Let’s imagine you’re a new sustainability professional in your first few months at a company. You hear from the executive team that they want you to research and create the company’s first Sustainability Report. Where do you begin? You’re not the first person in our network to face this daunting question.
Corporate Sustainability Collaborative hosted its quarterly lunch in June, where we asked some local professionals to share their process and how they approached their target audiences, goals and intended outcomes for creating a report.
Guru Larson from Columbia Sportswear shared the evolution of their sustainability reporting, back to the first iteration in 2015. The report began by simply “putting a stake in the ground” and sharing a wealth of detailed information including the history of the company and company values, in addition to sustainability metrics. Columbia leadership loved the finished product, and 2016’s report was a shorter “update” of the original report, but many at Columbia felt it lacked stories about their work and needed to speak more directly to customers. 2017’s reporting elevated storytelling, for the purposes of informing, entertaining, and providing utility to their customers. It used social media, polished advertising concepts, video, and compelling stories to convey their message. See all three examples and finished reports at https://www.columbia.com/corporate-responsibility/
Athena Petty from New Seasons Market shared that their process and audiences were very different from Columbia. Their Impact Report is a document, aimed mainly at their large and dedicated staff, who they see as important ambassadors in sharing their messages with customers. Their report focuses on the company’s “mission pillars”, and the report is built around them. The report is fun, colorful, and full of both easy-to-digest stats about New Seasons Market, its operational sustainability and also its community involvement with local nonprofits. Athena also highlighted the involvement of everyone from HR staff to front-line staff in providing the information, stories and photos the report highlights. See their updated report at https://www.newseasonsmarket.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Impact-Report-2018.pdf and other sustainability updates here.
Caitlin Horsley was our final panelist, and she shared the evolution of Portland General Electric’s reporting over the past few years. Their report has varied over the years from a 40-page epic document, to an online report with web and PDF mini-reports tailored to specific audiences. When the first sustainability report was released in 2013, it was built around a Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) framework and was aimed primarily at investor-level stakeholders. Over time, the report has shifted to speak to different audiences in the ways and at the detail level they expect. Investors expect metrics, reported in a matrix format. Customers get a high-level, web-based overview of PGE’s values and its progress toward its five “Pillars of Sustainability”. See PGE’s progression and diverse reporting formats here.
All three of our panelists had aspirations to aim even higher with future reports, incorporating video storytelling, incorporating B Corp frameworks into reporting, adding comprehensive climate goals, and maintaining regular updates throughout the year (rather than just once a year.)
Others who attended offered to share their reports, so a couple more examples to check out are Vestas’ reports and ratings page and Yakima Chief Hops’ report. Pick a company you admire, and search for their “sustainability report” or “corporate social responsibility” to get a little inspiration. CSC also intends to host a longer (three to four hour) workshop on CSR Reporting in the future, so keep an eye out for that learning opportunity.
B Local PDX, our local BCorp collective assembled a set of great resources for sustainability reporting, too, which gives you a checklist of questions to ask when starting a report process. Read it here…