"It's all in our Sustainability Report."

That's a phrase guaranteed to strike fear in the hearts of even the hardiest sustainability wonks.

The fact is, companies keep packaging their diligent, necessary and informative sustainability reporting in dense corporate documents that no one cares to read. (That includes the sustainability professionals in their own organization). All too often, large amounts of time, money and employee goodwill is spent on a document that gets filed deep down in some office filing cabinet or, in the online equivalent-ten subpages down a company's corporate website.

This is an opportunity lost because the information that sits within all sustainability reports is a potential goldmine for interacting with real people and demonstrating to them what many of us still have a hard time believing: namely that companies are making real, concrete efforts to make their operations sustainable, and to create products and services that put the needs of the consumers first.

Rather than looking at sustainability reports as the dull-but-worthy end result of a lengthy research process, companies should consider their reports as the raw materials for great storytelling. Take that tedious environmental data and repackage it to meet the interests and needs of non-sustainability experts. Evaluate all the feedback about the company's social commitments and create real human stories. Overall, analyze the hard data and anecdotal evidence that has been compiled and use it in more creative, engaging ways to demonstrate the company's commitment and authenticity.

In the latest Sustainly Trend Briefing, we look at 10 companies that are finding creative and informative ways to liberate the content in their sustainability reports and share it with the public. In the case of Apple, that involves creating a dynamic online extension of its physical environmental responsibility report that meets the brand expectations of the public. For Nikon it means commissioning an animated journey through its sustainability thinking and processes.

Other companies, like Nike, Mars Inc. and Patagonia use interactive supply chain and sourcing maps as well as deep dives into the work of employees and suppliers to demonstrate transparency.

Increasingly, companies are starting to realize that the way they act in terms of environmental management, commitment to local communities and social causes, not to mention offering products and services that do no harm, really matters to the real world. The more they can convince the public, the media, NGOs, investors and their own employees of this commitment, the more their credibility will grow. Achieving that means changing the perception of many corporate doubters by supplying persuasive information in a way real people can understand.

Making better use of that boring old sustainability report is a good start.

Published on: Jun 29, 2015