What if we wrote a sustainability report and nobody read it?

 ‘What if they gave a war and nobody came’?

Many people may not know is that this phrase, best remembered as an anti-war anthem, is a snippet from a poem (Carl Sandburg or Bertolt Brecht depending on who you talk to) which starts

What if they gave a war and nobody came?
Why, then, the war would come to you!
He who stays home when the fight begins
And lets another fight for his cause
Should take care:
He who does not take part
In the battle will share in the defeat.

Less a plea for peace, the sentiment here is more about standing up for what’s right and fighting the good fight of your convictions. It’s a call to action. For the purpose here, and the promotion of sustainable business practices,  it’s a call to pursue sustainability reporting, and thereby the building of a better business, even at a risk that nobody reads the thing.

Sustainability reporting: the audience inside

When writing a sustainability report, it can be difficult to know who you’re writing it for.  Is this a marketing exercise? Are we trying to impress a handful of sustainability professionals? Investors?  Industry press?   Perhaps.  But the trend to create a report for others can have the unintended result of failing to engage the people who are best equipped to improve organizational sustainability performance.

Sustainability strategies, objectives, measurements and results should be shared with a focus on improving performance.  Internal stakeholder teams should be actively engaged in the development of the sustainability goals outlined in the annual report.

So, what if you wrote a sustainability report and nobody read it?  Well, did the process involve internal teams who became informed and engaged to make system improvements? Did the process help build an internal culture based on shared values based on the principles of sustainability? Then your report writing was worth it.  You invested in making a stronger, more responsible corporate citizen? And isn’t that a cause worth fighting for?

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