Corporate Social Responsibility Reports: An Insider’s Guide

Storytelling has become crucial for bringing to life and personalizing how companies do business while serving their customers. This provides opportunities to build brand awareness and attract new clients, customers, investors, and potential employees.  

While annual reports are traditional examples of how companies share their performance over the past year with their investors, during the past 10 years more and more organizations also have been producing yearly corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. This blog post provides an overview of what they are, what they include, how they are used, and ways companies can promote theirs. 

What Are CSR Reports?

Corporate social responsibility reports are designed to improve the transparency of an organization’s activities specifically related to its impact environmentally, socially and governmentally (ESG) not only with investors, but also with employees, clients, consumers, public officials, academics, corporate managers, and the general public. ESG also is referred to at times as a company’s triple bottom line.  

CSR reports were originally proposed in the early 1950s and have evolved through the decades. In the 1980s, when global industrial deregulation and the global economy took off, the topic reemerged. Some industries worldwide started employing CSR reports in the 1990s, but they really started to take root in the United States in the 2010s. According to Harvard Business School Online, 90% of companies on the U.S. S&P 500 published CSR reports in 2019. That was an increase from 86% in 2018, which was up from 75% in 2014.

What Is Typically Included in CSR Reports? 

Here is what is oftentimes covered under each ESG category. This list is in no way comprehensive and varies by company and industry: 

Environmental 

  • Overview of environmental policies and practices; measurement toward corporate goals 
  • Commitment to sustainability such as recycling, reducing carbon emissions, and commitment to renewable energy 
  • Industrywide practices and/or the company’s commitment to national and international environmental policies such as reducing carbon dioxide, integrating and using renewable energy resources, managing wastewater use, reducing waste, or protecting wildlife habitats 

Social

  • Commitment to its customers, clients, or the public; its policies, practices and measurement toward corporate goals 
  • The company’s community and economic development relationships and partnerships, and how it benefits where it does business 
  • Benefits of its community involvement such as philanthropy, employee volunteerism, and employee fundraising and donations  
  • Its workforce planning strategy and development, including information on diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts; numbers; and employee satisfaction rates  
  • Its commitment to employee safety and strategy to reduce injuries, including its safety programs and reportable injuries over the past year and how it compares to previous years
  • It’s important to note that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial justice movement, the “social” section may now include the company’s involvement with physical health, mental health, digital access to education, small business development, and community partnerships supporting ways to help people of color and root out systemic racism   

Governance

This area is not as clearly defined as the other two. It typically includes an overview of the company’s board structure and how it interacts with the rest of the company leaders and employees to ensure oversight of the company’s overall policies and strategies. It may include information about how ESG responsibilities are managed through company committees. It also can discuss and report its political lobbying and political contributions. Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship has produced a great resource for how to read CSR reports.

How Is CSR Report Information Used? 

CSR reports are used in a variety of ways. Financial institutions have used them to analyze a company’s stock. The Great Place To Work Institute uses CSR report employment data to compile Fortune magazine’s annual list of 100 Best Companies To Work For, while consumers and investors may use CSR data to decide which companies they want to patronize and invest in. Additionally, potential employees can use the information to consider where they may want to work. 

Consider these statistics from AFLAC’s 2019 CSR survey:

  • 77% of consumers were motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world better 
  • 73% of investors were motivated by a company’s efforts to help improve society and the environment 
  • 41% of millennial investors put significantly more effort into researching a company’s role in improving society and the environment before deciding to invest, compared to 27% of Generation X and 16% of baby boomers 
  • 55% of American consumers say it’s important for companies to take a stand on social and political issues 
  • 54% of consumers say they have stopped using the products of a company because of its public position on some issue 
  • 48% of investors report they have decided to not invest in a company because of its position on an issue, while 38% of them said they have actually sold their shares because of a company’s position 

If you’re interested in trying to find a company’s CSR or ESG report, ResponsibilityReports.com has a free searchable database of more than 10,000 such reports from more than 2,200 global companies.

Ways To Promote Your CSR Report   

After all the effort a company puts into its annual CSR report, promoting it is crucial. Because almost all reports are online-only, it’s important to have an integrated, multimedia communications plan developed with the company’s communications department and other relevant divisions. It should include promoting the report internally to employees, investors, clients, customers, consumers and the communities it serves and operates in. 

Multimedia:

Having a dedicated page on the company site is key. Offering a downloadable PDF on that page also is advisable. Make sure all photos and graphics are clear and reproduce well. Producing short videos—under three minutes—that feature employees, a specific company division, stakeholders, volunteers and community partners can be particularly informative to target audiences. These could include testimonials, highlights of important issues and challenges the company overcame, or goals it met that are outlined in the CSR report. 

Employees:

Ensuring the report is launched internally to employees is an important first step as they can be a company’s biggest cheerleaders and its biggest advocates. Giving them early access to the report so they can review the information—either through the company’s intranet or the website before it goes live—allows them to know what is in the report. Also, let them know the timeline for CSR promotional and media activities. Giving them that and asking them for their help in raising awareness of the new report at specific intervals allows them to have buy-in and feel a sense of ownership (more on this below).

Media:

A company will want to promote its report through various banner ads on its website’s homepage and relevant sections featured in the CSR report for an appropriate time period. When promoting it to the media, make sure to have an online newsroom where press releases, photos and b-roll can be easily accessed and used. Also provide a link to it on printed documents and directly link to it online documents such as reports and fact sheets using Bitly URLs to ensure links are short. Make sure to share the website and some videos at annual meetings.

Social Media:

Using videos and photos on social media platforms are quick ways to promote the CSR report. Companies can quickly use their images and videos for posts on their Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter accounts. Providing sample posts and asking employees to share them on their personal social media platforms are easy ways to increase visibility. Also, provide employees who are featured in sections of the CSR report or videos with a tailored message that includes a brief explanation highlighting their connection to the report with a link to the report or their specific video that they can add to their email signature. Division leaders and executives can do the same by promoting the report in their email signature.

Conclusion

Today, CSR reports are an important part of the transparency potential employees, clients, customers, and investors want from companies they consider working for, doing business with and investing in. With the ongoing pandemic and the racial justice movement, more people—especially millennials—are taking a closer look at companies and how they do business before beginning or continuing a relationship with them. Successfully telling and sharing your company’s story through its annual CSR report is an important way to provide these audiences with the information they want. Curious about what makes a story powerful? Read this article here: The Future of Storymaking: How Stories Persuade Us To Change Our Minds and Actions