Maximising value: How can your sustainability report drive engagement?
Businesses can maximise stakeholder engagement with sustainability through their reporting by encouraging internal participation in product design and exploiting digital tools to present data in new and exciting ways.
That was the overarching view of a leading cross-sector panel of sustainability experts who discussed their views on how to maximise the value of sustainability reports in a recent edie webinar, sponsored by sustainability consultancy DNV GL.
Representatives from paper manufacturer Asia Pulp & Paper, technology firm Dell, Gatwick Airport and DNV GL each gave presentations in the hour-long webinar, which concluded with a live audience Q&A session.
During the webinar, Asia Pulp & Paper's environmental and social footprint manager Librian Angraeni explained that her company addresses the challenging role of engaging different internal departments with sustainability reporting by showing how it can make their job on the ground easier.
"For our finance team, for example, at first they were adopting the relevance of sustainability to their division," Angraeni said. "But after a while, we pointed out that investors are very concerned with sustainability.
"So, by enabling them to provide feedback and input to our report, they can include what they think investors are looking for. Also, by understand the content of the report, they can answer questions from investors more easily. So it makes their job easier day to day."
Meanwhile, Dell's corporate sustainability lead Louise Koch discussed how the firm's annual CSR report has helped to generate internal awareness of the firm’s social and environmental agenda. Internally, 25% of Dell’s workforce now take part in the “Planet employee resource group”, which uses the sustainability report as a source to build engagement amongst staff.
And for the creation of the report itself, Dell’s sustainability team annually enlists the creative input of various internal departments which, according to Koch, enables all areas of the business to “take ownership” of the strategic sustainability plan.
“Before 2012, there were departments and business units that had sustainability goals on packaging, product innovation and supply chain,” Koch said. “But they weren’t aligned in an overall strategic framework, so when the CSR department presented that idea of having an integrated CSR strategy, that created an interest from the business units.
“Inviting the leaders of the relevant units to be around the table at the beginning in defining the goals and action areas has been key in getting not only their engagement, but their ownership of the goals. There’s actually been some competition between the business units to get their case stories in as part of the report.
"The key point is to make it relevant and to show how it is benefiting each business unit. That is easier said than done but it is nevertheless the way forward.”
Dell’s 2016 CSR report is a 138-page behemoth, bursting with data, insightful case studies, eye-catching infographics and useful benchmarks. During the webinar, Koch also said that the company's future CSR reports will be shortened to around 30 pages, so that the “dialogue” with stakeholders isn’t lost through infinite data.
The sustainability report will be "an introduction to the sustainability agenda”, and seek to seamlessly integrate with web portals offering more information for stakeholders and other users, Koch said. She also pointed out that future Dell sustainability reports will be aligned more closely with the objectives set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a means to connect sustainability targets to stakeholders and consumers.
Koch said that refocused efforts to align objectives with the SDG will be matched with the digitalisation of reporting, as company stakeholders seek to consume data in more engaging ways. Indeed, a number of other companies are now experimenting with various technologies and media platforms to push their sustainability strategies to wider audiences. Dutch brewer Heineken, for instance, recently promoted its annual sustainability report through a rap video, while Virgin Media media tested augmented reality to captivate stakeholders.
According to Gatwick Airport sustainability manager Rachel Thompson, who also appeared in the edie webinar, the role of social media will become increasingly prominent within sustainability reporting in the next decade.
“There’s been a period in sustainability reporting of companies spending a lot of money and making it more interactive,” Thompson said.
“My sense is that because of social media and the handheld phone, people want mobile bites of information, and that cuts across a lot of stakeholders. Some will want to go to a more detailed report, which has a home on the website, but it is becoming increasingly clear that social media has to be a part of the strategy.
“As far as the website goes, beyond being a place where you can find a library of reports and documents, I would tend to say don’t spend money on the website unless it is a special feature. For a year-on-year, I would say that social is preferable.”
Thompson's views were echoed by DNV GL's director, UK sustainability Kate Bruintjes, who said that a major part of effective stakeholder engagement is about ensuring optimum accessibility of information.
"Over the last 10-20 years, we have seen a big evolution in sustainability reporting - from big 'bibles' produced using lots of paper, to online, to interactive models, and the use of social media," Bruintjes said.
"It is about asking what the stakeholders want and being able to respond to that in the numerous different methods that are available now. It really helps to make the messages consistent across all the different platforms and brands for a company."