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You’ve Produced Your First Sustainability Report. Now What?


Producing your first sustainability report is a great achievement – and your first step to achieving even better outcomes.

ESG reporting has become a major trend for companies that are looking for ways to communicate their efforts to become more sustainable. These reports are structured disclosures of an organization’s performance in the three pillars of ESG: environmental, social, and corporate governance.

Publishing a sustainability report has a number of benefits, including:

  • Providing greater insight into the organization’s ESG performance
  • Highlighting areas that should be pursued more aggressively
  • Strengthening the company’s reputation with customers
  • Improving the organization’s public image
  • Bolstering investor confidence by demonstrating a commitment to managing risk

While there are undeniable benefits, putting together your first sustainability report is quite an undertaking. Doing it well takes work, time, and resources.

Still, you didn’t let any of that stop you. You tracked, gathered, and analyzed the data. You did your research to know what a comprehensive sustainability report looks like. After putting the finishing touches on it, you and your team finally published your very first one.

Well done!

But, now what?

Take a Moment

You’ve just taken an important step, so take a moment to celebrate your achievement.

Acknowledge and thank every key team member who helped throughout the process. Dole out as many pats on the back as you want – it’s an infinite resource and people notice when their hard work is appreciated.

Do, however, pause and realize that this process is far from finished. ESG initiatives are, by their very nature, continual improvement processes. There is still work to do. A well-realized sustainability report will include changes in strategy, new objectives, and lessons learned.

Your first sustainability report is not simply a summary of your current ESG efforts. It also contains a number of important lessons. Your follow-up report is going to reveal how well your organization has acted on those lessons. Your sustainability report has to be more than mere lip service, but without those actions, that’s precisely what it will be.

(Related: ESG Disclosure Requirements Are Coming – Here’s Why You Should Act Now)

Modify Your Objectives and Establish New Ones

Organizations with a strong ESG proposition must be ready to adapt and be willing to adjust their objectives and strategies as new information becomes available. And that’s precisely what a sustainability report provides: actionable information.

Based on its findings, you may need to course correct in order to address shortcomings. You may need to refocus and change which objectives you prioritize. Or you may see opportunities to expand your goals and reach for more ambitious targets.

While it’s tempting to set impressive goals, your objectives should still be grounded in reality. Each should be based on your existing data, have a solid justification, and a clear yardstick to measure your performance. That way, your next report can demonstrate whether you have made concrete and meaningful progress.

You should also consider what it will take to meet your new objectives. Will it require additional personnel? Will you be able to source people from your organization or will you require third parties? If the latter, how will you assess their qualifications? Will the new plan have an impact on the budget? If so, where will the money be appropriated from? Asking and answering those questions earlier rather than later will allow you to execute your plan with fewer setbacks that could delay your progress.

And of course, it’s not enough to simply make new objectives and set the plan in motion. Progress should be continuously monitored to ensure that the current strategy is working as it should – and adjusted promptly if it is not delivering the expected results.

Make Your Report More Accessible

Making your sustainability report available is a great step. Making it accessible is even better.

Your internal team has carefully read every page of the report. Keen stakeholders and investors might pore over the entire contents as well. But many won’t have the time or inclination to read it from start to finish.

That’s to be expected. We’re all bombarded with too much information and have far too little time to take it all in. But you’ll want your report to reach more people, not just because of the effort it took to put it together, but because it can’t strengthen your image or increase customer loyalty if only a few people even know about it.

That’s why it’s important to make it more accessible. The report itself can be detailed and comprehensive, but you should repackage portions of it in formats that are quick and easy to consume. You can create, for example, a factsheet with key takeaways from the report, a brief slideshow highlighting important stats and findings, or an infographic that neatly summarizes the report.

Throughout the year, you can also use highlights from the report in your marketing and promotional materials, bid documents, and social media posts. Progress on the objectives you’ve outlined in the report can be shared midway through the year or even within a few months of publication to provide a real-time update and demonstrate a real commitment to sustainability.

Linking a dense and technical document on social media is probably not going to get your report much attention. Neither is keeping it behind a QR code at your tradeshow exhibit. Instead, isolate the most important points, present them in an attractive way, and share them widely.

Make it brief. Make it loud. Make it colorful. The more accessible you make it, the more people will take a moment to check it out.

(Related: How to Track Your ESG Performance)

From Report to Action

There’s an unofficial audit cycle that many companies follow:

  • Audit season
  • Business as usual (the longest part of the year)
  • The last-minute mad rush right before the next audit

I don’t think I have to tell you that this is an ineffective and counterproductive approach to audits. The reports produced at the start of the cycle will always promise lofty outcomes that the final sprint in the last couple of months will inevitably fail to deliver.

Software solutions with built-in schedules and reminders can be a great way to stay on task, but they’re not a magic bullet. The ESG proposition still needs to be factored into your organization’s strategic planning from the top down.

If you’ve been in the corporate world for a while, you know that some companies are more talk than action. They focus on their ambitions and intentions, not the concrete steps it takes to realize them. But realizing them is the whole point; otherwise, they’re stifling their progress and weakening their performance.

You produced your first sustainability report. That’s fantastic. Now, your next step is to make sure that none of that work goes to waste.

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