Thursday, April 10, 2014

20 Illities of Sustainability Reporting

There are many different elements - I am calling them call them illities - which are  worth taking into account when producing a sustainability report. As I witness the transition of G3 to G4... yes.. more than 50 G4 reports to date in my personal G4 database ... and more on the way.... I thought it might be worth taking a step back and highlighting some of the features that make sustainability reporting sustainability reporting. In a good sense, that is. You may recognize some of my illities as part of our regular reporting frame of reference, but I added a few new ones as light refreshment.
Accessibility: If people can't find your report in two clicks, it's not accessible.
Navigability: If I can't quickly find what I want in your report through a keyword or content index, or super interactive hyperlinked document, your navigability sucks.  
Usability: If your report contains clearly articulated, relevant, material information and good data charts, then people can use it in a meaningful evaluation of your company's performance and sustainability impacts. 
Comparability: Comparability for me is really about comparing yourself to your former self. In reporting, comparing companies to other companies is like comparing gummy bears with jelly tots, but comparing companies against their own prior performance and declared targets is infinitely more interesting and insightful.
G4ability: This term is not yet in the dictionary. But it will be. If your report is G4, then it should be G4. The scope for interpretation of the G4 guidelines, significant though it is, does not usually stretch to doing anything you want and calling it G4. Which is what a  proportion of the 50 reports in my aforementioned database apparently have felt it's ok to do. More about this in future posts. Bet you can't wait.
Credibility: Yep, don't forget the bad news. Remember that every bad story has a good side. I am still finding that there is a great reluctance by companies to present challenges (gentle translation: things that didn't go so well) when really that's the first thing people look for in sustainability reports to prove that it's not all green, blue and whitewash.
Reliability: Can we rely on your information and your data? How do we know? Assurance doesn't seem to cut it as a sole measure of the reliability of  your report content, and is not a substitute for consistent, substantiated information presented clearly.
Salvageability: This is important if you produce a very bad report. You will have to use other means to restore (salvage) your reputation.
Appability: This term is not yet in the dictionary. But your report should be totally appable. Even though I tend not to use report apps so much, I want them.
Digestibility: If I can't read your report without getting indigestion, Houston, we have a problem.
Adorability: Who would've thought this word could appear on the same page as the words sustainability report? Well, I have news for you. I adore the reports I write, and find many of the reports I read quite adorable too. Change your paradigm.
Illegibility: This is what your report should be not.
Squeezabiltiy: You should test your report for squeezability before you publish. Squeeze out the redundancy, repetition, schmaltz, self-congratulations and all the bits where you say you are proud of what you have achieved but there is more to be done.  
Weatherability: You should report, whatever the weather. Metaphorically speaking of course. Political weather. Company profitability weather. Public controversy weather. Don't let the weather stop you delivering your report. It's always reporting weather.
Visibility: Put your report where people are. Reports shouldn't be hidden away behind a firewall. If you published it, get it out there. Don't wait for people to look for it.
Translatability: If you use totally jargonified babbly techy speaky, Google Translate will do a really bad job with your report. And Bing will completely decimate it. Help your stakeholders by enabling your report to be read in 123 languages at the click of a click.
Biodegradability:  If you print your report, make sure it can be broken down into its constituent parts. And if necessary, be sent to landfill without causing soil contamination.
Recyclability: Of course, any sustainability report should be recyclable. In fact many are. I call this the copy-paste syndrome.  Some reports are too recyclable.
Combustibility: This is something that every report should be. Some of them, before they are even published.
And finally, the totally most important ility for any sustainability report is .....
The reports that we remember are the ones that change us, and change the way we relate to the companies that published them. We remember the fact that we were impressed, or otherwise, with the report, or we may remember a visual, or  a quotation, or a piece of information. Good or bad. We remember that. In other words, your report is always memorable. Your objective is to ensure it's positive memorable and not negative memorable.  
 elaine cohen, CSR consultant, winning (CRRA'12) Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me at   or via my business website   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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