Sustainability reporting comes of age


Still think a sustainability report is a luxury that your organisation will one day get around to? Sustainability has become an all-encompassing subject upon which every organisation – large and small – has an impact. It’s time to start playing your part and publishing your credentials.

In September 2015, world leaders at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, signing up to a set of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

Where governments lead, commercial organisations and consumer awareness soon follow. With sustainability an official priority of world leaders it now forms the strategic bedrock, not just of the NGOs and development banks who will be supporting governments to achieve their sustainability aims, but of commercial organisations globally.

Showing that you mean business

And of course it’s not enough to sign up to play your part, you must show that you’re doing so, and many companies (particularly big corporates) have been doing that for some time in the form of annual sustainability reports. In today’s world, however, such a thing is no longer a ‘nice to have’: it’s an absolute necessity.

Sustainability reporting isn’t a matter of regulation – yet – but thousands of companies around the world file their sustainability reports with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an independent body that helps businesses and governments to understand and communicate their impact on sustainability issues.

Making the data sing

Consumers and investors, governments and pressure groups now want to see your sustainability credentials – and see them presented in a transparent, eye-catching way. Yet with sustainability now incorporating everything from poverty and health and wellbeing to education and infrastructure, the volumes and types of data involved can make it difficult to know how to tell your important stories with immediacy.

Blackwood has been involved in sustainability reporting for over five years. In that short space of time we’ve seen this type of corporate reporting grow and change to the point where sustainability reports and tools have become flagship items, launched at big events and annual general meetings. While the format of these items are as varied as the stories they tell, every client demands that their report has impact and usefulness. These are working, dynamic tools, not pretty reports sitting on HQ shelves.

Going green

Among our first sustainability-related reports were two for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). In 2011 we produced ‘The Low Carbon Transition’ about climate change mitigation in countries from central Europe to central Asia.

A year later we produced ’20 years of investing in the green economy’ which highlighted the key role that sustainability had played in the EBRD’s mandate for the previous 20 years – since the UN’s Conference on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992 – otherwise known as the first Earth Summit. The EBRD report was produced to coincide with the UN’s third Earth Summit (Rio+20) in June 2012.

While there’s no regulatory requirement to publish your sustainability, the smartest organisations – even relatively small ones – are doing so.

Around the same time we were approached by brewing giant SAB Miller to produce an online sustainability matrix to provide accurate and comparable information around such issues as water use, education, carbon efficiency and waste. This tool had to be engaging, easy to understand and use, and fully updatable. The end result showed the power and potential of data for demonstrating performance and progress.

Keeping it simple

Our recent work supporting the Islamic Development Bank’s Reverse Linkage project is perhaps our most exciting and far-reaching sustainability-related project yet. The Reverse Linkage project brings together Muslim countries to share thinking and resolve infrastructure challenges to promote development and growth. It’s complicated, but its benefits are far-reaching, making it a great sustainability story.

We condensed 60 pages of information into two poster-sized infographics to highlight the key benefits of this initiative. The infographics formed part of a package of materials that Blackwood produced for the IDB’s general meeting in Jakarta where the project was to be presented to delegates, many of whom were unaware of it.

The showstopper proved to be an animation that we created in three languages to explain the initiative and bring it to life. The client has got a huge amount of value from all of its project materials, but most striking was the response on social media, where the animation become the IDB’s second most viewed YouTube video.

If we’ve got you thinking, contact us today to get started on your new/next sustainability report.