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Steph Cook

How to maximize your sustainability report’s ROI

You’ve spent months pulling together data, building a strong narrative and refining the design. You’ve compiled updates from every division and achieved sign-off from your CEO. It’s all led up to the moment when your annual sustainability report is ready to publish. You give your team the green light to launch — but what comes next? If you’re publishing a report without integrating it into your broader communications, you’re likely leaving value and engagement opportunities on the table.

One thing my background in communications taught me: Don’t make the mistake of underleveraging strong content. At CRI, I work with clients to help them write and develop their sustainability reports. Previously, I specialized in university communications, a world in which resources are scarce, even as demand for content is at an all-time high. As a communicator, I needed to reach multiple audiences across an ever-growing array of platforms. Keeping so many channels populated was a real challenge — developing great stories requires a meaningful investment in resources and time.

This led me to a more integrated and strategic content approach: Instead of starting from scratch on every project, I focused on reporting out a few strong stories that our team could reimagine in multiple ways. With some careful planning, we could turn a single interview into a magazine feature, an Instagram post and a website Q&A — each of which addressed different target audiences and communications goals. Making this shift increased my team’s bandwidth and empowered us to do more proactive planning. Plus, it enabled us to increase audience engagement and extend the reach of key stories we wanted to tell.

My vision

Today, this is my vision for companies sharing their ESG progress — to think more creatively and strategically about how to use the content within their reports. There are often dozens of impactful stories and data points within a single report’s pages. Better yet, that content has already been vetted for accuracy and approved of at the highest levels. There’s no reason that an infographic on product sustainability can’t be transformed into slides for social media. Or that a feature on employee volunteerism can’t also appear online.

By embracing a more integrated approach, companies can amplify those stories while supporting their year-round communications needs. This can also benefit a company’s reputation by helping it to build stakeholders’ trust. When sustainability is woven into all aspects of an organization’s communications, the message feels more authentic. It signals that sustainability is part of the core business strategy — a commitment the company is working toward full time.

Ready to think bigger about your report?

Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Consider why you haven’t been doing this already.

A lot of organizations have internal roadblocks that prevent a more integrated approach. From my vantage point, one of the biggest challenges is that ESG and Communications teams tend to be two different entities, and those teams may not be fully aware of how to support and benefit from one another’s work. If this is the case, the solution is to overcome silos. Try to establish regular touchpoints for both teams to meet and discuss their respective initiatives, workstreams and goals. These meetings should continue before, during and after the reporting process (more on why below.) I recognize that this requires an investment in time from two teams that tend to be stretched thin. However, even a 30-minute touchpoint every few weeks could help both teams communicate more without adding hours of extra work.

2. Develop a report-launch strategy.

Remember my earlier question — you’ve published your report, now what? This is the process of thinking through your answer. Ideally, per step one, the ESG and Communications teams are now working in step, so you can plan to leverage the full strength of your communications channels to draw more traffic to the report. Developing a press release that includes fresh news from the report is a smart tactic, but it shouldn’t be the only one. To really make an impact, consider using social media, your website and internal newsletters to meet target audiences where they are.

3. Repackage and reiterate the message.

Once the report launch is complete, get creative about how to reshape existing content. Does it include a sidebar on innovative compostable packaging? Why not expand on that and position it for more consumer-facing traffic online? This is also a great time to work with your Communications team to slot key stories into an existing content calendar. Now, when Earth Month approaches, a story on environmental stewardship will be ready to go. (For bonus points, include a callout to drive traffic back to the report.)

Most likely, your organization is doing great work to further its sustainability initiatives. With these strategies, you can get more value out of all of your efforts — streamlining your workflow while sharing your stories far and wide.