Talk with impact, about your impact. And keep readers from falling asleep
One of my favorite campaigns from Oatly is “Bedtime stories with Mike”. It is about an anonymous company’s ESG report, narrated with the effect of a sleeping pill. It always makes me smile while making my vegan lattes.
In my line of business, I read many sustainability reports. Some delight and inform me, some make me scroll impatiently. There was buzz a few years ago about humans having a shorter attention span than goldfish. But it’s not just that: when reading an ESG report, I am often searching for data and KPIs.
Good sustainability reports increase awareness for the company, and ultimately contribute to a greater company valuation. They educate readers on the most critical business sustainability challenges and solutions. They do a great job at proving how the company´s mission, values and strategy come together to serve all stakeholders.
Two examples: The CEO of a logistic and transportation software company spoke to me proudly about their ESG report. It was a good read, with insights on how technology helps the transportation sector to become more sustainable. Reducing empty transportation runs for example is both an efficiency gain and a way to reduce emissions.
One of our clients, a software company for engineering and construction, created their ESG report around footprint (its own sustainability KPIs), and handprint (helping users reach their own sustainability goals). Several user stories, aligned with global Sustainable Development Goals, were included as proof points.
How to create a great ESG report
Reading reports and talking with many experts brings out a few clear recommendations:
- It is all about data. Include material information and data, and make sure it has been audited. Include a historical evolution of the data, showing how the company is working its way toward its sustainability goals. Make your ESG report a part of your financial disclosure.
- Standardization means common business language. Use sustainability reporting standards and provide the data in easy-to– navigate, downloadable tables. Use graphics to underline the most important KPIs and their evolution. Analysts, investors and rating agencies will be thankful, as this will make it easier to evaluate your sustainability credentials.
- It starts with why. Explain your mission and strategy, short and clear. Your “why” is at the center of your sustainability strategy. You can even take “sustainability” out, and you would still have a great report of what your company does well, and how it helps others to have an impact. The executive(s) who sign the report also need to share their own views, mission, beliefs in an introductory letter.
Sustainability leaders in our network also shared their opinions on what makes a sustainability report meaningful:
If you are going to spend time and money to create an ESG report, invest wisely. Create a credible report focused on material information. Tell the story of your sustainability journey in an authentic and captivating way. The research about humans having a smaller attention span than fish was proven to be fake news, but what keeps us reading is good storytelling.
Fictional Mike from Oatly will stop producing soporific ESG reports after reading this article. But that’s not all. My dream is that sustainability reports will become obsolete someday, when sustainability is no longer nice-to-have and nice-to-report, but day-to-day, common-sense business.