Four key messages for your next sustainability report

Richard Hagan, managing director of Crystal Doors, winner of Small Business of the Year at the 2021 edie Sustainability Leaders Awards and Business Leader of the Year for 2022, reflects on the lessons from the company’s second sustainability report.

Four key messages for your next sustainability report

A solid annual report is now a must for any sustainable organisation worth its salt, even smaller businesses like mine. Crystal Doors is just a £3 million turnover company with 34 employees, and today we published our second annual sustainability report.

As an SME, Crystal Doors is not obliged to do this. Unlike large businesses, we are not mandated to publish our greenhouse gas emissions, comply with reporting regulations or disclose our climate-related risks. So why do it?

The first reason is to provide transparency – the more radical, the better. In the last year or so we have entered an era of ‘commitment making’ where greenwash lurks around every corner. Long-distance goals are being thrown around like confetti, sometimes with very little (or no) plan of any substance to back them up, and stakeholders are wising up to it. The time of people taking bold statements and grand gestures at face value is gone. Businesses need to reveal what’s beneath the bonnet if they are to remain credible.

The second reason is to tell a story that really matters. The truth is, too many corporate sustainability reports are lengthy, dull, tick-box exercises. How many have you actually read cover-to-cover? To me, it’s a huge missed opportunity to show leadership and engage, educate and inspire our customers, suppliers, employees and peers.

A good report should not only provide an update on your performance, but also tell your story, reveal your secrets (no matter how uncomfortable), share your learning and call others to action.

1) Go beyond the headline figures

When it comes to your data, the real gold is found at the granular level. This year, we have reported our Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions for the first time and have tried to include as many upstream and downstream activities as possible in our calculations.

While some of the data is still estimates that need to improve over time, the hard work behind this exercise has already provided some crucial insights. For example, we now have good reason to believe that the PVC vinyl we use to cover our MDF boards (19% of our product by weight) could be the single largest contributor to our carbon footprint, even more so than our energy use. This is something I never would have expected and it certainly changes our operational priorities going forward.

There are clear benefits to making this sort of information as public and as transparent as possible: it cements our credibility; it ensures stakeholders can hold us to account on our biggest impacts; and it helps to motivate others to follow in our footsteps. I have no time for companies that keep data behind closed doors in the name of maintaining competitive advantage – we’re all in this crisis together and if we don’t share our learning openly and freely, we’ll fail.

2) Report your ‘shadow’ as well as your footprint

The numbers show that Crystal Doors is going in the right direction overall, but numbers can only tell us so much about how a business is really performing.

As a small manufacturer, the direct impact of our operations on the environment is relatively modest. Of course, we still have a responsibility to reduce (and ultimately reverse) these impacts, but what’s even more important is for leaders like myself to proactively use our voice and leverage our influence to drive change beyond our own walls. It doesn’t matter how low a company’s carbon footprint is if it is also lobbying against stronger climate policies or giving a platform to people who promote the wrong message – sometimes words do speak louder than actions, and every conversation matters.

That’s why this year we have reported Crystal Doors’ ‘climate shadow’ as well as its carbon footprint, detailing our attempts to drive change by sharing our story and promoting climate action across as many mediums as possible: at webinars and events; on podcasts and radio interviews; in books and magazines; through factory tours and collaborations with other organisations; in speaking out on my social media; and in sharing resources via our online Knowledge Hub. The hard work behind the scenes to reduce our environmental impact is a crucial pre-requisite, but the true power is in the message we send to others.

3) Bang the drum for others

2021/22 was a momentous year for both Crystal Doors and myself. We broke through onto the national stage as trailblazers in sustainable manufacturing, received more environmental awards than I knew what to do with and had countless opportunities to share my thoughts in front of audiences across the country. However, I couldn’t have achieved any of it on my own.

Businesses belong to an ecosystem just like any other part of nature, so it’s vital in any sustainability report to show gratitude and provide a platform to everyone that has played a role in your achievements. In our report readers will find full-page interviews with some of our key partners and employees – from the local installer that has supported us for over four years with energy saving and renewable energy projects, to the mastermind behind the digitalisation of our factory – so they can share their own message.

4) Share the ‘how’ and the ‘why’, not just the ‘what’

When I started on my sustainable journey several years ago, I was lucky enough to receive a huge helping hand from people with the skills and knowledge to paint a picture of what we possible for Crystal Doors and how to get there. Without them, I would have been lost.

The steep learning curve would have been so much easier if I had just been able to learn directly from other businesses like mine who had already done and seen it all. That’s why I think the most important thing I can do, and Crystal Doors can do as a company, is to share not just what we have achieved, but how we have achieved it and why we took the decisions we have.

Our 2021/22 report provides full breakdown of improvements to the factory, the methodologies we use to target interventions and prioritise investments, how we are using digitalisation to advance our sustainability reporting, and why we have partnered with certain organisations to achieve specific goals. The report is also peppered with links to external resources so the reader can learn more about every key concept we refer to.

It’s as much a how-to guide as it is a performance review of the company, so I hope it helps other business leaders on their own journey. My only request is that when they report their own sustainability achievements, they share their learning with others, too.

Comments (1)

  1. Abigail Hughes says:

    Brilliant read and overall message, thank you for this excellent article.

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