Types of CSR reporting: standardised or personalised?
One way of CSR reporting is doing standardised reporting. This kind of template is largely used by large companies to publish their CSR activities and its impact, and usually comes in the form of one big report that cover all aspects of a business’s CSR programme. This form of reporting is good to obtain certain certificates such as B-Corp and tend to be long (and very detailed) documents. The fact that a third-party with authority in CSR matters gives certification to such reports lends credibility and legitimacy to such companies and their respective standardised reports.
Nonetheless, most of the wider stakeholders (such as consumers) are not interested in standardised reports and want to get to know only certain aspects of that particular business. This is where personalised, one-fit template CSR reporting can be very useful for. With this , businesses can brief their stakeholders with the highlights of their specific and targeted activities; letting them know of the risks and opportunities involved, the policies undertaken and outcomes achieved. Personalised reporting may involve things such as:
an annual report of a business’s community giving
a section of a business’s website that provides a broad overview of its CSR programme
social media updates
newsletters or staff updates
A downside of personalised reporting is that as it does not respect any specific structure. Therefore, the audience must be more critical and thorough about the information they are offered. For example, if a business presents sustainability data without showing how they got their numbers or mention initiatives that have not necessarily been integrated in their CSR programme, it means they are trying to ‘portray’ they have sustainability concerns, when in reality they do not exist. It is important to back up claims about your CSR programme (its successes and shortcomings) with credible evidence. False reporting in the short and long term affect the business-stakeholder relationships. Under a personalised reporting model, a company can focus on all the impacts or just a particular one when it comes to reporting templates. In order to find a balance, many businesses end up doing both types of reports thus appeasing stakeholders as well following reporting guidelines.
In deciding what to report on, the issue of reporting on internal practices needs to be considered. Reporting on community partnerships and “outward facing” CSR activities is a fairly straight forward exercise, and can be very beneficial to a business’s public profile. However, reporting on internal practices can be tricky as it is requires a business to be open about its operations, supply chains and treatment of staff. At Step Changers, we encourage businesses to treat reporting on internal practices as we believe that internal practices form a very important part of a CSR programme, although acknowledge that this is something that needs careful consideration, and therefore may not be as immediate as reporting on community partnerships and giving.
Ideally reporting on internal practices should be included in standardised reporting. Where a business has chosen to take a personalised reporting approach, we would still encourage that business to think of ways to account for its internal practices. A business could do this through providing periodic updates to stakeholders on efforts to ensure more ethical procurement and sustainability efforts or being open about its business's employment policies and initiatives in its recruitment material or website.
While CSR reporting can be daunting, it is important to remember that it is essentially an accurate and transparent account of a business's CSR activities, and will likely grow over time. We believe that the notion of providing an accurate and transparent account should serve as the barometer for determining whether a business's CSR reporting is adequate.