6 steps to write a comprehensive sustainability report

January 11, 2024
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Are you looking to showcase your business's commitment to sustainability and make an impact on the environment and society?

Look no further!

A comprehensive sustainability report can offer insightful details to stakeholders about your organisation's sustainability initiatives, progress towards sustainability objectives, and implications on the environment and society.

It can also help enhance your company’s reputation by increasing transparency and supporting regulatory compliance.

In this article, we've put together a comprehensive guide that includes a step-by-step framework and all the necessary information to help you craft a top-notch sustainability report.

Step 1: Identify Material Sustainability Issues

Material sustainability issues include concerns and challenges that matter the most to your organisation and its stakeholders.

They encompass social, environmental, governance, and economic factors that have a significant impact on your organisation and natural environment.

Learn more about materiality here.

So, how can you identify these material sustainability issues?

A materiality assessment is a great place to start. Learn how you can do one here!

This involves engaging with your stakeholders to understand their sustainability priorities and concerns.

By doing so, you can gain a better understanding of the most important sustainability issues that should be reported and prioritised in your sustainability efforts.

Here are some examples of material sustainability issues that organisations should consider including in their sustainability report:

  • Environmental impact: includes greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, waste production, and other environmental impacts associated with an organisation's operations.
  • Social impact: includes labour practices, human rights, community engagement, and other social impacts associated with an organisation's operations.
  • Economic impact: includes financial performance, supply chain management, and other economic factors associated with an organisation's operations.

Step 2: Define your sustainability goals and metrics

This step is all about taking a closer look at your organisation's goals and objectives and making sure they're in line with your sustainability efforts.

By refining your sustainability goals and objectives, you'll be better equipped to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.

To make sure your sustainability goals and objectives are effective, you'll want to make sure they're SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Here are some tips to help you set SMART sustainability goals:

  • Be specific: don't leave any room for ambiguity. Define exactly what you want to achieve and how you will measure progress towards that goal.
  • Make it measurable: by setting measurable goals and metrics, you'll be able to track progress and assess the impact of your efforts.
  • Make it achievable: set sustainability goals that are both ambitious and realistic. Make sure they're achievable, as per the organisation's resources and constraints.
  • Make it relevant: your sustainability goals should be aligned with your organisation's mission, values, and stakeholders. Make sure they're relevant to your overall strategy and vision.
  • Set a timeline: give your sustainability goals a clear timeline for achievement.

Step 3: Gather and Analyse Data

To accurately measure progress towards your organisation’s sustainability goals, you need to gather relevant data i.e. the sustainability goals and metrics that you identified as most important during the first and second steps.

Here are some examples of sustainability goals and metrics that businesses can use to measure progress towards sustainability goals:

  • Goal: reducing water usageMetric: reduction by 30% by 2025, as compared to 2010 levels
  • Goal: improve labour well-being across the supply chainMetric: track the percentage of suppliers who comply with labour standards
  • Goal: improve board diversity and effectivenessMetric: measure the diversity, equity and inclusion profile and growth trajectory of the current and proposed Board of Directors

To make sure you're gathering accurate and reliable data, you might need to implement monitoring and tracking systems.

For example, you could install sensors to track energy and water usage or implement waste management systems.

You may also need to work with external partners or consultants to gather and analyse data on different aspects and elements of your supply chain and business operations.

Once you have the data, it's time to roll up your sleeves and analyse it!

By identifying trends and patterns in your sustainability performance, you can get a clearer picture of where you're excelling and where there's room for improvement.

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Step 4: Tailor the Reporting Framework

The reporting framework is an important aspect of sustainability reporting.

It provides a structure for the sustainability report and ensures transparency and consistency.

Here are some examples of reporting frameworks that organisations can use for sustainability reporting:

It is important to tailor the reporting framework to meet your organisation’s specific needs.

This involves selecting the most relevant reporting standards and indicators and customising the report to your goals and objectives.

You should also ensure that the report is consistent with your overall sustainability strategy and vision.

Here are some tips for using a standardised framework effectively:

  • Understand the reporting requirements: including the reporting principles, general disclosures, and specific disclosures.
  • Use the indicators that are relevant to your organisation: selecting the indicators that are most relevant to your organisation.
  • Use consistent and transparent reporting practices: so that stakeholders can easily compare your sustainability performance over time and across organisations.

Step 5: Engage with Stakeholders

Engaging with stakeholders is an important step in the sustainability reporting process.

Stakeholders are individuals or groups that have an interest in or are affected by your sustainability efforts. Engaging with them can provide valuable feedback and improve decision-making.

A sustainability report is only effective if stakeholders can easily understand and engage with the information provided.

Here are some reasons why effective communication is important in sustainability reporting:

  • Better trustworthiness: by providing honest and transparent information about your sustainability efforts, you can build trust with stakeholders.
  • Value creation: communicating the impact of your sustainability efforts on the environment and society can help stakeholders understand the value of your work.
  • Credibility: engaging stakeholders in the reporting process can help them take action and contribute to your sustainability goals.

There are various ways to engage with stakeholders such as:

  • Surveys
  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • Or public consultations.

The objective is to identify key stakeholders for your organisation and engage with them throughout the sustainability reporting process.

By doing this, you can ensure that your sustainability report is aligned with their needs and expectations.

Step 6: Write the Sustainability Report

It's time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and actually write the sustainability report!

This is a critical step because it's the final product that will be used to evaluate your organisation's sustainability efforts.

Here are some tips for structuring and organising your report:

  • Give context and help readers understand the sustainability data presented in the report by providing context. This can include explaining how the data was collected and any external factors that may have influenced the data collection, processing or reporting.
  • Visualise data by using charts, graphs, and other data visualisation tools to help communicate complex sustainability data in a clear and concise manner.
  • Summarise key findings and conclusions at the beginning of the report, so the readers can quickly grasp the key points.
  • Keep it concise and avoid including unnecessary details, to keep the report straight to the point.

Once you've written the report, then you have to review and edit it to ensure accuracy, articulation and completeness.

Here are some tips for reviewing and editing your sustainability report:

  • Check for accuracy: double-check all data presented in the report to ensure it's accurate and reliable.
  • Ensure completeness: make sure that all required information is included in the report and that no important information has been left out.
  • Check for consistency: ensure that the language and formatting are consistent throughout the report.
  • Get feedback from others: have others review the report to provide feedback and ensure that the report is understandable to your audience. Listen to the feedback and use it to improve your sustainability reporting practices.
  • Be transparent: be transparent about your organisation's sustainability performance, including both the successes and the challenges.

Bonus Step

Imagine having all your sustainability reporting at your fingertips, just a click away.

No more hours of manual data gathering and analysis. No more hours writing and verifying.

What if there was an easier way?

At Apiday, we provide you with a one-stop solution!

Our Materiality Assessment feature helps you identify and prioritise the most important sustainability issues and opportunities.

Once completed, Apiday's AI will suggest the most relevant actions aligned with global sustainability frameworks. This Sustainability Roadmap will fit your specific needs, making it easy for you to follow and implement.

Then, our tool will automatically gather data from any file format and generates beautiful reports to share with all your stakeholders. You’ll simply approve the suggestions, and you're ready to go!

Try Apiday for free and simplify your sustainability reporting like never before!

Conclusion

By using the step-by-step framework outlined in this article, every organisation can effectively showcase its commitment to sustainability and demonstrate how it is making a positive impact on the environment and society.

From identifying and prioritising material sustainability issues to defining specific and achievable sustainability goals and metrics, to gathering and analysing data, engaging with stakeholders, and communicating sustainability efforts in a clear and concise manner, you can build trust with stakeholders, drive positive change, and make a lasting impact.

It's up to us to take action and work towards a more sustainable future for our planet and future generations.

By improving our sustainability performances and sustainability reporting practices, we can all play a part in creating a more sustainable world.

6 steps to write a comprehensive sustainability report

Write a top-notch sustainability report with minimal effort - it's possible!

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