Has your sustainability reporting become a burden rather than a tool for change?

1 Jul 2022

​'If you don't measure you can't manage' - a quote we have all heard, and a sentiment that has led to a drastic increase in the number of organisations formally reporting on their sustainability. According to a recent Harvard Business Review paper those organisations reporting in line with GRI, the most comprehensive reporting standards available, has grown a hundredfold in the past two decades. I've seen it myself, with reports moving from a brief summary about intent, to mammoth documents tracking every facet of sustainability.

Now to some extent, this is of course to be applauded, the fact these organisations are reporting at this level means there is both governance effort and investment committed to sustainability. But there is a potential dark side, where reporting becomes so weighty that the effort going into communication of what is being done begins to represent a massive chunk of the resource the organisation has. As reports become weighty, there is also a risk that burn out from delivery means an organisations loses the will to reflect and there is no longer a clear feedback loop between reporting and strategy.

Let me elaborate on that last point a little - reporting should focus your attention on those areas where you have the greatest impact, and where you have the greatest potential to have impact. When done well, reporting should inform strategy, reshaping it and evolving it as you learn what works for your organisation. Reporting highlights where things don't make sense and targets are irrelevant or not right for your organisation. It shines a light on areas of governance that are broken or not fit for purpose, and it elicits whether your strategy is easy to communicate, feels at ease with your wider business story, and whether it’s easy for stakeholders to engage with.

Here are a couple of questions to get you thinking about whether it is time to review your reporting approach

  1. Does your reporting process for sustainability drag out over half the year?
  2. Is there a disconnect or a repetition between your Annual Report and Sustainability Report?
  3. Do you struggle to show trends/direction of travel with ease?
  4. Do you approach strategic planning and target setting for the period ahead without reference to your report/reporting process?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then it would be beneficial to review your reporting approach keeping in mind the points above. Our top tip is to set your intention with some clear targets for reporting i.e. to complete within a shorter period of time, to learn from reporting process, to have more stakeholders actually engage with your outputs.  

It can be useful to have an external view to help you evolve your approach, as thinking is not tied by internal status quo.  Coriander Cows offer help that can range from our ‘Make reporting work for you’ package where we work with you over a short period to review your approach and present a more impactful way forward, through to leading the drafting and delivery of a great Sustainability Report for your stakeholders. Why not get in touch to talk through your current position and see how we can help.


Back to all stories