Successful Design in CSR Reporting, Part 2

by | Jun 24, 2009

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csr-design2Note: This is Part 2 of a series. Part 1 is The Seven Phases of Producing a Sustainability Report.

A good sustainability report must effectively communicate the challenges a company faces, the value that stakeholders put on the issues and how these elements line up with a company’s business strategy.

Conveying all the aspects and details of a company’s sustainability program requires attention to proper design and communication, said Richard Colbourne, Creative Director at Addison, a brand strategy and communications design firm that has produced sustainability reports for companies including ITT, Time Warner and AIG, among others.

“To engage stakeholders, you need engaging design,” Colbourne said, during “Sustainability Reporting 101: Best Practice Strategies for Successful Reports” a Webinar from Addison.

Here are 11 tips on CSR reporting and design:

  1. Communicate through multiple formats. For Time Warner, Addison created different documents for investors, politicians and the general public. “Some users prefer Web, some prefer print,” Colbourne said, adding that the micro site approach offers maximum control and a richer user experience than reports that are incorporated into a company’s main Web site.
  2. Start with a strong cover and meaningful theme. “The report should show that sustainability is part of your overall strategy, not just an add-on,” he said.
  3. Help readers by giving context to the report. This can come in the form of a table of contents, an index, glossary and Web links.
  4. Design around strategy and materiality. Show readers how and why the sustainability reporting aspects fit into the company’s business strategy.
  5. Reduce frustration by using clear navigation tools, including color-coding for different sections. “Most CSR reports are very dense. Some simple section dividers can really help people understand the information,” he said. “Bullet points in text are really helpful.”
  6. Help readers by summarizing. Colbourne said using simple paragraphs, with links to longer-form PDFs that detail the specifics, is one hallmark of good design for Web CSR reports.
  7. Include your stakeholders and outside opinion. “The Gap gained a huge amount of credibility by including frank stakeholder opinions in its report,” he said, adding that third-party testimonials also are helpful. To gain feedback for future reports, offer readers ways to leave comments, whether by phone, mail, fax, e-mail or Web comment forms.
  8. Choose images wisely. “We recommend honest and real photography to avoid the perception of greenwashing,” Colbourne said. “Working with existing photography related to past events helps tell a story.”
  9. Don’t lose your brand. “Sustainability should be at the heart of the company, and therefore at the heart of the brand. Use the same language you use when marketing your brand.”
  10. Use information design and plain English. “Good charts don’t have to be boring,” he said. “Be creative.”
  11. Harness the power of technology. Many more corporations are starting to use online video to communicate their success stories and strategies. Some companies are using blogs, twitter and other social networking media, he said. Others are using carbon footprint calculators.

Note: This is Part 2 of a series. Part 1 is The Seven Phases of Producing a Sustainability Report.

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