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Public Affairs Insights from the Centre

15 Jun 2016

Trends in Corporate Responsibility reporting

Daniel Arias

Corporate responsibility reporting, if approached with deliberation and a view to tactical execution, can be used as an opportunity to identify and generate content that can engage a broad spectrum of an organisation’s stakeholders beyond those most interested in corporate responsibility performance indicators.

This view – offered by Westpac’s Group Head of Sustainability, Siobhan Toohill - confirms a trend in companies internationally, that involves collecting data, stories, proof points, and other content that can be used by corporate public affairs teams to calibrate storytelling that brings to life an entity’s corporate narrative.

Ms Toohill’s view that collecting data for corporate responsibility reporting is an opportunity to identify and tell stories about corporate responsibility in action in the workplace, in the supply chain, among key stakeholders, and in the broader community, is one that is gaining currency in Fortune 500 companies globally.

This development was one of a number of trends in corporate responsibility reporting that was the focus of discussions during the Centre’s corporate public affairs webinar series.

The webinar, chaired by the Centre’s senior associate Patricia Toohey, also discussed the evolution of corporate responsibility reporting, which today sees about 95 percent of the world’s largest companies reporting publicly their corporate responsibility performance.

Ms Toohill and Ms Toohey suggested that many companies in the Asia-Pacific, including Australia, are at the forefront of developments in this area, but without the same reporting regime in place in Europe.

The European Parliament recently mandated that publicly traded companies in the European Union with more than 500 employees must report on policies, risks and results in relation to social, environmental, human rights, diversity and anti-corruption matters.

Both participants highlighted the importance of effective storytelling.

Ms Toohey said companies are increasingly strengthening their corporate responsibility with detail that responds to key questions about their performance, including:

Why is reporting important? How does it impact the business? How does it compare to competitors? How relevant is it to consumers, sector professionals, NGOs and/or other stakeholders? Ms Toohey outlined how companies are embracing more holistic thinking and decision-making that helps facilitate this integration.

This integrative approach provides a comprehensive representation of a company's performance in terms of financial and non-financial value, allowing for improved quality of information for dispersion and a more effective management of environment, social and governance aspects of their performance.

Integrated reporting is being championed, among others, by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC). Aside from this institutional effort, there is an expanding number of companies integrating financial and non-financial information.

Significant insights shared by Westpac’s Ms Toohill included:

• The evolving nature of corporate responsibility indicators. Indices are increasingly sector specific, and this is considered a trend that is set to continue.

• Corporate story telling continues to evolve. Short, concise reporting is emerging as a dominant form. The use of visual cues is increasingly recognised as the most effective and powerful means of telling a story to communicate a company’s narrative.

• The role of Instagram and Facebook to facilitate this divergence was emphasised. Unilever and Marks and Spencer are leaders in effectively using these channels to tell their story.

• Reporting frequency is increasing. As an example, Westpac reports corporate responsibility performance every six months, issues a newsletter every three months, and uses social media to disperse information throughout the year.

• The key is to tell stories and encapsulate long-term sustainability goals simultaneously. Challenges lie in achieving balance and ensuring that reporting is focused on the issues that matter most to stakeholders.

• The Global Reporting Index, Dow Jones Sustainability Index, and the AA1000 are the most commonly used (and most practical) reporting frameworks.

• Measurement of impact is gaining traction (not only inputs and outputs), and conversation is increasingly moving to what organisations want to achieve, and then creating the metrics to understand the concept of ‘shared value’.

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