CSR Reports – To Report or Not to Report Metrics?

by Jan 24, 2013

This is the third part in a series of posts on CSR reports over the  last few months in which I’ve discussed what these reports are, what they encompass and how you need to begin the task of taking on your own report.

Before you finally jump in on actually preparing your company’s CSR report, you’ve got one last major decision to make: What metrics you’ll use to report your organization’s progress. Many CSR pros struggle with this decision, typically because it seems like a daunting task. But it doesn’t have to be that difficult.

Metrics reporting is about telling your stakeholders how you are doing against past performance. In some cases, metrics reporting acts to set benchmarks that, in future years, you’ll work hard to surpass.

(Often, it’s not the choice of metric guidelines that are difficult for an organization to make, but the CSR report itself – and all of the underlying issues that go along with choosing to do one.) For the sake of this post, let’s assume you’ve already decided to do the report, and you are ready to take on metrics. What metric system will you employ and how will you gather the information you need to satisfy it?

Begin with metrics that are aligned with your business. Making them relevant to what you do as an organization makes it easier for you to set benchmarks, and strive to better yourselves year over year. It may seem incredibly obvious, but you also want to make them measurable. Make sure that what you are suggesting as metrics are actually things you as an organization can actually measure. Finally, make them something that you and your coworkers can act on.

Most CSR pros choose to use what are known as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines for reporting. GRI is an independent organization established in 1997 to create a more standardized format for corporate sustainability reporting. It starts by defining ten reporting principles — four deal with establishing the scope and contents of the report, while the remaining six address the quality of the information presented. In addition, GRI defines a number of indicators (distributed between core and additional indicators) for enterprise profile, economy, environment, working conditions, human rights, society and product responsibility. Finally, GRI offers three different levels (A, B and C  – with A being the highest level), and the reporting level is marked with a ”+” if the reporting has been verified by an external third party.

There are, of course, other standards to measure against, but GRI is far and away the most recognized and used. Once you’ve decided on which guidelines/standards to follow, you are more than halfway there. I’m oversimplifying a bit here, but in a nutshell, you’ll need to align your internal stakeholders around the metrics, secure their buy-in and implore them to help as much as they can. After all, they own and manage the data you’ll need to evaluate. With that in mind, you’ll also want to develop a work plan to map out where you’ll find the data and ultimately build the report through the lens of GRI.

There’s more to consider, and more to discuss when it comes to reporting and metrics. I would love to talk more with you about it all. For now, I’ll remind you what I wrote at the beginning of this post: choosing reporting guidelines and setting metrics isn’t that hard to do. You must address a number of things, but if you’ve got the right plan in place, you’ll have no problem gathering the right information, compiling it in a manner that meets your guidelines and ultimately building this crucial piece of your overall CSR report.

If you’d like to discuss this post, or anything CSR report related in more detail, just give me a shout.

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About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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