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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : July/August 2007 : CSR

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

Staying Responsible
Corporate responsibility reports can be used internally, as well as externally, to promote change.

by Rob Cameron


Corporate responsibility (CR) reporting has reached critical mass: the number and size of reports increase each year, but few CR reports get further than the desks of competitors, analysts and journalists. With such a closed community utilizing these mines of information, your company must make its CR reporting stand out and take the time to properly use and disseminate the valuable information within these documents.

Since the CRs heyday at the start of the millennium, the novelty has worn off. However, despite continued public skepticism and purported poor readership, CR reports are evolving to perform ever more important functions. CR reporting often drives valuable internal change that would not be achieved otherwise. The very act of reporting can encourage employee engagement in both process and outcome, building brand loyalty and awareness. Because reports touch on every part of the business, they can comprehensively educate employees about the company, including its policies, ethos and even the scope of work. Many companies have instituted cross-reporting committees where staff from disparate and often previously anonymous departments come together to develop the report. This provides not only a balanced, representative document, but a sense of cohesion within the company that may have been absent beforehand. While external buy-in is desirable, internal engagement has very tangible benefits.

Reporting also performs an important role in urging improved performance. By measuring key performance indicators, companies challenge themselves to improve on last year’s results, from decreasing carbon outputs and improving staff retention rates to boosting health and safety records. When the CR data is charted, documented and analyzed, progress is made. When benchmarked, these improvements can create a sense of achievement within the company, an accomplishment beyond increasing profits or productivity. CR does, however, also affect those all-important areas by reducing energy consumption through conservation policies, which often leads to significant cost savings on the financial bottom line.

Companies often have the misconception that CR reporting is a standalone endeavor. But a corporate responsibility report is quite the opposite—it’s all about managing responsibly and should be integrated with other corporate communications. To go to the expense of collecting and analyzing company data for a CR report and then not use the material to bolster other projects and communications is a waste of money and a dereliction of duty by the company. A company with a good record of information integration will give people the opportunity to look at their CR record beyond the publication of a single report.

Another way to improve the readership of this information is to forgo the big, blockbuster reports and make way for new shorter, sharper and simpler reports. Materiality matrices are increasingly being used to determine core issues that must be included in a printed report. Sector specific publications and issue-driven reports, covering themes such as climate change or human rights, are also on the rise, and regional, country specific reports are emerging. These are much more accessible and finely tuned to the interests of specific audiences.

The key to CR reporting is all in the communication. Companies must consider who their audiences are and break away from generic CR reports. Be clear and concise, avoid jargon, know the audience and ensure the content needs to be seen. These steps will prevent important CR reports from gathering dust on a shelf or slipping too easily from desk to waste bin.


Rob Cameron is a director at Flag, a design agency specialising in corporate responsibility reporting.

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