Reporting for Positive Change: Communicate

How to leverage the content beyond the sustainability report

Once the sustainability report has been created and approved, it’s time to really communicate about the report (content). This is a key step that is sometimes overlooked. Unless you created the sustainability report only for compliance reasons (or to prop up your computer screen), involve your communications teams and channels to proudly share your results and your report.

Go back to your reason why for creating a sustainability report in the first place. Who are the key people you want to reach? Will they read a full report, or do you need to create bite size portions or a summary to engage them? Can you create short social media items to share report highlights and/or draw people to the report? That also makes it easier for your employees to share stories they are personally proud of.

And just like the full report content, this is a perfect opportunity to look forward and share your ambitions, rather than only looking back. And strive for balance, sharing what went well and what you’ve learned from things that didn’t go so well.

Last but not least, you took months to create the report, so make sure you create a nice drumbeat to share parts of the sustainability report with key stakeholders in the weeks (or even months) after its release.

“To create awareness for the sustainability strategy, we launched the report with an event at our headquarters,” says Cecile Theunissen, Sustainability Manager at Appèl Catering. “To reach our restaurant teams, we also launched a series of short posts on our internal online platform. This generated many positive reactions, questions and ideas!” Yvette Moll, Communications Director at retailer Action shares: “For most employees and consumers the English full Update2019 is quite a tough read. So we created summary pages in our local languages to share the key results with these important stakeholders.”

Once the report content has been communicated, it’s time to evaluate and celebrate. Start by collecting reactions from readers and key people in the organization. What do they like about the sustainability report? And where do they see room for improvement?

Then get the core team together to reflect on the reporting journey. What went well? What did we learn from the things that did not go as well as we expected? How can we make the process easier next year? And to avoid the time crunch at the end of the process, when should we start the next reporting cycle? Assuming the core team is still on speaking terms at this point in time, don’t forget to go out and celebrate the teamwork and the resulting sustainability report!

“We delivered the 2019 sustainability report in a very condensed timeframe,” says Kelly Rijsdijk of Albert Heijn. “Next year we’ll start earlier and from the evaluation, we also have lots of ideas on how to reduce the reporting burden on key content owners.” Sabrina Simons , Serious Communications Manager at chocolate impact company Tony’s Chocolonely adds: “Every year we do a thorough evaluation of the reporting process. This really helps us raise the bar on the report and improve the process for the years to come.”

This is the final blog in this reporting series. Want more personalized guidance than our blogs provide? Consider joining our reporting webinar (2 Oct) or our reporting workshop (29 Oct) in Amsterdam. 

This blog is part of The Terrace’s series on Reporting for Positive Change. Sustainability reporting can be a vital process to support the sustainability strategy within in a company. Yet often, this isn’t the case. Companies report on positive change – rather than reporting for positive change. Every year we support many companies and other organizations on their sustainability reporting journey. In this blog series, we share key learnings - from across our reporting projects and clients.


Reporting for Positive Change: Create

How to successfully develop copy and creative elements for your sustainability report

Once the collection process is well on its way, it’s time to really start creating the upcoming sustainability report. There are two key elements to this phase, which ideally run in tandem: copywriting and creative development.

Good sustainability reports tell a well-rounded story yet are focused and concise at the same time. Instead of detailing everything in the report, is there relevant content on the website to which you can link? Can you place the content in function of the future, rather than just on the past? And don’t forget to tell a balanced story, not shying away from challenges and areas in which you’re lagging behind your goals. And be sure to place the sustainability report in its relevant context.

Develop an overall creative concept to make the report engage the key stakeholders. This goes beyond the tone of voice and the look and feel – find a central theme to bring the content to life for a broad range of stakeholders. A concept that can take your report content beyond the report.

Ensure the copywriter(s) and creative(s) work together as a team. Design for online reading, with interactive elements and easy navigation. Align visuals with the brand and corporate identity. And if at all possible, don’t start on layout until the copy has been signed off. However, a very useful and visual tool to use in this step of the process is a joint review of the extended page plan. Collate the key content for each page, including rough text and ideas for key visuals, such as photos, graphs, infographics, into a mockup report. With the core team, review this page by page, to highlight what you still need to collect and create.

The most stressful step during this phase may well be the approval process. So be sure to plan ahead during the earlier phases. Get your focus (or material) topics and page plan signed off by senior management early on in the process. Expect the approvers to have input (they always do!) – but you can significantly reduce stress by planning for it and by involving them along the sustainability reporting journey.

Valérie de Boer, Communications Advisor at NGO Cordaid shares: “Our Annual Report gets better every year. Last year, we made major strides by taking it from a print-oriented format to an interactive pdf, which reads and navigates like a website. This helps us better engage our key stakeholders with our programs, challenges, and results.”

Once the sustainability report has been created and approved, it’s time to really communicate about the report (content).

Want more personalized guidance than our blogs provide? Consider joining our reporting webinar (2 Oct) or our reporting workshop (29 Oct) in Amsterdam. 

This blog is part of The Terrace’s series on Reporting for Positive Change. Sustainability reporting can be a vital process to support the sustainability strategy within in a company. Yet often, this isn’t the case. Companies report on positive change – rather than reporting for positive change. Every year we support many companies and other organizations on their sustainability reporting journey. In this blog series, we share key learnings - from across our reporting projects and clients.


How to ease content collection for your sustainability report

How to ease content collection for your sustainability report

Once you’ve chosen and aligned the focus of the sustainability report, it’s time to collect the content for the upcoming report. This is the stage in the reporting journey where you may need to engage a lot of people throughout the organization. Be sure to make your requests as specific as possible, making it very clear exactly what you need by when. As relevant, share the page plan, so people understand how their content fits in with the rest of the sustainability report. Check in with content owners to understand in what format data is available more easily.

This is often a quite frustrating step in the process, as it may turn out that the organization is not quite ready to measure progress against key goals. For those KPIs not yet available, don’t try to fix it all for the upcoming report. Especially first time around, focus on what is available and commit to ensure you do capture the relevant data for the next sustainability report!

In this phase, don’t just focus on the data. You also need to collect stories, quotes, anecdotes and pictures that make the sustainability data come to life. Again, be as specific as possible when requesting this type of information, clarifying things like the number of words and the resolution of pictures.

Says Valérie de Boer, Communications Advisor at NGO Cordaid: “Year on year we get better at requesting and collecting the report content and data. This year we made real progress through better alignment with the Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation and Finance teams.” Yvette Moll, Communications Director at retailer Action shares: “After mapping the required visuals and photos against what was available already, it was very efficient to plan one photoshoot for the remaining photos.”

Once the collection process is well on its way, it’s time to really start creating the upcoming sustainability report. This will be the topic of our next reporting blog.

Want more personalized guidance than our blogs provide? Consider joining our reporting webinar (2 Oct) or our reporting workshop (29 Oct) in Amsterdam. 

This blog is part of The Terrace’s series on Reporting for Positive Change. Sustainability reporting can be a vital process to support the sustainability strategy within in a company. Yet often, this isn’t the case. Companies report on positive change – rather than reporting for positive change. Every year we support many companies and other organizations on their sustainability reporting journey. In this blog series, we share key learnings - from across our reporting projects and clients.


How to leverage external and internal perspectives for focus: Choose

How to leverage external and internal perspectives for focus

Once the sustainability reporting journey has been connected and planned, it’s time to bring the outside in by engaging key stakeholders. Of course, you are creating the report to share your vision and progress, but if you are aware of what stakeholders care about, you can take this into consideration. Both in what you include in the sustainability report and in how you engage with these stakeholders around and beyond the report.

Start by making a list of your key stakeholders – inside and outside the organization. Who are they and why do you consider them a key stakeholder? How do you already engage with them? Can you integrate the topic of sustainability (reporting) into these regular conversations, surveys, etc.? If not, what would be a good way to discuss with them what their expectations are regarding your sustainability strategy and reporting?

Whatever format you choose, be sure to ask them about the key topics you identified. And be open to additional suggestions from their side. Don’t just fire questions at them, but really listen and ask follow-up questions to deepen your understanding of their concerns and ideas. And it may be very tempting, but this is not the time to sell your own ideas, to try to convince people of your vision and focus.

Cecile Theunissen, Sustainability Manager at Appèl Catering shares their experience: “Conducting these interviews was a really interesting experience for us. Especially the internal interviews; they not only fueled our thinking, but they also enlarged the engagement with the sustainability strategy.” Sabrina Simons, Serious Communication Manager at chocolate impact company Tony’s Chocolonely says: “Every year, we collect hundreds of responses from our choco fans, retailers, suppliers and other stakeholders through an online survey around our annual FAIR report. From all over the world, people help us understand their priorities and concerns, mainly around our mission to make slavery-free the norm in the chocolate industry.”

What will be the key topics to cover in the report, connected to your (sustainability) strategy, your value chain, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) you’ve committed to? Is there a central theme emerging already? Are there certain benchmarks or guidelines you want to meet with the report (like the GRI Standards, the Transparency Benchmark or the UNGC Communication on Progress)? Not so sure what the topics should be yet? Then check out some sustainability reports from other companies in your industry, and don’t forget to browse the reports of key customers and suppliers.

Once the stakeholder insights have been captured, it’s time to select the key topics for the upcoming sustainability report. To provide focus and alignment for the rest of the reporting journey. In this phase, the materiality matrix can be a useful tool to plot the stakeholder interests against those of the company. We strongly recommend doing this with a multi-disciplinary team, ideally including senior managers.

Materiality axes

On the horizontal axis, you can also plot the impact of the company. This actually is the better way to select the key (or material) topics for your sustainability strategy or report. But if it’s your first reporting journey or you’re crunched for time, the importance for the company is a really good starting point.

Once you’ve chosen the key topics, be sure to get them signed off by senior management to avoid any misalignment on focus later on in the process. Ideally, each topic is already embedded in your sustainability strategy, and has clear KPIs, with concrete goals and an approach to reach them. If not, creating this for each topic can be a goal in itself for the year ahead. Last but not least in this phase is the creation of a page plan, in which you capture the flow of the report. At this point in time, this usually takes the shape of a table. What will be the key chapters, what topics will be covered in each chapter and how much space will you a lot to them? Is there a central theme you’d like to use for this year’s report?

Yvette Moll, Communications Director at non-food discounter Action describes their materiality process: “The core reporting team first plotted the vertical axis based on a series of presentations about the stakeholder insights. We then used the corporate strategy and the Action Sustainability Strategy to plot the same topics along the horizontal axis. In a second workshop, we aligned the focus topics with our executive board.”

Once you’ve chosen and aligned the focus of the report, it’s time to collect the content for the upcoming report. This will be the topic of our next reporting blog.

Want more personalized guidance than our blogs provide? Consider joining our reporting webinar (2 Oct) or our reporting workshop (29 Oct) in Amsterdam. 

This blog is part of The Terrace’s series on Reporting for Positive Change. Sustainability reporting can be a vital process to support the sustainability strategy within in a company. Yet often, this isn’t the case. Companies report on positive change – rather than reporting for positive change. Every year we support many companies and other organizations on their sustainability reporting journey. In this blog series, we share key learnings - from across our reporting projects and clients.


Reporting Blog: Connect

Why its key to connect with your strategy and colleagues early on

This blog is part of The Terrace’s series on Reporting for Positive Change. Sustainability reporting can be a vital process to support the sustainability strategy within in a company. Yet often, this isn’t the case. Companies report on positive change – rather than reporting for positive change. Every year we support many companies and other organizations on their sustainability reporting journey. In this blog series, we share key learnings - from across our reporting projects and clients.

As with any project, always start with why! What is the purpose of the report? How will it contribute to the implementation of your sustainability strategy? Who are the people you’d like to engage with the report? What would they ideally think or do after reading (parts of) it? How do you best connect them to the report content?

Often, companies start reporting for compliance reasons, yet there are also many positive reasons to create a sustainability report. Says Cecile Theunissen, Sustainability Manager at Appèl Catering: “As a family-owned business, we do not have a lot of reporting obligations Yet we’re proud of our sustainability strategy and progress, and an engaging report would help us tell our story to our catering staff, clients and prospects.” Cornelie den Otter, Marketing and Communications Officer at Fairtrade and organic fruit importer Agrofair, adds a different angle: “Our sustainability reports capture our sustainability vision and performance in a structured and inspiring way for our sales team, so they can easily share it with current and prospective clients.”

Once you know why you want to report, it’s time to connect with your colleagues. This is the phase to develop a joint timeline for your sustainability report and to determine who the people are that need to be involved along the reporting journey. Who will be the owner of the reporting process? Who needs to provide key content? Who needs to sign off on the focus, the copy, the visuals? How does the timeline fit with relevant others, like the financial reporting cycle? “Each year, we start planning the Annual Report process around October”, says Valérie de Boer, Communications Advisor at NGO Cordaid, “planning every step along the way, including rounds of input and sign-off by the Board of Directors and the accountant.”

What will be the key topics to cover in the report, connected to your (sustainability) strategy, your value chain, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) you’ve committed to? Is there a central theme emerging already? Are there certain benchmarks or guidelines you want to meet with the report (like the GRI Standards, the Transparency Benchmark or the UNGC Communication on Progress)? Not so sure what the topics should be yet? Then check out some sustainability reports from other companies in your industry, and don’t forget to browse the reports of key customers and suppliers.

Once the reporting journey has been connected and planned, it’s time to collect input and insights from key stakeholders.

Want more personalized guidance than our blogs provide? Consider joining our reporting webinar (2 Oct) or our reporting workshop (29 Oct) in Amsterdam. 


What the Oatly-controversy teaches us about the demand for transparency

What the Oatly-controversy teaches us about the demand for transparency

The Oatly-controversy

You probably heard already, Oatly has made the decision to sell a stake in the company to a consortium that includes Blackstone, a powerful private equity firm headed by Trump donor Stephen Schwartzman. Blackstone, in its turn, is allegedly investing in projects that link to deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. This hit me quite hard, as I am actually a great Oatly enthusiast myself. Oatly was the first plant-based alternative that has made me ditch milk. And just like every first relationship, it holds a unique place my heart. And I can't disagree with Oatly choosing Blackstone as an investor to be controversial, but, from a consumer point of view, I do not think that it is just this partnership that is making Oatly fans to call out to 'cancel’ the brand. I believe this comes from the consumer demand for radical transparency.

Transparency of investment matters too

Of course, similar to the Unilever buying Ben & Jerry’s and The Vegetarian Butcher and Alpro joining Danone, these shifts make people uneasy. This comes along when sustainable brands move from niche to mainstream. There are definitely more ethical investors I wish Oatly had chosen for, but it can be true that in this case these lacked the punching power that Blackstone has and Oatly needs. But consumers are interested in (read also: critical of) how these mainstream investors are willing to change their portfolios and position themselves as ‘a force for good’. In this regard, I disagree with the words of Nick Cooney, Managing Director of Lever VC quoted in Justfood.nl: ‘Who a food company receives investment from is not one of the things that consumers seem to care about.’. I think the case of Oatly proves that actually, consumers care. According to several brand studies, over 90 percent of consumers say transparency by a brand is important to their purchase decisions. Financial transparency is just as much part of this as the traceability of key ingredients. Consumers want to know how the profit of Oatly – which comes from their purchases - is reinvested responsibly.

Transparency means owning up to mistakes

I believe that Oatly has underestimated the expectations for radical transparency by consumers, especially coming from their key audience: sustainability minded people that try to shop consciously. After all, Oatly itself actively advocates for consumers to think critically about the dairy industry and to expect transparency. In big letters on their packaging it says: ‘Hey, food industry show us your numbers’. The lack of communications up front and the lack of clarity on the agreements between Oatly and Blackstone is why Oatly’s biggest fans now start to doubt the brand. It also does not help that as the critique explodes online, the tone of the company strikes many as too defensive and seems to blame the critical consumer as ‘unable to see the bigger picture’. See below a snapshot into the discussions.

From the bad to the promising

So, did I lose my belief in first love Oatly? Well, no. In our work at The Terrace we believe successful positioning of a company’s sustainability is all about covering ’the good’, ’the bad’ and ’the promising’. Oatly so far been an example of a brand that shows what’s not going well; their 2018 sustainability report stated on the front cover: ‘Slightly worse than last year’ for instance. I don’t think that 'canceling’ the brand will help in any way. I see the current discussion as part of a positive development where consumers ask questions and hold corporations accountable for their actions. And whilst I will open up my monogamous relationship status with Oatly, I hope that the brand will learn from it, comes back with more transparency on their financial decision-making and then keeps making waves in their industry. In other words: Hey Oatly show us your numbers!

I am curious what you think though: are you still on board the Oatly revolution? And do you believe the investor-relation itself or the lack of transparency is an issue? Show me your opinion about this article by sending me an email.