Closing the credibility gap in reportingApril 2013
Daniel Jones, sustainability consultant at Radley Yeldar, shares some of the insight gained through the company’s How Does It Stack Up? publication, exploring best practice reporting across Europe
With a number of corporate scandals hitting the headlines in 2012, the function of the sustainability report is increasingly being put to the test. As critics point towards a disconnect between rhetoric and action, how can we avoid sustainability reporting being discredited as greenwash in the wake of public scrutiny?
Whether involved in a breach of ethics, tax avoidance, or a lack of transparency surrounding business operations, corporate malpractice dominated the news in 2012. As a result, large organisations are increasingly being treated with suspicion by the public.
As corporate scepticism grows, so does the demand for greater transparency and accountability – a function historically performed by a company’s reporting suite. However, with sustainability reports failing to discuss information relating to controversial practices later unveiled by the press, its credibility has taken a knock.
The real challenge lies in sensitively describing performance openly and honestly, in a way that enhances (rather than damages) credibility.
To avoid criticism, reports need to move from a defensive stance to present a truly transparent overview of performance. This means presenting an accurate reflection a company’s culture, behaviour and genuine efforts at becoming a more responsible organisation. Here’s how:
• Show the good, the bad and the ugly
• Take on your leadership and legal teams to produce a report that’s as open as possible. Discussing challenges, exposing cultural failings and recording lessons learned is vital in rebuilding trust.
• Tell it like it is
• If you don’t back claims with evidence you’re asking to be scrutinised. Make sure the numbers tell as clear a story as the narrative.
• Let others have their say
• Featuring third-party commentary is an approach we like. Often reports can be corporate monologue, when a more credible picture could be painted by those outside your business.
• Tell a clear story
• Even with the most comprehensive data disclosures, transparency will be overlooked if data isn’t presented in a way that’s easy to understand. Pull it all together by uniting content with a clear over arching message
• Aim for the spirit, not the letter
• With standards like GRI becoming more commonplace, the shape and structure of reporting is looking more familiar. Don’t let a dogmatic approach to meeting requirements get in the way of producing a report that shows your uniqueness.
To request a copy of the full research or to find out about Radley Yeldar’s report benchmarking service, visit: www.ry.com
Already a member? click here to login