The last NAEM Board of Regents meeting featured a thought-provoking and entertaining session on communicating corporate environmental performance that reinforced the importance of understanding one’s audience and stating information in a way that connects with them.
I think there was a tacit understanding among the participants that the primary audience for sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports is the general public and others outside the organization, such as customers and investors. I’ve certainly been operating with the presumption that they are designed primarily for people outside the organization. But a business leader surprised me recently with his response to a proposal to report certain aspects of his company’s EHS performance.
He felt that these reports are for people on the inside, not the outside. He explained that today’s graduates want to work for organizations that are environmentally and socially responsible; this makes these reports valuable in recruiting, retaining and motivating young talent. The more I think about it, the more I believe he is on to something. Here are a few thoughts in support of this premise:
- Environment, health and safety (EHS)/CSR reports may seem commonplace to outsiders: The proliferation of EHS and CSR reports available today may not distinguish a company among external audiences. But, to people on the inside, the company EHS report stands out and can make a positive impact on employee perception.
- The public is increasingly wary of greenwashing: Those on the outside are more likely to discount information in an EHS or CSR report from an organization with which they aren’t familiar. Among insiders, however, a well-crafted report will contain information they can recognize and can validate, making it more effective.
- Modern enterprises are complex. Business management systems, products and services are increasingly complex. A well-designed EHS or CSR report can help employees better understand the company’s goals, principles, achievements, and the value it delivers to society.
- Businesses are increasingly global: EHS programs can build a sense of common purpose and commitment within an organization that transcends language and cultural differences.
- Idealism is back: The Millennial generation tends to be more idealistic. As employees they likely will become a receptive internal audience.
- Capable, well-educated graduates are in short supply: A company that can demonstrate a commitment to high EHS standards and a high level of EHS performance has a subtle, but significant advantage in attracting and keeping top graduates. We all want to be on a winning team. EHS performance is one way of defining success and instilling pride among the most malleable insiders.
What do you think? Among which audiences do you think CSR and sustainability reporting has the greatest impact?