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10 Costly Mistakes of CSR Reporting

CSR reporting has become the norm for any company committed to responsible business practice. But, when done incorrectly, reporting can do more harm than good.

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CSR reporting has become the norm for any company committed to responsible business practice. But, when done incorrectly, reporting can do more harm than good. The following are 10 mistakes to avoid when planning, conducting and promoting your CSR report:

  1. Weak Goals: Sustainability reports built around weak organizational goals are doomed to fail. Know what success looks like for your company and build your CSR reporting around that.

  2. Mismanaged Data: Good data collection is essential to gaining meaningful results from initiatives like auditing or footprinting. Assign data collection responsibilities to trained people – either inside or outside your company – and continuously check the numbers for accuracy.

  3. Disordered Priorities: Recognize that the pillars of the triple bottom line (TBL) are interconnected, and that long-term sustainability goes beyond shareholder profits. A good manager will prioritize sustainability in their CSR reports by weighting it equal to financial performance.

  4. Discounting Feedback: Reporting shouldn’t be a one-way endeavour. Take the advice of third parties such as auditors and stakeholder panels, who can comment on your report and help verify data accuracy.

  5. Breaking the Rules: Good reporting should follow a trusted framework or guideline. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an excellent example.

  6. Tenuous Comparisons: Companies are inclined to track their progress internally. Accept the fact that you’re one fish in a large sea. Stakeholders will want to know how sustainable you are compared to your industry peers, not necessarily your own benchmarks.

  7. Unreachable Targets: Targets in CSR reporting should be linked to corporate priorities. Make them relevant and aggressive but still achievable.

  8. Underreporting: Don’t limit communication of your sustainability performance to the CSR report. Use a variety of media to communicate your progress and challenges. Ensure your message is consistent across media.

  9. Thinking Short-Term: Don’t turn down a sustainable opportunity simply because it has a higher price tag or longer payback period. Yes, quarterly results are important, but keeping your eye on the prize will pay off in the long run.

  10. Inadvertently Greenwashing: While it’s important to convey your environmental and social progress, it’s a mistake to focus solely on the positives or on programs that are immaterial to your organization. Make reporting meaningful by acknowledging the areas where you still have room for improvement and tying your CSR goals back to your company mission.Done correctly, CSR reporting increases share price and bolsters stakeholder confidence in your firm. Done poorly, CSR reporting opens your company up to consumer derision and stakeholder criticism. As you roll out your CSR reports from 2012 and think ahead to next year’s report, keep this list in mind.

This list was adapted from the article The Best Sustainability Reports are Built on Trust by management researcher Irene Herremans.

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  • Lauren Turner

    Lauren completed a Bachelor of Health Sciences and a Master’s in Environment and Sustainability at Western University. She interned with the Network for Business Sustainability as part of the MES program, and continued to edit and contribute content to the network in the years following. She later completed a Master’s in Insurance and Risk Management from the MIB School of Management in Italy, where she focused on environmental risk mitigation strategies in the face of changing market sentiments towards low carbon. Lauren has worked primarily in the non-profit and higher-ed sectors in Toronto and London over the past decade. Her work has revolved around corporate social responsibility in mining and minerals governance, stakeholder engagement, project and program management, and writing/editing for corporate audiences. Her writing has focused on the intersection of sustainability and finance, access to capital, investor risk, consumer behaviour, and sustainable marketing. She is interested in conversations around how industry can hedge against risk and benefit financially from improving the sustainability of their operations.

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