Overview of the Sustainability Reporting Guide

Why was this Tool developed? 

Expectations for enhanced transparency and sustainability reporting are rapidly increasing and affecting organizations in every sector, and in all places along the value chain. Given the complicated and ever-changing landscape of sustainability reporting standards, frameworks and indicators, Provision Coalition partnered with Anthesis Group to develop the Sustainability Reporting Toolkit to guide food and beverage processors/manufacturers through the reporting process, focusing on maximizing business value from an elevated level of transparency while minimizing resources and costs. 

The Toolkit was designed through the compilation and synthesis of guidance from a multitude of existing standards and best practice resources, thereby reducing your learning curve. It has  been designed specifically to be relevant for organizations operating in the food and beverage processing and manufacturing space.  The Toolkit aims to streamline your reporting process, making it more manageable for those who do not have dedicated resources or the expertise in what is considered best practice when reporting on your environmental, social and governance (ESG) impacts and performance. 

This Toolkit aims to help organizations:

  • understand their significant ESG risks and opportunities,
  • conduct meaningful stakeholder engagement and better understand stakeholders’ information needs,
  • communicate relevant sustainability information in a way that’s consistent, balanced, and easy to interpret, and
  • drive business value from reporting efforts and continuous internal performance improvement. 

 

What is in this Toolkit?
The purpose of a sustainability report is to provide information on your company’s most important impacts – positive or negative – on the environment, society and the economy. This Sustainability Reporting Toolkit provides simple, step-by-step guidance for organizations on how to make key reporting decisions and develop voluntary sustainability reports at the corporate, business unit, or facility level. 

Guidance is organized in five easy steps. As you progress through the five steps, you will be prompted to answer questions and compile qualitative and quantitative information, which will be used to automatically generate a downloadable sustainability report.  Information in the Toolkit has been customized for Provision Coalition members (e.g. case study examples, identification of sustainability indicators that are often relevant to small-and-medium-sized companies operating in the food and beverage sector), however the general framework guidance is relevant to all organizations.
 
Why should your company report on its sustainability performance?

Developing robust systems to collect, verify, analyze and report sustainability performance data to stakeholders is a journey. Different companies may be at different stages of maturity depending on their size, resources, strategic goals, agility, current business situation, and stakeholders’ expectations. In order to ensure your company is maximizing the value it gets from its investments, it is important to think through the business value of sustainability reporting.

In the following dropdowns, we provide.answers to the following questions that will help you make the case for reporting:

  • How are expectations for transparency changing in your industry? 
  • Who are your key stakeholders, and what information about your sustainability impacts and performance are they asking you about? 
  • In addition to meeting stakeholder needs for information, what additional business value can you realize from reporting?

 

How are expectations for transparency changing in this industry?

There is no doubt that we have moved into a new era of transparency. Historically, public sustainability claims were made primarily by a few niche, “green” companies. Today sustainability reporting and transparency has become commonplace among organizations worldwide. This increase in reporting has been driven by a number of key factors, including:

  • Increasing public awareness and concern about sustainability issues such as climate change, pollution, and impacts of food on health. In particular, sustainable sourcing has become a point of differentiation in the marketplace as consumers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from and whether it is produced in a responsible way, from farm to fork.
  • Increasingly stringent global regulatory disclosure requirements.
  • A rising number of private sector initiatives and requirements related to sustainability reporting (e.g. Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Ethical Funds Company).
  • Retailers are increasingly incorporating sustainability/corporate responsibility criteria into at least some of their supply chain management processes (e.g., Walmart Sustainability Index, Sobey's, Loblaws, MacDonald's, etc.).
  • The growing desire of main stream investors to improve their understanding of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risks and take them into account when assessing potential investments, as well as capitalize on the growing body of research linking good sustainability performance with superior market performance (i.e., higher returns, greater resiliency, etc.).
  • The rise of technology, particularly social media, in providing a new medium for open sharing of information and discussion.

However, with the rise of many unqualified or misleading claims, there has also been increased scrutiny over sustainability reporting. Companies must take steps to ensure reports are credible and avoid problems of “greenwashing” associated with sustainability reporting. One way to do this is to ensure you are following the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Reporting Principles (i.e. stakeholder inclusiveness, sustainability context, materiality, completeness, balance, comparability, accuracy, timeliness, clarity, and reliability). Third-party verification or assurance can also help to improve credibility and reduce risk. 

Finally, it is important to recognize that there is no single “gold standard” for sustainability reporting. While the the GRI Standards are the most widely used framework for sustainability reporting globally, other important initiatives such as the International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC), CDP, and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) can each be used for different purposes and target audiences. In addition, the sustainability reporting landscape is continually evolving and increased demand for more comparability and alignment across reports may drive the development of a more globally harmonized approach. To view a comparison of SASB, GRI and IIRC reporting standards, please visit SASB’s website.

 
Who are your key stakeholders and what information about your sustainability performance do they want to hear about?

In order to ensure that your report addresses the needs, expectations and interests of your key stakeholders, you will want to go through a process to identify key stakeholders and engage them in the reporting process. GRI defines stakeholders as “entities or individuals that can reasonably be expected to be significantly affected by the organization’s activities, products, and services; and whose actions can reasonably be expected to affect the ability of the organization to successfully implement its strategies and achieve its objectives.” 

Below is a list of key stakeholder types you may consider engaging:

Key stakeholders and their potential influence on corporate social responsibility and your organization.

Stakeholder Influence or Impact
Governments and Regulators Set social or environmental laws or require disclosures on environmental or social policies and/or practices based on pressures of society. Also develop voluntary initiatives or guidelines that encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices.
Suppliers A relatively large or important supplier may require customers to have similar corporate social responsibility values, practices, and policies. These demands could limit a company's ability to acquire desirable services and goods.
Creditors Concern over potential environment and social risks may impact the serviceability of loans and may hamper a company's ability to obtain favorable credit. 
Customers Consumers (e.g. ethical or "green" consumers) may only purchase products or services that are environmentally or socially friendly and/or are from an organization with environmentally or socially responsible policies and practices.
Employees Some employees will only work for a company that shares similar values with respect to social and environmental responsibility. This may make it difficult for companies to attract and retain talent.
Communities Are impacted by negative corporate performance in terms of environmental damage (i.e. pollution) or poor social responsibility (e.g. poor working conditions). Community groups may vocalize issues with the media, damaging reputation and viability.
NGOs As corporate watchdogs, NGOs will publicize negative social or environmental performance and will lobby governments or regulators for laws or regulations related to social or regulations related to social or environmental responsibility.
Investors and Shareholders Concerned with the impact poor social or environmental policies, practices, or performance may have on any or all of the other stakeholder groups and the value of their investments.

 

Source: Certified General Accountants Association of Canada. 2005. Measuring Up: A Study on Corporate Sustainability Reporting in Canada.

 
How should you solicit feedback from your stakeholders?

Soliciting external feedback on your report is an important way to check the presentation and evaluation of report content and continuously improve and refine your reporting process. To do this, you can:

  • Provide contact information within the body of the report
  • Distribute a survey to key stakeholders
  • Speak one-on-one with key stakeholders
  • Engage stakeholders on social media
  • Consult a sustainability expert

 

What business value can you realize from reporting?
An effective sustainability reporting cycle, which includes a regular program of data collection, communication, and responses, should benefit all reporting organizations, both internally and externally. 

Brand enhancement
Transparency about non-financial performance can help to open up dialogue with internal and external stakeholders such as customers, communities and investors, and demonstrate leadership, openness and accountability. Demonstrating that your organizational values align with those of your stakeholders and that you “walk the talk” will help you to foster trust and confidence, maintain your license to operate, and increase customer and employee loyalty. In addition, sustainability reporting can help you differentiate yourself in a competitive job market in order to recruit top talent.

Risk management
The sustainability reporting process generates reliable, relevant and standardized information on your sustainability impacts and performance. The regular analysis of strengths and weaknesses and engagement with stakeholders that is necessary for sustainability reporting, can enable more informed decision making, lead to more robust organizational strategies, and drive continuous improvement. Companies that have a continuous improvement process in place reduce their operational, value chain, regulatory and reputational risks over the short- and long-term. 

Cost reduction
Measuring sustainability performance can help companies to meet regulatory requirements effectively, avoid costly breaches, and gather necessary data in a more efficient and cost-effective way. Internal management and decision-making processes can be examined and improved, leading to cost reductions by monitoring issues such as energy consumption, materials use, and waste. Additionally, having a sustainability report can help to reduce the burden related to responding to multiple stakeholder requests for information. 

Revenue growth
A growing number of companies see sustainability reporting as a means to drive greater innovation through their businesses and products to create a competitive advantage in the market. Companies seen as leaders and innovators can be in a stronger bargaining position when it comes to attracting investment, initiating new activities, entering new markets, and negotiating contracts.
 
What makes an effective sustainability report?

Depending on your business drivers for reporting, available resources, maturity with respect to sustainability management, and your company culture (e.g. public or private, data driven or not), it is expected that the level of detail in your sustainability report may vary. Throughout the Sustainability Reporting Toolkit, we provide two reporting options for users:

  1. Streamlined Reporting – information that you should include in your sustainability report in order for it to be credible and meet basic stakeholder expectations.
  2. Advanced Reporting – information that would be nice to have in your sustainability report to add additional context, enhance your reputation/brand and differentiate yourself from your competitors.

Below is a comparison of streamlined vs. advanced reporting, outlining why some companies might choose one option over the other.

 Component Streamlined Reporting Advanced Reporting
Business value focus Risk management and meeting minimum reporting requirements. Building a sustainable brand and gaining competitive differentiation.
Business drivers

Customers, regulators and other stakeholders have requested that you report on sustainability performance.

Company has minimal sustainability impacts.

Proactive communication and management of sustainability impacts and stakeholder concerns.

Internal employee engagement and education.

Company has significant sustainability impacts.

Report format Typically a concise, stand-alone report. Similar to an annual report. Includes marketing flair, often with fun infographics, interactive websites, videos, etc.
Content Report on relevant, significant key performance indicators. Provide examples of programs and initiatives that address key issues. Comprehensive overview of sustainability management approach, includes all relevant key performance indicators and context surrounding those indicators.
Resource Availability Limited Larger budget
Company culture Private companies

Sustainability is a core value and important to employees.

Data driven company

Public company

Maturity of sustainability management First time reporters. Beginning the sustainability journey. More mature
Audience Targeted audience Broader group of stakeholders, by type, across different regions, with different languages, etc.

 

Even companies who take a more advanced approach to their reporting should look for ways to make the reporting process as efficient as possible. This allows you to re-direct valuable resources towards continuously improving sustainability performance and product innovation. For example rather than publishing an entirely new report each year, one option is to only make changes when and where updates need to be made. To do this, some companies choose to disclose their management approach (policies, management systems, targets and programs that tend to stay static) on their website and then publish an annual progress report showing performance highlights against targets. Each company needs to evaluate the costs and benefits of different reporting approaches.