Top 10 Tips For Writing A Sustainability Report


I’ve been helping a customer to edit their sustainability report this week. Usually I simply proof-read the report, but this year the customer asked for feedback on the content, writing and structure. As it’s that time of year, I’ve put together some tips for writing a sustainability report in case they’re useful for you too.

Note – this is not about setting sustainability goals, nor how the data for the report should be gathered through materiality analyses, stakeholder conversations, measurements and so on. For that you need a fabulous sustainability consultant. My tips focus on making your content sing.


What’s the main purpose of the report? Is it simple regulatory compliance or clear positioning of the company? Or does it need to rally the troops internally? Does this purpose and intended audience run throughout the document as a recurring theme shaping the messages and tone?


Always make sure the “why” and the “so what” are obvious. Why are these aspects the focus of your company’s efforts? How do they support your company’s overall strategy? How does what your company is doing to become more sustainable really affect people? Tell the story – it can also form the basis of a good introductory summary.


Here’s a neat writing trick… use the section headings to convey the main message of the section (and link these to the main purpose if possible). So, instead of the heading “Direct CO2 emission calculations”, how about “Accurate CO2 emissions calculations enabled clearer targets”? It’s longer but demonstrates progress and tells the reader what the section is about.


Don’t spend too much time describing the ins and outs of international standards, approaches or measurement models. Informed readers of your report should know about these already. More generalist readers can look it up if they need to (especially if you provide a website reference). Instead summarise the standard/approach/model briefly and get specific about what your company is doing in relation to it.


Sustainability reports can get very technical. While specifics are important don’t get too lost in complicated language. If you want a general audience to understand it, write for that audience (see point 1).


If each section is an aspect of sustainability, make sure the goals, progress during the year and future targets related to that aspect stand out. What we set out to do, what we did, what we’ll do next.


Be transparent if progress wasn’t great. Be frank about why things didn’t go as planned, and describe what your company will do to redress the issue. This will help to build trust.


Create livelier text and through short interviews with employees, ESG managers, suppliers, customers or stakeholders in the local community.


Is your report complete? If you are reporting to certain standards, directives or reporting frameworks, double-check that you have included all the data required according to that directive.

TIP 10

Graphic design is not my forte, but it’s essential for engaging the reader, so here are a few ideas. Devise a graphic to use consistently throughout the report to show the reader where they are in the story. Use pull-out quotations, infographics, graphs, other charts, photos and space to emphasise key messages, present technical data and make the report visually appealing.

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