Reporting is a core part of what sustainability teams do. But it’s hard to do well. Practitioners at leading Canadian organizations asked NBS: “How can we find innovative ways of communicating the right information at the right time to the right stakeholders?”
Barbara Turley-McIntyre, Vice President, Sustainability & Citizenship, The Co-operators Group, decribed the challenge: “We are committed to reporting to our stakeholders and providing transparent information on our business. How can we report effectively to such a diverse group of stakeholders, while at the same time managing the time that we spend on these activities?”
In response, NBS selected a team of researchers led by Dr. Jodi York (University of Melbourne, Australia) to identify a path to more effective sustainability reporting. With direction from a Guidance Committee comprising academic and industry experts, the team reviewed already published best practices and drew insights from seven Canadian companies.
Download the full report "Sustainability Reporting to Improve Organizational Performance," for an in-depth look at the research project. Managers may be particularly interested in an accompanying Sustainability Reporting Playbook, which provides action-focused guidance, including quizzes to assess existing organizational practices.
From Report to Reporting
This research argues for a shift in focus from report to reporting. The formal sustainability report should be an important part of a larger reporting platform for understanding and communicating organizational performance, rather than the production of the sustainability report being an end in itself.
The researchers’ Effective Reporting Framework (below) shows reporting as a cyclical process that involves all functions in an organization, and feeds back to inform future strategy. Most organizations see reporting as a linear process of gathering inputs and producing an output, but such an approach leaves value on the table.
“Sustainability reporting is not about producing reports,” says lead author Dr. Jodi York. “It’s about managing performance. Sustainability is a key window into that. Firms that recognize the value of the reporting process can capture a huge opportunity.”
When effectively executed, sustainability reporting can aid the firm and its stakeholders. The reporting process and outcomes can increase employee engagement, inform managerial decision-making, identify cost savings, foster innovation, and create goodwill that aids marketing, hiring, and retention. In short, sustainability reporting can allow internal stakeholders to be more effective in their roles.
Meanwhile, external stakeholders seek a broader base of information with which to evaluate company performance, beyond bottom-line financial results. In particular, investors, lenders, customers, and NGOs are more likely to factor sustainability information into decisions than ever before.
This research combines the best of academic research with the best of practical experience, to provide rigorous, relevant analysis.