June 20 2022
Over the past few years, companies have been ramping up their efforts to create a more sustainable planet. This includes everything from reducing waste at manufacturing plants, finding innovative ways to cut back on plastic use, and even devoting time to giving back to the community.
In today’s market, many consumers go out of their way to find more sustainable products and/or services. In order to really win over new customers and investors, the creation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) reports have quickly become the norm. Of course, some companies started measuring and reporting their ESG metrics many years ago. In fact, Nike’s first Impact Report was released in 2002. However, many more businesses have not yet become familiar with the ESG reporting process.
Whether you’re brainstorming fresh ideas for an annual ESG report or just getting started with research for crafting your company’s very first, here are five key takeaways based on ESG reports from top brands like Nike, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon:
When publishing any information that is going to influence sales and impact brand reputation, it’s important to be honest and accurate. This starts with providing accurate data regarding ESG metrics, being honest about performance and providing as much clarity so there isn’t confusion when interpreting the report.
To some, it may seem that numbers are always reported as is, but unfortunately, data can be tweaked or presented in a way that makes the company look much better than in reality. It can be tempting to alter numbers or leave out essential information if it doesn’t perform well, but this can result in serious issues for brand reputation or even legal issues. Be sure to have a trusted team providing accurate data and stick to the facts when presenting the information.
Additionally, when providing clarity and background information, be sure to call out the goals that were successfully achieved and those still in progress. For any in-progress tasks, provide an update to highlight progress made and plans in place for the future to achieve the benchmark. Providing clarifying information is also important for any “gray areas” of your business that could impact how the report is read. For example, if your company operates in a fiscal year different than the traditional calendar year, it’s important to call that out so investors and customers can compare appropriately and make sound decisions.
Brands carry a lot of weight in society, and often, people have favorite brands for a reason. Companies need to carry their branding, tone and style into their ESG reports since the reports are an extension of the company. The best ESG reports usually include a personalized letter from the company’s CEO or a related committee chair. This letter provides background to the report and state of the company, while also giving stakeholders a face and personality to associate with the report.
It’s important to show your company’s diversity as well. Including pictures of staff members, or even getting quotes from them, is a great way to personalize the report. ESG reports are an opportunity for brands to stand out and tell their stories, so reports should be tailored toward the appropriate target audiences. In general, most companies know what works and what doesn’t work for them. Be sure to show personality throughout the report because people know when a company uses a cookie-cutter approach or simply doesn’t put effort into a project.
Once you’ve considered your audience and picked an approach, it’s time to develop your content. Top brands do an excellent job crafting personalized and branded reports that tell an impactful story. To tell a good story, you need meaningful examples. When communicating your organizational stories, be sure to start with why, share your vision, focus on impact over effort, and share in the nobility of your purpose.
Impactful stories will perform well and engage the audience. To accompany the stories, top brands always provide visuals to help communicate their messages. This should include a variety of full-page, high-resolution images, photos sprinkled throughout the report, and significant (but not overly complicated) graphs and charts to make the data more digestible. The objective of ESG storytelling is to explain how a company’s efforts are directly impacting the company, its employees, its financials and the world at large.
ESG metrics, guidance and best practices are always changing. Top brands usually have an entire team in place designated to promote their ESG efforts, research emerging trends, create annual reports and more. It’s for this reason that many leading brands have such assorted styles or types of stories in their reports from year to year. The best way to improve your existing ESG strategy is to continually learn and stay up to date with the standards and best practices.
Most top-tier companies either have an executive leader or board member pioneering their ESG efforts and keeping the team on track. Additionally, since the push for sustainable business practices and social responsibility is new, it’s constantly evolving and requires a lot of effort to stay knowledgeable. Society is continuously learning more, ramping up ESG efforts worldwide and raising the bar for brand expectations.
Being flexible and ready to pivot as needed sets companies up for success. Leadership needs to keep an open mind and encourage employees to provide new, innovative ideas and techniques to improve operations. It is not a one person—or even a one team—job, so be sure to encourage all employees to stay informed and ready to test out new methods to help protect the planet and create a more meaningful work environment.
After a successful year, it’s great to highlight your company’s accomplishments, but don’t just stop there. The top brands know how to keep key stakeholders on the hook by outlining future goals and next steps in the report. That said, it’s important to include a disclaimer and forward-looking statement when discussing projected financials, growth plans, projects or other information that is related to future business performance. Some examples of this type of information that would spark interest from readers includes announcing new initiatives, raising the current target objectives, or announcing new ESG leadership.
Although the idea of producing an ESG report may seem intimidating, learning from top brands’ reports and sticking to the basics of good, accurate storytelling goes a long way. At the end of the day, it’s important to stay curious and informed about the latest ESG trends since it’s changing constantly.
Want to explore more on ESG reports? Check other blog posts from PRGN experts here.
Want to contact an ESG expert to help with your needs? See for PRGN’s top experts on ESG and Sustainability here.