5 rules for accurate and clear ESG reports

Done well, these reports can be a crucial tool to build trust with audiences.


How companies track and share progress beyond quarterly or annual financial reporting has been in a state of rapid evolution for well over a decade. From documenting sustainability efforts, to launching global responsibility platforms, to environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting, investors — and everyday customers alike — increasingly analyze these non-traditional factors to determine their support of, and involvement with, a company.

The layers of responsibility that ESG reports can cover have become anything but “non-traditional” — if channeled properly, the reports may contribute greatly to an organization’s financial health, reputation and long-term stability.

Whether you’re new to this world of ESG reporting or a trailblazer from the beginning, the following five best practices will help build stakeholder trust and value:

1. Root your commitments in areas where your greatest strengths and opportunities exist.

Not everyone can do everything, but your organization likely can move the needle in specific areas depending on the type of business you operate, and the infrastructure, people and partnerships you already have in place.

And the word “partnerships” is key, as collaborating with others has the potential to spread the impact beyond the walls of your organization.

A great example is global beverage leader Diageo working to preserve its most important ingredient, water, by partnering with key stakeholders on initiatives in its operations, across its supply chain, in local communities and via ongoing advocacy. The company’s online ESG platform helps emphasize this priority by highlighting information on its commitments.

Equally important, by involving multiple partners with different missions and backgrounds, Diageo seeds its content engine with compelling, ongoing storytelling — not just from its own perspective but also from third parties, which helps reinforce authenticity around its efforts.

2. Provide story windows into your activities.

Use storytelling to bring those metrics to life. While ESG reports are about tracking progress against your commitments, companies and organizations should use their work to inform thoughtful communications. If, for example, your organization has partnered with local farmers to ensure fresher produce, provide a pop-out paragraph about one of those farmers to demonstrate the real-life impact.

3. Visuals help maximize impact.

When crafting your report, be intentional with your use of graphics to illustrate goals, key statistics, progress and more. This allows stakeholders and others to get a sense of the big takeaways before they dive deep into the details. It’s like providing breadcrumbs to guide stakeholders through your ESG journey.

4 . Speak to challenges and progress.

The fact is, there are a variety of hurdles that stand in the way of tougher goals. That’s normal, and your customers and stakeholders will appreciate your transparency in speaking to those challenges head-on rather than avoiding them.

And they want to hear about your progress toward goals — not just that you’ve reached them. Share what you’re doing to make advances and raise the bar, even if you’re tracking behind on a particular commitment. Transparency can be a tool to promote resilience and adaptability when a disruptive environmental or social event occurs.

5. Maximize your ROI by drawing from content from your ESG reporting to fuel your communications engine year-round.

Many companies fail to take advantage of this go-to content opportunity. If you put all the work and investment into building an ESG report, why not tap into the captured data, stories and progress to drive social media content, thought leadership opportunities, proof points and more throughout the rest of the calendar year?

Use these resources to elevate your own storytelling. Use it to drive people to the full report. Use it to keep your organization and aspirations top of mind. And by speaking to ESG throughout the year, you’re demonstrating it’s part of your company’s DNA, not just a side project.

These are just a few of the opportunities to consider along the way. What have you found to be the biggest challenge(s) to building a great ESG report? What are additional best practices you would recommend? Please let us know in the comments!


Bobby Zafarnia is executive vice president at Dentsu and leads the corporate communications practice, and Jeff Mores is a PR content strategist at Dentsu.


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