Seven Tips for Your Sustainability Report

By Elaine Palmer

Eisenman Associates • May 15, 2009

Note about the author: Eisenman Associates asked Elaine Palmer, retired Director of External Affairs for PepsiCo, to provide some tips for preparing a sustainability report. Elaine wrote and managed PepsiCo’s first sustainability reports and was instrumental in helping the company to be named to the Dow Jones Sustainability World and North America Indexes.

June is the month of weddings – and Sustainability Reports.

Either you have just started, finished or are in the midst of your report. Wherever you are, here are seven tips that will improve your relationship with your audience and your company.

1. Try something old and something new. Print is old. Web is new. Consider using both by creating a complete sustainability report using an interactive internet format and printing a short summary of the report. Segments of your audience will want full details, full explanations and plenty of data. They will want to be able to search for issues by key words or go deeper into specific areas. Other segments of your audience will be looking for an overview of your key programs, highlights and will want something they can hold in their hand or distribute to customers. A designer experienced in both web and print can produce both a web and print report and provide value by coordinating the two.

2. Tell us how you met. Couples at a wedding often tell us how and where they met and what they liked about each other. Your report should do this too. Explain where you are in your sustainability journey, how you got there and where you are going. Summarizing the history of your progress lets your audience know your company is moving forward and helps manage expectations. For example, if your audience understands you are working on protocols to collect certain data, they will be more likely to understand why you don’t already have that data.

3. Dress it up. Make your report special. Good design, clear type and use of charts and tables will help your audience understand the information better. Links to more details, the ability to search by key words and interactive elements will be appreciated by your audience. The firm you work with can recommend economical ways to make your report highly engaging.

4. Write your own vows. Think about the most important sustainability initiatives your company wants to communicate and then highlight these. Set out your own strategy even if it differs from the standard sustainability measures. After all, your company is unique and your goals are your own. Use standard sustainability indicators as your guideline but customize them for your company as needed.

5. Make a commitment. Audiences want to know what the future holds. State your goals, timetables to reach them and report progress along the way. Too many companies are commitment-phobic. Be both cautious and courageous when explaining what your company can achieve. If you either over or under promise you’re suggesting you aren’t serious.

6. Seal it with a KISS – Keep It Simple Smartie. Make this the new take on the old acronym. Use simple words, straightforward design, easy-to-follow charts and diagrams. Make use of photos and graphics to add information, content and define sections of the report. Use links only as needed. Try to reduce complexity not add to it. A designer experienced in working with sustainability information will be able to offer suggestions on how to simplify presentation of information.

7. Think forever. Even if you only publish a web-based report, someone will be keeping track. What you say in your report will exist forever. So check your facts and figures carefully. Create an audit trail and keep good records. For example, your firm may reevaluate and change goals or programs as time goes on. You want to have a clear record of how the original goals were set and what information has changed.

Like a marriage, your sustainability report is a big step. The difference is you get to do it all again next year!

Reprinted with permission from Eisenman Associates.










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