It assumes various names within the public space, ranging from a social report, a non-financial data report and a sustainable development report to an integrated report. Despite the linguistic discrepancies, one thing remains certain – it will soon become a virtual must for a number of companies in Poland.
What is a CSR report?
A CSR report is an informative communications document outlining the company’s activity in the fields of natural environment, social issues and the so-called corporate governance. As a whole, the concept is shortened to ESG (E for environmental, S for social, G for governance. A good CSR report is more than just a collection of good practices; it is a compendium of knowledge which presents its recipients with the following content:
- A vision of the company and its broader, socially responsible context,
- A way of defining, understanding and implementing a system of values in daily business activity,
- The character of the company’s corporate social responsibility,
- The extent of the realisation of the company’s strategic CSR targets,
- The social, economic and environmental issues which are important for stakeholders,
- A model of business activity including processes and standards of socially responsible conduct,
- Reliable and verifiable data on quality and quantity in relation to time,
- Good practices set in a relevant context.
The idea behind a CSR report is to put together the knowledge, data and images representing the way of thinking that is prevalent for an organisation. This way of thinking is understood here as believing in certain values along the entire value chain.
The features of a good CSR report
The practical knowledge and experience of global concerns and European companies in terms of compiling social reports provides us with numerous valuable pieces of information regarding ways of reporting as well as the essence of reporting itself. Modern reports ought to possess a few features which will make their contents factual and their message interesting. It seems that the first stage of compiling a good report needs to contain an earlier division into two strategic sections, as recommended by the Global Reporting Initiative in GRI 4.0, the organisation’s most recent guidelines:
What should be reported? The first question refers to the range of important and essential issues which follow from engaging in economic, social and environmental activity. Every company, organisation and institution should specify the relevant areas where its direct and indirect influence is the greatest. These areas along with the broader context, i.e. the expectations of stakeholders, determine the so-called point of departure. How should it be reported? The second question refers to the contents as well as to the way of presenting, revealing and reporting these previously specified issues. Indications are a crucial component of every report, therefore their correct interpretation, and then presentation, is of utmost importance. The quality of the presented data, i.e. indications, plays a significant role in terms of the credibility of the entire report.
What should be reported? The first question refers to the range of important and essential issues which follow from engaging in economic, social and environmental activity. Every company, organisation and institution should specify the relevant areas where its direct and indirect influence is the greatest. These areas along with the broader context, i.e. the expectations of stakeholders, determine the so-called point of departure.
How should it be reported? The second question refers to the contents as well as to the way of presenting, revealing and reporting these previously specified issues. Indications are a crucial component of every report, therefore their correct interpretation, and then presentation, is of utmost importance. The quality of the presented data, i.e. indications, plays a significant role in terms of the credibility of the entire report.
The second stage consists of looking for both universal and unique qualities that will allow us to produce a good CSR report. What should our CSR report be like then? More than anything, it needs to be:
1. Useful in a practical sense – helping its recipients understand difficult and complicated issues; useful for stakeholders in their daily business activity
2. Reliable – true; indications and data need to be drawn up in relation to responsibilities stemming from specific requirements
3. Credible – trustworthy; an overly laudatory report raises eyebrows. If we were faced with difficulties and challenges, they need to be mentioned in the report
4. Complete – holistically referring to sustainable development, CSR strategies, business contexts or the character of reporting
5. Concise – a lot of content conveyed with a relatively limited number of words; a lengthy report might discourage readers
6. Clear in terms of its message – easily understandable, message should be balanced with regard its form and content
7. Transparent – presenting a relevant and comprehensible message; its construction ought to be as simple and to the point as possible
8. Carefully compiled – catering for the expectations of employees, investors, lobbying groups and any other significant stakeholders.
A CSR report as a communication tool
A CSR report is a very important communication tool in terms of presenting non-financial data. The comprehensiveness and complexity of publications allows us to form interesting messages in varied and innovative ways. It is essential to develop comprehensive communications strategy. It allows for information which is necessary and useful for stakeholders to be provided to them in an organised manner. Nowadays, there is an unlimited number of forms of communicating the contents of a report. It all depends on the needs and possibilities of the company, organisation or institution, and the options range from publications like executive summaries, on-line, graphic or video publications to dedicated events. There is no doubt that the stage of communication is one of the most important moments in the entire process of reporting.
What does the future hold?
According to the EU Directive 2014/95/EU, revealing information regarding natural environment, employment, social diversity, preventing corruption and human rights will be obligatory from 1 January 2017. Who for? Stock exchange companies, banks and other big public interest units. The criteria which oblige an organisation to publish CSR reports are the following:
- Average yearly employment at over 500 employees,
- Balance sheet total at over EUR 20 million net income at over EUR 40 million.
There seems to be enough time to get ready for the challenges that the future holds. It needs to be kept in mind that the primary reason for reporting, other than the necessity of reporting in itself, should be a willingness to continuously set trends in the area of creating values. Such a point of view and a way of perceiving the social, economic and environmental reality can help spur a socially responsible change in terms of the strategy of the entire business.
Getting ready for the publication of a CSR report
The units mentioned in the directive on reporting non-financial data can choose between several potential ways of activity. First of all, within the public space there are numerous reliable documents which describe the essential issues for companies, organisations and institutions. From among many important documents, the ones that stand out as being used most frequently by enterprises and organisations to report non-financial data are the following:
- ISO 26000
- The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
- The UN Global Compact Principles
- OECD Directives
- Sustainable Development Indicators
- The WBCSD approach
- ESG data
The great number of norms and standards at their disposal allow companies to individually shape their future publications. On the other hand, the result is the so-called incomparable space. What it means in practical terms is that only chosen aspects and indications can be compared while the rest remains in the sphere of a company’s individual motivation. Setting up a company’s ethos, it is crucial to remember the goal – the transparency of business all along the value chain.