Once simply considered “a nice to have”, corporate responsibility and sustainability reporting has become the norm – rather than the exception – for many of the world’s major organisations.

According to KPMG, 93% of G250 companies currently engage in corporate responsibility or sustainability reporting, up from around a third at the start of the millennium. What’s more, 67% of leading global companies now also disclose their carbon emission reduction targets.

Why now?

So, what’s changed? The obvious answer is that, with developments like the Paris Agreement, public awareness around climate change, poverty and other critical global issues has grown. These topics have become harder and harder for businesses to ignore.

Sustainability and corporate responsibility performance is also much more objective now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Independent benchmarks and initiatives such as the Carbon Disclosure Project and the UN Sustainable Development Goals have allowed greater visibility around how well – or how poorly – companies are performing.

Thinking big picture

Even if partly down to a desire of “keeping up with the Joneses” – i.e. “our competitor is doing it, so we should too” – corporations accepting sustainability reporting as best practice is hugely positive. However, in many cases, the process itself leaves room for improvement.

Old habits die hard. One is that organisations are still prone to talking about the good things they are doing for the environment and local communities, while overlooking the areas where they aren’t performing so well. Facing up to challenges in a transparent way is key to building trust among stakeholders.

Another is lack of context. A report will often detail how a company has managed to reduce its own CO2 emissions year over year, without really explaining how this is helping the environment.

In fact, according to KPMG analysis, only 23% of G250 firms link their carbon reduction targets to the Paris Agreement. And only 6% relate them to national government targets. Having new external ranking systems should drive change towards clearer benchmarking, but many companies are yet to fully embrace these tools.

Adding value

At Narrative Labs, we support many of our clients with their corporate responsibility and sustainability reporting. As communication professionals, our job is to help clients define their messaging – so that the information truly adds value and strikes a chord with the right people.

Part of this process is helping organisations determine not only what to say, but also the right way to say it. The more engaging and readable the content, the better. Ultimately, a sustainability report is there to be read by people on the outside as well as in – and not to be left gathering dust at the back of the boardroom or on some remote website subpage.

This involves a willingness to be bold, to look at things from a different angle, and to talk about corporate responsibility activities in a way that’s fresh, honest and down to earth. The worst that can happen is that someone might actually listen.

Are you looking for support with sustainability reports or other aspects of your corporate reporting? Contact Narrative Labs today to find out how we can help you.