While it’s still too early to tell how significantly COVID-19 will alter our way of life, we’ve learned to challenge many of our preconceived notions about how to best do business — and solidifying your company’s place within this new order is critical. The true test is going to be whether we are capable of dramatic positive change even when not spurred by a global pandemic.
The world-altering events of the past few months with COVID-19 and its social and economic impacts might make it tempting to deprioritize the importance of sustainability reporting. Many companies have faced severe challenges — being forced to lay off or furlough large numbers of employees, adjusting to remote work operations, facing strained supply chains, and even rethinking their entire 2020 strategy in the face of an uncertain economic outlook.
Yet demonstrating resilience in the face of COVID-19 and your other material environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues will be critical for reassuring investors, employees and other stakeholders that your company remains future-proof. Reporting thoughtfully and appropriately during a time of crisis is paramount. During this time of great disruption, you’ll need to modify your approach to be successful.
Double down on the data
Data-driven storytelling is nothing new, though the uncertainty around COVID-19 has made backing up claims with hard facts more important than ever. In your reporting, demonstrate leadership by embracing transparency and consistency — backed by data, of course — to show how you have performed with poise during this crisis. This means showing how your actions are supporting employees, customers and the communities you operate in.
When telling the story about how COVID-19 has impacted your business, don’t be afraid to show the blemishes. No company is going to escape this crisis unbruised, and showing how you managed to stay steadfast during it all will be much appreciated by investors and others reading your report. These stories can serve as proof points for how your investments in sustainability are helping your better weather this storm. Backing your sustainability stories with solid data adds depth and will better address the interests of the head and the heart in your readers.
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Less is more. If there ever was a time to reevaluate your approach to reporting, it’s now. As your organization looks to streamline and simplify operations across the board, you should think about how you might achieve your sustainability communication goals in a more efficient manner. In lieu of a traditional PDF report weighed down by human interest stories, consider a fresh approach and embrace digital. By creating a dynamic online reporting communication system, you can conveniently update the backend more than once a year and it’s easily browsed by stakeholders.
Refocus your audience
Let’s be real — your investors are the only ones who are actually reading your sustainability report. While you may be tempted to continue to cater to all your potential audiences, now is a good time to hone your focus on investors. This will assist greatly with your efforts to simplify content as you need only focus on the data-driven stories relevant to investors.
Embrace shared value
One of the best ways to instill investors with confidence is by showing how your company is prepared to leverage its core competencies in service of the global public good during the next crisis. This is a great way to position yourself as a global citizen — a quality investors appreciate. Just as we’ve seen with COVID-19, many companies have answered the call to pivot or retool their businesses to produce products and services needed to address the pandemic. In your reporting, it’s more important than ever to demonstrate how your company embraces shared value in pursuit of a more resilient future with you and your stakeholders in mind.
And, of course, we can’t forget the reminder nature gave us during widespread global social distancing — that humans have significant impacts on the environment. During the shut-down of the economy, greenhouse emissions are lowering, and air and water quality are improving. However, as the UN mentions, these positive impacts will be short-lived if we don’t create a more sustainable economy. Showing how your company is part of this positive transition is a sure way to delight investors.
Business disruptions are inevitable, and your investors want to know how you plan to weather the next crisis — whether it be another pandemic or climate disaster. Your report should show how your long-term strategy is focused on maximizing resilience to both short- and long-term challenges. This includes details both on how you responded to COVID-19, any missteps you made and lessons learned, and what processes you’ve put in place to deal with similar challenges in the future.
The future of reporting
While it’s still too early to tell how significantly COVID-19 will alter the way we live, work and do business, solidifying your company’s place within this new order is critical. If anything, we’ve learned to challenge many of our preconceived notions about how to best do business. The true test is going to be whether we are capable of dramatic positive change even when not spurred by a global pandemic. We must resist the temptation to go back to ‘business as usual.’ If anything, let this experience be an opportunity to improve the way you report.