Reporting: yes, but for whom?

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Helene Brayer
EMEA Upstream Sustainability Services

Sustainability or Corporate Responsibility Reporting has come a long way. In the 1990’s, it was restricted to a few firms wary of public scrutiny after a series of major incidents. Twenty years later, it became a worldwide norm, rather than the exception.

The Global Reporting Initiative undoubtedly contributed to this trend by publishing what are now the most widely-used international sustainability reporting guidelines, requiring exhaustive performance disclosure. Most of our clients have therefore literally gone to great lengths in their reports to demonstrate transparency and accountability.

But what does this improvement bring to a firm if very few people apart from sustainability specialists read those extensive documents? Are we not missing an opportunity when a sustainability report does not reach the stakeholders it is intended for?

We have already seen that a number of firms have begun to innovate in this field by developing tailored communications to meet with different stakeholders’ needs. For example, Marks & Spencer integrates sustainability performance into its investor-focused Annual Report but offers more interactive content for customers on its Plan A website. Timberland’s Responsibility Website and Patagonia’s Footprint Chronicles offer other examples of engaging and informative customer-focused sustainability communications.

In the commercial property sector, corporate sustainability reports are principally compiled for the benefit of investors and analysts, major tenants, employees and specialised media. Whether these stakeholder groups need stand-alone sustainability reports at all is questionable. They might find it easier to gain the information they require in an integrated annual report which provides a balanced review of environmental and social performance, as well as the usual financial aspects (the International Integrated Reporting Committee has just released a discussion paper on their initial proposals for an International Integrated Reporting Framework, which is available here). But at a property level, other types of sustainability communications may be relevant and important. Are local communities adequately informed about the impacts of new developments? Are tenants informed about the benefits of themselves and their landlord acting in an environmentally responsible way? After the birth and development of reporting, the era of rationalisation is on the way…

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