We are all familiar with the adage ‘communication is key’, however when it comes to CSR reports this could not be more fitting because communication is a key element in making a company socially responsible. Communicating CSR provides evidence of a commitment to social and environmental issues, which, if transparent and correctly communicated, can encourage and embed sustainability within the wider internal and external environment. While transparent communication can be seen to inspire others, magnifying the positive impact of CSR, there is risk associated with communicating information that is false or misrepresented for promotional purposes. Companies often focus the majority of their attention on external reporting as this is normally where the largest potential risks are identified, but it is vitally important to give internal communications the same attention in order to educate and further embed sustainable practises within the organisation.
Thought should also be given to the method of communication. While the answer may seem simple it is essential to remember that CSR is important to a number of different, often extremely varied stakeholders. This presents challenges for businesses because one method of communication and type of information may appeal to one group of stakeholders but be irrelevant to the next. By embracing different forms of media and creatively using traditional and alternative communication channels, organisations can ensure that all stakeholders feel their interests have been addressed.
Alongside this the rise in CSR reporting has in turn led to an increase in the scrutiny of published reports because by disclosing commitments and performance goals companies are allowing this information to be used to assess company performance. While some companies may see this as a risk, the mounting interest in the accuracy of the data driving these reports is welcomed by those in the industry as it will help to improve the methodology, collection and reporting around CSR information.
External assurance or verification can instil confidence in stakeholders regarding the quality of the data and adherence to approved methodologies. The process has a number of similarities with financial assurance used in accounting; however there are some fundamental differences due to the mixture of qualitative and quantitative data used for CSR.
The numbers of organisations, which offer CSR verification has increased significantly. In recent years major accounting firms have introduced CSR audits alongside their standard financial audits while many smaller environmental consultancies have also developed propositions to address this requirement. The IIRC, which promotes integrated financial and non-financial reporting, has strongly welcomed the growth in verification because it signals that the reporting world is moving closer towards robust reporting.
[image credit: Delwin Steven Campbell]