Producing a corporate sustainability report (CSR) is a team sport. The stronger the team is, the stronger the report will be. Each player needs to bring specific expertise that is complementary to the team as a whole. So, it is important to recruit and rally the key experts that can deliver what you need to make the company’s report a success. Choose carefully and look for people who already demonstrate some passion about sustainability.
In most organizations, there are one or two departments that lead the sustainability report. Those functions will likely be a reflection of the organization’s biggest sustainability risks and opportunities. Regardless of which department is taking the lead, it is helpful to develop a strategy to recruit at least one expert team member from the following functions:
Since the CSR is a way to communicate with stakeholders, marketing/communications departments often manage it. Knowledgeable sustainability communications professionals can make strategic recommendations about messaging, format and audience prioritization that can greatly impact the success of a report. Whether the writing and design is handled internally or externally, the communications department will be able to ensure overall brand and message consistency.
The communications team also can merchandise report content across communications platforms such as employee newsletters, press releases and social media to ensure the messages reach various stakeholder audiences. As the managers for these various channels, the communications department should also collect feedback from those stakeholders to provide a better external voice to the report.
Demonstrating the ways that your organization gives back to communities is one of the easiest, most positive elements of the CSR. So, there should be at least one member of the reporting team from the department responsible for non-profit grants, employee volunteer programs and/or in-kind giving. This kind of sustainability content tends to be the shiny-happy data and stories that represent very little organizational risk. As a result, this expert is generally easier to recruit. The challenge in community impact is going beyond photos of giant check handovers or smiling volunteers. To build a world-class report, the team member representing community impact needs to help compile comprehensive data that demonstrates meaningful, lasting impact on communities.
Environmental data makes up a substantial portion of the content in many CSRs. In fact, the environmental section of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework includes 30 disclosures, double the number in any of the other sections. Look for a team member that can provide you with a comprehensive picture of your organizational approach to electricity, fuel, waste and water. For a great CSR, identify a team member to serve as point person for all environmental content who knows exactly where the data is, how to get it and most importantly, how to effectively communicate it in the right context for your business.
Since employees are a key stakeholder group for any organization, a representative from Human Resources (HR) will be a critical member of the CSR team. There are 15 GRI indicators in the Labor Practices and Decent Work section and another four indicators in the Human Rights section related to employees. Key HR data includes training, safety and diversity statistics. The sensitive nature of HR data, such as salary ranges and injury rates, makes it critical to have a reliable gatekeeper. Similar to the environment expert, your HR team member should be able to first, locate the data and second, help articulate the organizational strengths and weaknesses that data represents.
In most companies, someone in the legal department will eventually have the opportunity to review and possibly veto any disclosures in the CSR. Do not wait until the final reviews to meet your legal team. It is much better to consult them early on in the process for a two reasons. First, the process will go more smoothly if there is time to make sure the reviewer is familiar with GRI and your business’ reasons for doing a CSR. Second, it is better to get legal guidance regarding disclosures as the report is being compiled rather than after the report has been written.
Keep in mind that these are just the top five experts needed. Once this group has been assembled, you should also consider including representatives from compliance, procurement, marketing, finance & accounting. The more each of these experts from your internal functions can also become experts on sustainability reporting and GRI, the better your report will be.
Article by Rebecca Treacy-Lenda, a Strategist at Emotive Brand, is an award winning communications professional with more than a decade of experience in corporate communications and public relations. Rebecca specializes in sustainability strategy and communications having managed the industry-leading UPS sustainability report for several years.
Rebecca is part of the team at Emotive Brand, an award-winning brand and design consultancy that transforms businesses by making brands matter more to people.
Article appearing courtesy 3BL Media.