Sustainability report design – a missed opportunity?

Posted on: December 27th, 2012
by Green Consult

In the CSR Asia Disclosure Forum 2012 held earlier this month, there were strong discussions revolving around disclosing CSR information and a greater use of assurance to maintain high standards. Clearly, the sustainability report in its many forms has become a vehicle for companies to communicate its CSR efforts to a targeted audience. Unfortunately, company stakeholders are often overwhelmed with the collection of indigestible amount of information found in this reports. This is where design can play a crucial role.

Many businesses undervalue the power of good design to turn something that can be a bit dry into a journey that people will want to take, and that they will remember and engage with. Good design in sustainability reports helps craft and present communications as well as to build the company’s brand.

Here are some recommendations and examples to designing the sustainability report:

Judging its book by its cover
Never judge its book by its cover. Unfortunately, that is often the case and the cover becomes the deciding factor as to whether your sustainability report will be picked up. Potential readers are already making judgements about the company and its brand based on the sustainability report cover. It is important that the report cover and design is in line with the brand name and strategy of the company because that is essentially what the report is – a representation of the company’s personality, vision, values and culture; just as in all the other marketing collateral materials. Take Timberland for example. Itssustainability report cover is unmistakeably a straightforward portrayal of its brand and personality via its logo and colour scheme. Simply put, a boring covers equates to the perception of a boring company! Research by the University of Miami School of Businesshas indicated that the more attractive the report to investors, the impression of company value is higher.

Report format depends largely on stakeholders
Many companies are now opting to go online with their sustainability reports. Some companies like Timberland have gone to the extent of not producing PDFs of sustainability reports because they regularly update their sustainability progress live on their website. Alternatively, they offer interested stakeholders to build their own customised report, based on their interest and information needed. While this form of customising may seem like a ‘green’ option for many companies, there are interesting arguments challenging the fact that reading online for extended periods of time can actually be more resource intensive than print. I think the decision on the format will rely heavily on whom your target audience are and the reach of each format has on your target audience.

Graphic representation eases the visual
Visual forms of communication attract the attention of audiences better than heavy text pages. Graphic representations such as photographs, illustration, charts, highlight boxes and tables not only catch the eye but draw the viewer into the information being represented. The whole point is to simplify highly complex technical or scientific information into a wholly transparent, digestible and meaningful way.  Swire Properties in theirSustainable Development Report 2010 makes good use of diagrams and comparisons to illustrate subjects that may be technical or intangible in nature: “In Tai Koo Hui in Guangzhou, we aim to save over 140 million litres of water per year through conservation initiatives, which is equivalent to the volume of 56 swimming pools*.

Use strong visuals of real people
One of my favourite pages is the stakeholder engagement section from the NBPOL Sustainability Report 2009. Strong visuals like this, acts as a ‘page stopper’ for the reader and engages them with the other content in the page. The photograph, very relevant to the topic also gives a genuine and balance representation of the topic, in this case NBPOL seen engaging its company’s stakeholder. Another photograph that seems to work for me is in their ‘Communities and Land’ section in their subsequent sustainability report – unique and very real. I think it is worth investing in a professional photographer who in their own right captures the stories visually. Photographs not only humanise the story but can instil a sense of personal investment in the company and makes the report more believable.

Design is clearly an important element in ensuring a good representation of your brand name, strategic messages are communicated clearly and key sustainability data are presented in an engaging and accessible manner to your company stakeholders. And perhaps, it is also worth noting that good design really does not cost any more than bad design!

 

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