Tips to improve your (first) impact report

In the last few years, a new type of report has gained traction in brand communication:  impact reporting. An impact report communicates a company’s long-term impact on people and the planet from the activities or services it provides.

If your company has ever thought about writing an impact report, here are 5 tips you should know for writing an effective (first) impact report.

1. Make your impact report easy to navigate

Let’s face it: unless we’re talking about analysts, no one will really read your full report. And that’s ok. That’s why you need to make sure you know who your target audience is and what they expect to find in your impact report. Investors are looking for different information than a potential employee, and both are target groups you should consider.

It’s your job to structure the report in a way that makes it easier for your target audience to find what they are looking for. As active players in the impact space, we believe a well-thought-out information architecture and a compelling design to support your content are key in delivering an effective impact report.

2. Involve your employees

Here’s the good news. We wrote the first impact report for several multinational and publicly traded companies, and in most cases, we were able to report on far more data than was originally expected. The key to making sure you include everything noteworthy is to involve your employees. They know best what’s going on in their respective departments and may have valuable insights into what’s happening in your company.

We once worked on a publicly traded company’s second impact report. When we interviewed a dozen employees to help shape the report, the first thing all of them told us was the first report—which they weren’t involved in—contained a lot of incorrect and missing information.

If you know what to ask, you’ll find that there are always many initiatives that have remained under the radar. By involving your employees in the process, you also increase their engagement in your impact strategy.

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3. Aim for full transparency

Readers of an impact report don’t expect your company to be perfect. But they definitely expect full transparency about the impact of your services and projects. Something doesn’t meet the highest environmental standard? That’s entirely possible and reasonable. 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.

In the many years we’ve been writing and analyzing reports, we’ve seen it all: massive overstatements, photoshopping employees in pictures to comply with safety regulations, manipulating charts, outright lies, CO2-neutral claims by major emitters, … Just don’t do it.

After ‘Sustainability Report’ and ‘CSR Report’, companies now tend to call their impact reports ‘ESG Reports’. The more lies we see in these reports, the more new names the industry will have to come up with. People don’t just want to see numbers, they want to see validated numbers.

4. Make sure to use the right reporting framework

There are several frameworks and standards for impact reporting. It’s essential to ensure that you 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. However, always be sure to look for sector-specific standards and frameworks as well.

If you look at impact reports over the past few years, you’ll see a lot of SDG bingo: companies are trying to link as many SDGs as possible to their brand, often with very big stretches. We get it: the icons look great and are highly recognizable, but if you’re just trying to link your company to as many SDGs as possible, all we see is a lack of strategy. What you need instead is a page explaining your impact strategy and how you have integrated a select number of SDGs into that strategy.

5. 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 have a big impact on many organizations, so we strongly recommend starting preparations well in advance.

Quest Impact Design Studio

We can help you write and design your sustainability report to comply with all relevant frameworks and standards.

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