The drafting and iteration phase of sustainability reporting can be complex and time-consuming without proper measurement systems and reporting governance in place. Prioritizing data review and audit ensures the accuracy and reliability of the reported information, providing stakeholders with trustworthy data to make informed decisions.
Every organization is unique and data collection methods should be tailored to fit the company's specific operating context. Some organizations may opt for spreadsheet-based data collection, while others may require outsourced tools or proprietary systems. Choosing the most suitable method allows for efficient and effective data collection and review.
Content outline and structural consistency
Developing a content outline provides a clear roadmap for your first version. While it is acceptable to maintain the same structure over several years, the approach should be flexible to integrate new content when significant shifts in the company’s strategy or external conditions occur. One advantage of structural consistency is it allows readers to compare year-on-year information easily, enhancing their understanding of the organization's progress.
The Importance of key performance narratives (KPNs)
KPNs add depth and context to KPIs in sustainability reporting. By describing performance, explaining the reasons behind it and outlining future expectations, KPNs provide a comprehensive understanding of the organization's sustainability efforts. This contextual information helps stakeholders interpret and assess the significance of reported data.
Iterative drafting process and stakeholder engagement
The drafting process of sustainability reporting should be highly iterative, involving feedback from content owners and various internal functions within the organization. Engaging stakeholders, including investor relations, corporate secretary, communications, legal and others, not only improves the quality of the writing but also ensures internal alignment and buy-in. This collaborative approach strengthens the overall report and increases its credibility.
Indexing and frameworks
Indexing the report content according to ESG frameworks helps readers navigate the report more effectively. Creating an index at the back of the report or as a separate document simplifies access to specific information. If your organization integrates multiple frameworks, combining them into a single table enhances clarity and simplifies the overall reading experience.
Establishing a clear governance system
A clear system of governance is essential to streamline your report writing. Seeking approvals and feedback from relevant parties throughout the reporting process ensures accountability and transparency. Involving champions within leadership and other teams from the outset strengthens the report's development and supports the integration of sustainability into the organization's overall strategy. Highly beneficial is the involvement of the corporate secretary (or an appropriate party) to help prioritize the report as an agenda item at the next meeting, increasing its visibility and impact.
Board engagement and final approval
Board engagement is becoming increasingly crucial as the link between sustainability and company performance grows clearer. Incorporating board approval as part of regular reporting to the board on sustainability progress aligns sustainability with overall corporate governance. Additionally, seeking third-party assurance for the final approval process further enhances the report's credibility and reliability.
In the end, the iterative process of ESG report drafting culminates in a final outcome that showcases an organization's commitment to sustainability, transparency and responsible business practices. By implementing the key steps and best practices, organizations can produce high-quality, comprehensive and credible sustainability reports that effectively communicate their sustainability efforts to stakeholders. This outcome not only strengthens stakeholder trust but also reinforces the organization’s position as a responsible corporate citizen and a leader in sustainable practices.
Sylvie Harton is chief business strategy officer at Lumi Global.
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