Five Steps to Get Your CSR Reporting Off the Ground
In the first article of this series we briefly discussed the importance of reporting your social responsibility initiatives. Done well, good reporting can add significant value to your responsible leadership. But done poorly, it can cause your social responsibility efforts to regress, and damage your credibility.
So it’s no wonder that many businesses who actively engage in socially responsible behaviour avoid corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting all together. It takes time, effort, and planning to do well. But few things worth doing ever come easy, and seeing how reporting is essential in improving your CSR performance, communicating with stakeholders, and being held accountable for your commitments, any business that takes responsible leadership seriously should not overlook it.
Many small and mid-sized organizations are particularly good at failing to report their CSR activities, but this is often due to the lack of knowledge and direction needed to get them started. Getting your CSR reporting off the ground can be a challenge, but there are simple steps that you can take to get you started right. Here are the five necessary steps to get good CSR reporting off the ground.
Step 1: Define your reporting goals and CSR program goals
A good first step to successful CSR reporting is defining your reporting goals, and overall CSR goals. It’s important to take some time to determine what you’d like to achieve through your CSR program as a whole, and what you’d specifically like your reporting to accomplish. If you’re already running CSR initiatives, you may have already decided this. But if not, reflect on the eight behaviours of a responsible leader to help you clarify what your program should be focusing on, and what outcomes you want to produce. While your goals should ultimately be decided by your company’s leaders, they should also consider feedback from your stakeholders.
Different businesses will have different goals for their social responsibility leadership, but reporting goals of all companies should be fairly similar. CSR reporting goals should typically include updating stakeholders on CSR activities through clear and honest communication, using CSR reporting to identify areas for improvement, strengthening your credibility by focusing on both successes and failures, and expanding your stakeholder dialogue by encouraging feedback.
By clarifying reporting goals, your CSR team will have a clear understanding of what your reporting should try to accomplish, and can begin to develop an action plan. Defining what you want your CSR program itself to achieve will help immensely with reporting, as you can then begin to decide how to measure your success.
Step 2: Assigning specific targets and measurement to CSR initiatives
One of the major challenges of reporting is accurately measuring the impacts of your responsible leadership. Being able to measure your success may sound fairly intuitive, but it’s amazing how many businesses don’t assign measurement metrics to their major initiatives. While measurement is necessary, it’s also important to recognize that statistics are fairly meaningless without specific targets and benchmarks. Using recycled paper for 50% of all your printing is great, but how much were you planning on using, and what’s the norm in your industry? Without measurement and targets built into your CSR program, you’re confining yourself to subjective guesswork in identifying how successful you’ve been.
Measurement and goals also help you clearly identify which areas you are performing well in, and which areas need to be improved. And by being able to measure your performance and compare it to your goals, you’re encouraging progress and keeping individuals and teams accountable.
If you’re currently in the process of CSR planning, make sure that you include measurement metrics and goals. If you’re already running CSR initiatives, see how you can develop them further to make them measurable.
Step 3: Decide reporting standards
With numerous guidelines and standards available, selecting your CSR reporting framework can be a daunting task. The most common framework adopted today is the Global Reporting Initiative’s G3 standard, used by an estimated 75% of all CSR reports in 2008. But popularity does not necessarily indicate a good fit for your business and its stakeholders. Every business has unique needs and capabilities, so be sure to use a reporting framework that is aligned with your CSR program and reporting goals, and won’t strain your resources. And while we always encourage leadership in one’s industry, do take the effort to see what guidelines peers and competitors are using.
Some of the most common reporting frameworks used today include:
- Global Compact (UNGC)
- CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project)
- GRI (Global Reporting Initiative)
- The GHG Protocol for Project Accounting
- ISO 14000
- SA 8000
- ISO 26000
- DVFA's ESG/KPI indicators
- Accounting for Sustainability's Connected Reporting Framework
- GoodCorporation's Standard developed in association with the Institute of Business Ethics
- Green Globe Certification / Standard
The next article in this series will look at different reporting guidelines and the selection criteria you should consider in more detail.
Step 4: Understand your stakeholders
Understanding your audience is key to determining two important aspects of your CSR reporting: medium(s) and frequency. Determining medium and frequency is one of the five DO’s of CSR reporting, but is unfortunately often overlooked. While certain guidelines specify or assume a formal written annual report, there are many opportunities to regularly communicate with stakeholders through social media, town halls, newsletters, and other avenues.
The ideal opportunity to determine your stakeholders’ preferences is while initiating your CSR dialogue and identifying CSR opportunities. Whether through focus groups, surveys, interviews, phone calls, or other methods, include a few questions about how often that particular stakeholder group would like to be updated, and through what type of media. If you’ve already completed this initial wave of engagement you can simply re-approach stakeholders at the next opportunity, or wait until you have updates on your progress.
Step 5: Assign roles and responsibilities
Now that you’ve established goals, made your initiatives measurable, decided on your reporting standards, and have taken steps to understand your audience, you’ll want to begin assigning roles and responsibilities. Take some time to determine who will be responsible for running each initiative, and whether that same person will be in charge of measuring performance. Be sure to clarify expectations, timelines, and reporting hierarchies in order to maximize accountability.
In order to keep all information organized and consolidated, you may also want to assign an individual or team to funnel all data to. This individual or team may also want to begin working on design templates and any report content that is not performance related.
While these five steps offer no groundbreaking insight or revolutionary ideas, they do provide a clear and simple process for getting your CSR reporting off the ground. The next article in this series will provide a more detailed look at reporting standards, and what criteria you should consider in determining which fits best with your business.
Don't forget to sign up for our complimentary webinar, The Basics of CSR: Starting Your Stakeholder Conversation Right, being held Thursday, April 29th at 3:00pm EST.