If you want to report your corporate responsibility properly, you have a responsibility in the truest sense of the word. In our Reporting 101, we look at the important factors of conception, editing and testing.
Until well into the 1990s, companies lacked a clear frame of reference for the content and conceptual structure of their reports. The guidelines of the Institute for Ecological Business Development were considered overambitious by many. Nonetheless, they could hardly be ignored as a “secret standard” in Germany. This only changed in 1997 with the emergence of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). The current third generation of Reporting Guidelines (G3) sets out reporting principles on materiality, stakeholder engagement and comparability. It also formulates concrete expectations for the disclosure of specific information and data.
Paper or pixel
Experts have come to the conclusion that digital formats offer significant advantages for deepening the content of reports. For example, complex content relationships can be much better prepared in a hypertext structure. And they can also be visualized didactically better with the relevant tools. Hardly any of the large companies with experience in reporting would miss the opportunity to accompany their reporting intensively online today. This primarily involves information that supplements the print report or highlights individual aspects.
Character is required: A report should be clearly formulated and the topics must be presented clearly and understandably, structured and labeled. This requires more than the experienced writer with knowledge of the five journalistic “Ws”. Preparing complicated issues in a simple and understandable way requires absolute expertise.
Once the required know-how is available, it is a matter of individualizing the report. The report must not be seen simply as a collection of facts and figures on the subject of responsibility for people and the environment. It should be possible to read out of the report what a company or organization is like. Also you should be able to discern what distinguishes it from its competitors. It’s all about character. And this is best made visible through a leitmotif. The leitmotif is the “red thread” that runs through all the content.
The testing of sustainability reports can make an important contribution to the acceptance and credibility of its contents. Even though such reports today often follow demanding guidelines such as those of the GRI, their users are often left with great uncertainty about the reliability of the information. An auditor’s opinion may not be able to save a company’s reputation, but it can be an important element in the “confidence statics” of reporting.
The most important reference systems for an audit today are the GRI Guidelines and the AA1000 auditing standards of the Institute of Social and Ethical AccountAbility and SA 8000 of Social Accountability International. Auditors’ checks focus primarily on the accuracy of disclosures and numerical frameworks. While auditors generally proceed along recognized auditing standards for financial statements, there has been a lack of binding standards practice in the area of non-financial reports. With GRI and AA1000 or SA 8000, a convergence of existing approaches is now emerging.
The best reports do not consist of the processing of requirement catalogs of the guidelines. They are characterized above all by substance and have an ambitious program of measures. Also, they reveal a high degree of transparency in data and processes, and are self-critical in their progress. They give room for dialog also with critical stakeholders (challengers), have clarified the stakeholders’ interest in information in advance (without submitting to their agenda) and have been able to dispose of sufficient project time.
Dive deeper into the topic of CSR on our topic page on the blog.