I was having coffee with a senior CR consultant recently, who like many in the field, is working with clients on reporting trends and predictions.
The consultant wanted to know what I thought about where it all might go in the next few years. Here's what I said:
If I was advising large companies on where reporting is headed, (I do the odd brainstorm / critique for companies), I'd suggest taking an approach based on evidence-based management, targeted, measured communications and public debate. Eventually, integration into mainstream marketing and communications can follow.
I'm suggesting the following steps for two reasons.
Firstly, because in an information saturated and increasingly cynical world, I think stakeholders will increasingly expect evidence-based and targeted communications from companies.
Readers want to be pulled into your world with a good 'hook', not have your CR report pushed at them. See my recent BAA post for more on that.
Secondly, it just seems like a smart way to look at impact reporting, which is what all big companies are going to have to do sooner rather than later.
By "impact reporting", I mean talking about all (or some to start with at least) key material impacts on society and the global environment and what is being done about them, rather than selecting the good news, as currently happens in many CR reports.
So here's a few ideas about what any company could or should do, to evolve their sustainability or corporate responsibility/citizenship reporting:
1) Basic impact assessments
This involves working with credible institutions to get an approximate picture of what the company means to society in real terms beyond just payroll and tax.
For example, a series of studies on the company's economic footprint on certain markets. Or on a specific country, or issue.
Rolls-Royce has done this in the UK, SAB Miller in Uganda, Unilever in South Africa and Indonesia. Heineken too, does this on a country basis. Cadbury did something similar on Cocoa a couple of years ago. It's a great place to start. (We are just about to publish a report on how the leading companies approach this)
Impact assessments can be done in many different ways of course. To me, the economic impact is a good place to start. They help demonstrate the basic value that business has to society, like paying tax, creating jobs, providing useful products and services. Or they can be issue or country specific. Where you begin depends on your risks and opportunities of course.
Impact assessments have also been done in other areas, like carbon footprints. It's not a new idea. But I think the basic economic footprint report will become increasingly popular for many companies.
For the leaders, it will be even broader, the ultimate aim being to look holistically at all key impacts and report on the 'pros and cons' of the company for society. The aim being to form the basis for conversation about where to focus.
In further posts, I'll go into more detail about the next three areas of company focus I see reporting evolving into.
2) 'Real-time' web based reporting and engagement
3) Targeted, segmented stakeholder communications designed to encourage that conversation
4) Integration into more mainstream marketing and communications. Holding public debates etc.
More on those soon...Have a great weekend.
P.S. If you want to meet some of the leading thinkers on this topic, you might be interested in coming to this.