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.