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Reporting on your efforts.

The most important aspect of your CSR programme is how you report on your efforts to your stakeholders. A reporting culture in New Zealand is seriously lacking - so much so that companies are getting away with turning their logos green and leaving their CSR at that.

For CSR to work well, we have to get in the habit of documenting the efforts we’re making and putting the truth out there, resisting any temptation to over-state the progress made or under-state the potential harm recognised.This section of the toolbox provides an overview of CSR reporting, by addressing three fundamental questions:

  1. What is CSR reporting?

  2. Why should a business undertake CSR reporting?

  3. What should a CSR report look like?

 
  1. What is a CSR Report?

 Your chance to tell the world what you wish you knew about other organisations.

 
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The purpose of CSR reporting.

In today’s business environment, businesses who are CSR focused and wanting to make sure that their socially responsible activities have a far and positive reach can do so through the form of reporting.  According to the Global Reporting Initiative, a CSR report can be defined as: “A sustainability report  published by a company or organisation about the economic, environmental and social impacts caused by its everyday activities’.   

Put simply, a CSR report is an accurate and transparent account of a business’ CSR activities to-date.  It may also include content around a business’ future CSR goals and comment on areas where it can improve.  While CSR reporting is not mandatory for most companies (except those on the NZX who are expected to publish ESG reports), it is considered ‘best practice’ and seen in a positive light by the wider stakeholders - who are affected and influenced by the business activities. It also limits greenwashing behaviour and inspires other organisations to follow suit.

 

2. Why should your business be reporting?

An early conversation on how to report, what to measure, and when the updates will go out to the public is critical for any new CSR team.

 
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Why report?

The prime intention behind CSR reporting (sustainability report) is to improve the transparency of the business activities in the areas of economy, environment and society. The goal can be seen as twofold:

  1. CSR reports aim aim to enable businesses to measure the impact of their activities on the environment, on society and on the economy (triple-bottom-line aspect). In this way, a business can get accurate and insightful data which will help them to improve their processes and have a more positive impact against the goals they have elected to report on.

  2. A CSR report also allow businesses to externally communicate (openly and transparently) with their stakeholders on what are their goals regarding the issues around CSR. This ensures that the stakeholders to get to know better what are the short, medium and long-term goals of companies and see which activities have a long term (profitable)  beneficial outputs. 

 

 3. What should a CSR report look like?

CSR reporting can seem an ambitious and impossible task from the onset, but in truth it is very easy to implement. Reporting on your business’s CSR annual activities does not have to be long and complicated process. It is ultimately driven by the aim to transparently report on CSR activities - both internal and external.  

 
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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. 

 

You’ve made it through the CSR toolkit!

We started this work to help out ordinary teams wanting to drive social and environmental change from inside their workplace. If you’ve benefitted from the toolkit and been able to succeed in establishing a CSR programme, we’d love to hear from you with your story- especially if you have ideas on what resources we could create next that might be useful.

 
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 Going back for more? Navigate the CSR Toolkit from here.