Companies and corporations do not necessarily need to, but they often want to, report on their responsibility issues. The report can include only environmental issues when it is often called an environmental report, or it can include all the aspects of corporate responsibility (economic, environmental and social).
The aim of a sustainability report is mainly to gather and offer information for different external and internal purposes. Inside the company, the information can be used for example to decision making on different levels. You can e.g. follow the energy consumption, amounts of waste etc., or you can use the information as a basis for your marketing decisions. The employees can also easily be motivated when they see that their efforts have been successful and lead to concrete results. Responsibility reports can also be used for external communication: for convincing the different stakeholders as for example financiers, customers, insurance offices, neighbors etc. of the responsibility of the company business. Responsibility reports are also used for marketing and PR purposes.
Because there is no legislation or regulations concerning responsibility reporting, you can find all kinds of reports in companies´ communication. Therefore there are several national and international recommendations how a responsibility report should be written so that it would give a true, trustworthy picture of the company actions. EMAS, the European environmental management system, requires a public report and auditing by an external, independent auditor before the company can get a certification and use EMAS – logo in its marketing. In other certified systems like ISO 14001, a public report is not necessary required even if the environmental management system must be audited. Anyway, writing different kinds of responsibility reports is quite common nowadays.
The most widely used recommendation for responsibility reports is so called GRI, Global Reporting Initiative which is based on the United Nations Environmental Program. The essential goals of GRI is to improve the quality of responsibility reports and make them more comparable.
According to GRI, the contents of a report should be following:
- description of contents
- description of the company´s environmental management
- the most significant environmental aspects and impacts
- existing environmental programs (if the company has one)
- improvements that the company has done according to their responsibility issues
- basic problems
- social issues
- economic impacts of environmental issues (cost savings, profits gained by environmental investments etc.)
- future actions
According to GRI, a responsibility report must be:
a) transparent = the company should reveal how the information has been collected and what expectations their stakeholders have according to reporting
b) complete = the company should report also about their problems and negative impacts
c) relevant = the information must be documented so that an external auditor can check if the different figures are right
d) cover all the aspects that influence the responsibility of the company
e) essential = not every single detail must be reported, nobody wants to read so much too detailed information
f) connected to sustainable development = description of company activities in relation to changes in environment and society (at the moment recommendations according to this vary, so do the ways
companies write about this)
g) reliable = information has to be clear, relevant exact and correct
h) neutral = the report has to give a balanced, correct picture of the company and its actions, it should include both, successes and failures
i) comparable to previous years inside one company or, at its best, with other companies
j) clear = the report should be easy for the reader to understand
a) published in right time: - usually once a year, together with the annual report
You can find more information on GRI recommendations here:
GRI in general: http://www.globalreporting.org/Home