Sustainability reporting

Don’t report sustainability – communicate it!

Sustainability reporting has come a long way since 2004 when BWD designed and produced IAG’s sustainability report. It was their – and our – first report.

Now, 85% of ASX200 companies are providing some level of sustainability reporting.

In its annual review of sustainability disclosure, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ASCI) rates the sustainability information 40% of these companies are providing as “comprehensive” or “detailed.”

That’s good news. Not so good are the 43% of ASX200 companies whose sustainability reporting was found to be basic or non-existent. 

New reporting guidelines and regulations that have been introduced by ASIC and the ASX Corporate Governance Council will mean these laggards will have to pay more attention to the issue and think more broadly about the way they report on corporate performance. Simply focusing on financials is no longer enough.

Of course, the increasing pressure to improve sustainability disclosure is not only good for investors, who will have a better understanding of the risks associated with the companies and sectors they choose to invest in.

Transparency about an organisation’s environmental, social and governance risks is also good for other groups like governments, suppliers, NGOs, customers and consumers.

But how many of these groups are really reading the annual and/or sustainability reports into which companies invest so much time, expense and effort?

What’s more in the new communication environment in which we find ourselves (see Designed Communication) writers and designers of these reports are being challenged to cut down on unwieldy text, interpret data so people can easily understand what it means and use their skills to tell visual stories that engage audiences.

So what we need to be doing is thinking about sustainability communications, not simply sustainability reporting.

What does this entail? First, it means we must:

  • Adopt a newsroom mentality; ie create content that’s useful and relevant
  • Ditch jargon and corporate speak
  • Reuse longer report content in multiple shorter formats and make it easy to share
  • Go big on infographics which can then be distributed in a variety of formats and channels


Second, your employees are your first and most important audience in sustainability communication. So design a communication strategy that’s designed to educate, inspire and encourage innovation. Here’s why:

Educating employees:

Raising awareness of your sustainability strategy and the impact it’s having leads to commitment and buy-in so employees become your organisation’s ‘brand advocates’ and ‘sustainability ambassadors’. At a time when conscious consumption is having a big impact on brands, this has never been more important.

Inspiring individuals to act:

This promotes understanding that each employee is responsible for building the organisation’s sustainability credentials.

Encouraging innovation:

Being empowered to ‘think’ is a great tool of engagement. Making employees part of the solution by getting them to generate innovative ideas is a practical way to get buy-in and encourage them to take responsibility for the organisation’s sustainability reputation.