Why produce a CSR report and how should it be presented?

Why produce a CSR report? What should the extra-financial report contain and how should it be presented? This article provides all the answers!

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While implementing a CSR policy is essential for your company, CSR reporting is just as important. It is a key factor in improving transparency and gaining credibility in the eyes of your stakeholders! There are many different options for writing and presenting your report. Greenly lays them out clearly for you in this article.

What is CSR reporting?

CSR reporting: a definition

A CSR report or extra-financial report is a document published by a company periodically (usually annually) to provide evidence of its CSR actions and their results.

As a reminder, CSR - Corporate Social Responsibility - is the contribution of companies to the challenges of sustainable development. A company that practices CSR aims to have a positive impact on society while remaining economically viable.

The aim of this CSR report is to provide stakeholders with clear data that summarises the available information on the company's sustainable actions in a transparent way.

Who is the CSR report for?

The CSR report is aimed at the company's stakeholders. These internal or external stakeholders can be divided into six main categories:

  • Shareholders
  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • Public authorities
  • Citizens

For each of these groups, the CSR report aims to provide transparency with regard to the company’s operations and its commitment to the environment and society.

CSR reporting: a legal obligation

In 2010, the Grenelle II Law redefined the regulatory framework for CSR reporting. Publishing a CSR report is now a legal obligation for:

  • Companies listed on the stock exchange
  • Companies with a turnover of over €100 million
  • Companies with more than 500 employees

In this regard, a CSR report serves as proof of a company’s environmental and social commitment.

What does Greenly advise? When it comes to CSR, the legal obligation should be a secondary concern! For CSR reporting to be effective, you should not simply produce a document to comply with legal obligations without having established a real strategy in advance: you risk producing a report full of hollow proposals and half-baked initiatives. The climate emergency is real, so get ahead of the legislation and show your stakeholders that your company is sincere about wanting to do its part.

A Carbon Assessment of your Company is a great way of demonstrating your commitment and adding substance to your CSR report. It provides an overall view of your emissions, enabling you to implement actions to reduce them. It is an excellent first step for companies that feel a little confused when faced with the countless possible strategies for action.

What is the difference between a CSR report and an Extra-Financial Performance Declaration (DPEF)?

In 2017, the CSR reporting landscape changed once again with new amendments that went a step further than the Grenelle II report. In particular, they introduced the concept of a DPEF - an Extra-Financial Performance Declaration.

Where the Grenelle II Law did not lay down any rules on the nature of the information to be produced (qualitative, quantitative, etc.), the DPEF represents a genuine steering tool that sets forth priority issues and action plans. The information must be presented in the form of “policies, action plans, results and KPIs”.

Why produce a CSR report?

Inform stakeholders about your CSR strategy

As mentioned above, a CSR report is aimed at the company’s stakeholders, both internal and external, with the aim of transparency.

For customers

With a CSR report, the company provides transparency for its customers and consumers about how the product has been designed. Customers are thus well-informed about the social and environmental impact of buying the product or using the service.

This has a dual effect: the company reduces its impact by focusing on this aspect, and the buyer feels good about their responsible purchase.

It’s the same thing for BtoB! Client companies must also be accountable in terms of CSR. Therefore, it is in their interest to use service providers and suppliers who share their social engagement values, and it is increasingly common for businesses to integrate CSR criteria into their choice of partners.

However, beware of greenwashing and social washing! Customers today are not fooled by this: green packaging is not the be all and end all, let’s not forget that the latest version of Coke came in a green bottle.

For employees

A coherent report that clearly presents the company’s approach and proves to employees that their organisation is committed to protecting the environment can completely change their relationship with their work. It boosts employee motivation and builds their loyalty to the company and it becomes must easier to engage them with your CSR approach.

According to a study by MEDEF, 68% of employees see themselves still working in their company in 3 years’ time. This figure rises to 79% in companies that have a CSR department or function.

For investors

Impact investing is currently all the rage! Investors are looking for socially-engaged companies, and obviously read their CSR report prior to embarking on a potential collaboration. This provides them with an overall vision of the company's practical commitments. In particular, they may call upon external agencies which specialise in extra-financial information to analyse these reports in greater depth.

According to the GIIN, the impact investing market was estimated at $502 billion in 2019.

Some examples of CSR reports

Below is a non-exhaustive selection of public CSR reports produced by companies for their community:

  • Bergamotte, a socially-engaged Parisian florist
  • Disneyland Paris, a company which needs no introduction
  • CNP Assurances, France's leading loan insurance company
  • ELBA Group, a consulting, creation, production and eco-design company in the cosmetics sector
  • Itancia, a responsible service distributor, particularly in the field of communication and network infrastructure
  • SIAE, the Paris Air Show

At Greenly, we have a clear favourite: Bergamotte. With the report’s 23 distinct actions and its floral design, it’s hard to top. Well done to them!

Improve your brand image

It’s good to implement positive actions, but it’s even better to publicise them in order to inspire others and enhance your brand image! Effective communication in this field is essential and there are a number of strategies that can be used.

Bergamotte has definitely understood that a well produced CSR report can dramatically improve your brand image.

As previously stated, consumers and customers are attracted by companies with strong values - the figures prove this. How can you show consumers that your company also has convictions and is committed to social engagement? Simply by producing a well thought-out, public CSR report that sets forth concrete actions in a clear way. It’s really not that complicated after all.

A legal obligation

For certain companies, publishing a CSR report is quite simply mandatory in the eyes of the law. The question of why no longer really comes up; instead, their concern is how to do it. Let's consider this in more detail.

How do you write a CSR report?

A legally-required CSR report must contain specific information. This information must cover the three central pillars of the ISO 26000 standard: the social category, the economic and societal category, and the environmental category.

The social section of the CSR report

The social section should contain information on the following:

  • Employment issues, i.e. the number of employees and a breakdown by gender, age and geographical area, the amount of hires and fires, pay, etc.
  • Social relations within the company, including the structure for social dialogue;
  • Health and safety issues, including the conditions under which employees work;
  • Training issues, i.e. the measures implemented in terms of training;
  • Diversity, equal opportunities and professional equality, particularly between men and women;
  • Actions taken to fight corruption and to promote human rights.

The environmental section

The environmental section should focus on issues such as:

  • The way a company is set up to take account of environmental issues;
  • Its anti-pollution and waste management measures, i.e. actions to prevent, reduce or reuse waste;
  • The sustainable use of resources, i.e. water consumption and supply and consumption of raw materials;
  • The measures taken to adapt to global warming, including with regard to greenhouse gas emissions;
  • The protection of biodiversity.

The societal section

Lastly, the societal section should cover the following aspects:

  • The economic impact of the company's activity (employment in the region or city);
  • The company’s social partners and sponsorship initiatives;
  • Its sustainable suppliers;
  • The measures taken to benefit consumers (health, safety, dialogue);
  • Its anti-corruption actions.

Should a carbon assessment be included in the CSR report?

According to its legal definition, a CSR report must contain a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report (BEGES) for the company. The aim is to assess the company’s level of impact on global warming. However, the report is only mandatory for emissions in scope areas 1 and 2: i.e. the emissions for which the company is directly responsible (not those as a result of suppliers, for example).

What is the problem with this approach? The scope is far too narrow and is not at all representative of the company's emissions.

To obtain an overall view of the company’s actual emissions and to establish an informed and effective plan for reduction, it is necessary to address each of the 3 scope areas in the Report, and particularly scope 3. Greenly’s Comprehensive Carbon Assessment makes optimal use of technology for ecological purposes and thus provides all SMEs with access to a detailed report on their emissions in each scope.

How should you present a CSR report?

As previously noted, the CSR report is produced to be read, particularly by your employees and, more generally, by all your stakeholders. The aim is not to write an unreadable academic work but a document that is interesting and that highlights both your practical actions and future projects.

Use innovative formats and be creative

Bring out the artist within you, not the lab scientist who is obsessed with indicators. The presentation is just as important as the content, if not more so, because if the report is not well-designed, no one will read it. What's the point of implementing hundreds of actions with a major impact if no one knows about them?

As long as the content is honest and of high quality, designing an attractive CSR report is not greenwashing, nor does it reveal a desire to embellish the truth: it is simply a powerful way of presenting the document to make it accessible to everyone.

Whether produced using videos or via a website, making a CSR report fun to read and discover, using so-called “innovative” formats, can be highly effective. The more creative you are, the better! So use your imagination and draw inspiration from original formats that are tailored to current forms of use. This can be achieved by creating short explanatory videos, a dedicated website or a specific section on the company's website.

For example, in its 2019-2020 integrated report, Veolia incorporated lots of photos, particularly of employees. Whether the report is entertaining or not will of course also depend on your company's culture. Nonetheless, the more original it is, the more interest it will arouse!  

Use storytelling

Everyone prefers to read or listen to a story rather than a simple list of facts. So, this principle should be applied to your CSR report: talk about the initial situation, the catalyst for action, the adventures along the way and the heroes that help you to overcome obstacles in order to improve the company in specific areas.

Don’t hesitate to be honest or to talk about the barriers in your way: it is better to be humble and optimistic about the future, rather than hiding behind the fact that you are already the best that you can be. Transparency is the key to producing a good report.

For example, in its extra-financial report for 2019, Decathlon included testimonials, such as those by a “gender equality” leader and hiking enthusiast. In a short text in the form of a transcript accompanied by a photo, she explains how she performs her duties and gives concrete examples.

Remember: whether you are a new company or one that’s been around for decades, there are always stories and anecdotes to tell. And, therefore, you can produce an entertaining CSR report!

Identify effective distribution channels

To promote your CSR report and reach a maximum number of people, being active on social networks is - obviously - very effective. LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook as well as Instagram, TikTok, etc. You don’t need to be present on all of them, as some social networks will prove more suitable than others, for example, Safran and TikTok would probably not be a good match.

Sending a newsletter to your stakeholders may also be an effective method of dissemination. Don't forget to communicate about the report internally (emails to employees, company newspaper, publication on the intranet, etc.), your employees are the people most directly concerned!

You now know everything about CSR reporting. So, it’s over to you!

🚀 Some articles to discover on the Greenly blog:

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