Impact Reporting 101: 5 tips to improve your (first) impact report

In a world completely inundated by the terms sustainability, impact, and now ESG, here are five tips to guide you while writing your (first) impact report.

Make your report easy to navigate

Let’s face it: unless we’re talking about analysts, no one will ever read your full report. And that’s ok. You need to know who reads your report and what they expect to find. An investor is looking for different information than a potential employee. And yes, a potential employee should definitely be one of your target groups to consider.

It’s your job to structure the report in a way that makes it easy for any of the target audiences to reach their goals and find what they want. It’s like a website: a well-thought-out information architecture and a beautiful design to support your content are key for a good reader experience.

Unless we’re talking about analysts, no one will ever read your full impact report.

– Michael Boschmans, Founder, Quest

Involve your employees

Here’s the good news. I’ve written the first impact report for several multinationals and stock-listed companies and in most cases, it was very clear that we could report on way more than was initially expected. That’s why it’s so important to involve your employees from the start. They know best what’s happening in their specific departments.

They also know what’s really happening in your company. I once interviewed a dozen employees to shape the second impact report of a stock-listed company, and the first thing all of them told me was that there was a lot of incorrect and missing info in the first report (where they weren’t involved).

When you know what to ask, you’ll notice that there are always many initiatives that have been under the radar for too long. By involving your employees in the process, you’ll also increase their engagement in your sustainability strategy.

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Full transparency, please

Readers of an impact report don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do want you to be fully transparent. Something isn’t up to the highest ecological standard? That’s perfectly possible. Just explain why that’s the case and what you’re going to do about it. Or why you decided not to do anything about it.

Throughout the many years of writing and analyzing reports, I’ve seen it all: huge overstatements and exaggerations, photoshopping employees in pictures so they are up-to-standard with safety regulations, manipulating graphs, plain lies, CO2-neutral claims by big emitters, … Just don’t.

After Sustainability Report and CSR Report, corporates now tend to call their impact reports ESG Reports. The more lies we continue to see in these reports, the more new names the industry will have to come up with.

People want to see numbers. And not just numbers: validated numbers. We’re seeing a tremendous shift towards full traceability of the supply chain, for instance.

Make sure to use the right reporting framework

There are various reporting frameworks and standards. Do your due diligence to make sure to use the ones that are most relevant to your sector and stakeholders.

GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board), CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), and CDSB (Climate Disclosure Standards Board) are among the most well-known, overarching standards. Always make sure to check for sector-specific standards and frameworks as well, though.

When you look at the impact reports of the last few years, you’ll see a lot of SDG bingo: companies trying to get as many SDGs linked to their brand as possible, often with a very big stretch. We get it: the icons look great, and they’re extremely recognizable, but if you’re trying to link your company to as many SDGs as possible, all I’m seeing is a lack of strategy. What you need instead is a page explaining your impact strategy and how you incorporated a select number of SDGs into that strategy.

EU-based? Check out the new CSRD

In April 2021, the European Commission published a proposal for a Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) which will amend the existing Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD). This CSRD requires all large listed EU companies to introduce mandatory sustainability reporting standards and provide external assurance for the sustainability information they provide.

This requirement will impact many organizations, so we strongly recommend starting preparations well in advance. 

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