. We all want to report the good news, and the successes, but you’ll need to release the cold hard facts.
Keep it visual. Don’t get too bogged down in the how. While the content is critical, strive to present it simply, using visuals as often as possible. Since much of what you will share includes data and company metrics that you are tracking, use good old charts, graphs to show trends in performance against past years.
Go Electronic. Online reports are a no-brainer in any type of sustainability communications. Set up a dedicated website, or portion of your website, just on your sustainability initiatives. InterafceFLOR provides an excellent example. By providing a web presence, your customers and followers will know quickly where to go when they want an update. With adequate electronic notification, a good marketing plan, and easy online access, you will keep your communications green. See a previous blog for more on green marketing.
Don’t forget your internal audience. Often, especially in larger companies, employees may not even be aware of their organization’s efforts on sustainability. So remember that all of your communications should also be directed toward you employees. This effort will not only help to keep them informed, but it sends a clear message regarding the company’s focus and intentions. It can also help get the creative juices flowing when looking for opportunities to improve sustainability in other areas of the company.
Consultant and writer on sustainability and the environment
Helping you leave a green footprint on the world…