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Corporate Sustainability Reporting: You're Doing It Wrong

The number of companies reporting on corporate sustainability has exploded over the last decade.

However, a recent study by North Carolina State University found that the way most companies go about sustainability reporting is all wrong and could actually be harming your corporate image. 

Below are three important takeaways from the study that should impact your sustainability reporting and activities:  

There's a disconnect between corporate sustainability reporting and consumer interests

Consumers are arguably the most important group of stakeholders. But the study found that the sustainability dimensions companies are reporting on are not necessarily the ones that matter to consumers.

Specifically, consumers said they weren't really interested in Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) dimensions “economic,” such as reducing trade barriers; “product responsibility,” such as disclosing serious accidents related to products; and “environment,” such as utilizing renewable energy resources.

But they did highlight other dimensions that were important to them -- including several that are not included in GRI. Let's take a look at those right now.

Consumers want to know about specific sustainability actions

The study authors identified a total of six sustainability dimensions that consumers felt were important. It also identified specific actions that were most relevant within each dimension:

  • Environmental Stewardship: including minimizing climate impact, sustaining biodiversity and recycling;
  • Risk and Compliance: including the implementation of training and education efforts related to risk reduction;
  • Community Building: including investing in community revitalization;
  • Social Justice: including prohibiting child labor and supporting laws that prohibit discrimination;
  • Employment Opportunities: including offering leadership training; and
  • Employee Education: including providing employees with information on how to protect their personal data.

It's about how you operate your business, not just what you're reporting

The findings of this study don't just have implications for how you report on sustainability. They also have implications for how you do sustainability. 

Understandably, consumers are skeptical of sustainability claims and greenwashing. Consumers will quickly discern which companies are blowing smoke and which ones have sustainability baked into their business model.

An environmental management system (EMS) is one way to document and report on specific activities of interest to consumers and ultimately improve your corporate image. 

Additional resources

If you're curious to learn more about corporate sustainability, here are a few ways to dig in: