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Reports 4 Jun 2008

Count Me In

The readers' take on sustainability reporting

By Judy Kuszewski

Thousands of companies issue sustainability reports each year – but who reads them? What do these readers think of reports? Do reports meet the needs of communities, investors, employees, customers, journalists and non-governmental organizations?

Count Me In: The readers’ take on sustainability reporting, released in conjunction with the GRI Readers’ Choice Awards on 8 May, 2008 in Amsterdam, is now available. The report features the findings and analysis from the first GRI Readers’ Choice survey of report users. Conducted by SustainAbility and KPMG between October 2007 and January 2008, the survey captures the views of nearly 2,300 respondents.

The results confirm that publishing a sustainability report has a strong positive impact on readers’ perceptions of a reporter. Ninety percent of readers said their views of a company had been influenced by reading its sustainability report. Of these, 85 percent reported a more positive perception of the organization. However, reports do more than improve readers’ understanding of the reporter and its approach to sustainability. Over 30 percent of readers explained that they use the reports to inform decisions and also to take action on the basis of what companies publish.

Publishing a sustainability report has a strong positive impact on readers’ perceptions of the reporting company.

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Over 450 respondents indicated that they do not currently use sustainability reports. They feel they have more direct means to communicate with companies to meet their information needs and that reports are too lengthy or not valuable to them. However, their expectations for quality reporting are very similar to those of current readers.

So where is reporting headed? The survey points to a future where:

  • More readers use reports for active decision-making;
  • The reporting cycle includes continuous stakeholder dialogue around the core business agenda;
  • Sustainability information is more fully integrated into annual reports and other corporate communications;
  • The business case is robust and sustainability and innovation are clearly linked; and,
  • Trust and reliability are addressed through globally accepted standards and stronger, more relevant assurance processes.

Speaking at the launch of the report at The Amsterdam Global Conference on Sustainability and Transparency, SustainAbility Chairperson Sophia Tickell underscored the strategic shift in the use of reports: “Reporting was once a way to get sustainability issues onto the corporate agenda. Today the situation is reversing as a growing number of companies make ambitious commitments to sustainability. There is much business as usual but these targets matter because what gets measured gets done and – hopefully – reported against. This shift in where the agenda is set holds real potential to influence products and services – and eventually to shape business models of the future.”

Reporting will be important but will need, explicitly, to make clearer links between sustainability issues and core business strategy — something that all stakeholders (including the mainstream investment community) seem to agree upon.”_

The survey, detailed graphs of results and a feedback forum are available at: www.globalreporting.org/survey.

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