This article looks into what makes a sustainability report a great sustainability report. What makes a report memorable, what makes it stand out from the crowd?


These days, sustainability reporting has become a mainstream activity.


As you can see from the chart above, once you reach the stage where 82% of companies in the S&P 500 are reporting on their sustainability performance, you definitely have a mainstream activity.

There are lots of sustainability reports published every year. Many are dull and uninspiring. Others are difficult to read and full of technical jargon, indecipherable to all but the most committed experts.

In this article, I will go through what I consider to be the key ingredients that separate a run of the mill sustainability report from a great sustainability report.

1.  Vision

Great sustainability reports exude vision. They communicate to their stakeholders that they aim to dominate their industry, but do so in a way that takes less from the earth socially and environmentally.

Visions are powerful things. For more information on sustainability visions, please visit the link below.


One of the best sustainability reports that I have come across for vision, would be ARM’s 2015 report. You can find a link for this below.

Sustainability in a connected world

The report begins with their bold vision that:

Our mission is to deploy ARM-based technology, wherever computing happens.”

This is the sort of bold vision that employees, investors and other stakeholders can rally around.

Later they boast of their 488 engineers working on “blue sky” programmes. This is exactly the kind of progress that is needed to make sustainability happen.

ARM’s integration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) into their report is also first rate. What is more impressive though, is their ability and ambition to contribute in some small way to all 17 of these exponential goals.

I understand not all businesses can be like ARM. But I have seen a trend towards businesses giving up before they have even begun and declaring that only a small number are relevant to their business. They are all relevant.

Visions are powerful things. Peter Senge said it best in The Fifth Discipline that:

It’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.

So many bland visions fail to inspire anyone and probably didn’t even inspire the person who wrote them. ARM hit the sweet spot with their 2015 report, managing to blend crushing business acumen with care for society and the environment.

The key takeaway is that if you want your sustainability report to be great  and stand out, create an authentic, inspiring vision and run with it. You’ll know when you get there.

2.  Stories

Alongside visions, stories are powerful phenomena. They can make the big and complex small and easy to understand. This is certainly helpful in sustainability.

The ability to tell a story or stories can transform your sustainability report from being good to being great. It can make investors think differently about your business, it can make your current employees want to stay or prospective candidates want to join your business. It can make your sustainability report stand out.

Stories are the bridge that connects your sustainability data into real and meaningful information that is useful and memorable to the reader. There is so much information out there, there are so many reports. If you tell a story or series of stories in your report, there is a good chance that that is what the reader will remember.

In this regard, one of the best sustainability reports that I have seen integrate powerful stories was Carillion’s 2016 sustainability report. You can find a link to this below.

How we’re making tomorrow a better place

Carillion integrate inspiring stories about the people who actually deliver their international operations throughout the report.

There are stories about health and safety achievements in the UK, decent living and working conditions in the Middle East, customer service excellence in the UK, training and work placements in Liverpool and stories about wind and hydro power in Canada.

The report takes you on a real journey. Unlike other reports it comes across as very bottom up and participatory and not top down and hierarchical. It comes across as authentic. The stories take you on a journey, they are touching and they are memorable.

The key takeaway if you want to create a great sustainability report is to tell powerful stories. Tell one or tell many. Make it inspirational and make the report seem like the work of the entire company and not just the sustainability team and the board.

3.   Move people

Great sustainability reports move people. They are more than the sum of their parts. If a report is great it will be read by more people than you think.

Words are powerful. When used in the right order they can inspire people and make sustainability irresistible. You never know who might be reading your report.

Maybe someone from within or outside your business has become complacent about sustainability. You can touch them; you can move them from complacency.

There may be others who are just drifting and not yet fully on board and engaged in the sustainability process. You can move them.

There may be readers who are taken a back by one of your stories. They could be a millionaire or someone of modest means. But you can move them with your stories.

Maybe you did something remarkable last year. Just by writing down what happened, you can move people.

Maybe your business had a dilemma; maybe you were bold enough to communicate about your failures as well as your successes. You can touch people with your honesty.

Maybe you have a wicked problem, which you are not sure you can solve. A reader could be touched by your problem. They could reach out to you. Stranger things have happened.

This happened to me this year whilst I was reading the Canary Wharf Group 2016 sustainability report. You can find a link to this below.


It is a fantastic report. I was moved by their vision for sustainability in the built environment, I was touched by their focus on wellbeing and climate change adaptation and I was inspired by their action on waste minimisation and recycling. Just by writing things down you can move people, you can change who people are.

The key takeaway if you want to create a great sustainability report is that you need to move people. The stakes are so high and the competition is so intense, that if you don’t move people, your report will not stand out.

What you need to know

This article looked into what makes a sustainability report a great sustainability report. We looked into what makes a report stand out from the crowd. The key areas that I identified are as follows:

1.  Vision

2.   Stories

3.   Move people

A bold vision will inspire your employees and hook readers in.

Stories used throughout your report will give context to your report and make it memorable.

When creating your report you should aim to move people. Don’t aim to be good, aim to be remarkable. Great sustainability reports move people. They change how the reader thinks about things. By changing how people think, your report can have an exponential impact.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think makes a sustainability report great? It’s good to hear other people’s thoughts and opinions.

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby


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