While the outcome statement of Rio+20 calls to promote corporate sustainability reporting measures (para. 47), some companies already take steps to promote reporting in various ways. Some are more focused on integrated reporting, while others look for ways to make the report more user-friendly and interactive.
The latest example of the latter is AT&T’s interactive 2011 report, which enables visitors to explore an interactive pathway that is populated by narratives showcasing the sustainability efforts and progress of the company.
The report is very visual and is filled with data, stories and video clips. It is certainly an impressive effort to create a platform that is far from the regular concept of a CSR report, which is a long PDF filled mainly with text. The interesting question, though, is if the new format can really meet the company’s ambitious goal of “empowering consumers to engage, share, and even generate a donation to a community-improving nonprofit of their choice.”
Before diving into the format, let’s take a look first at some of the highlights of the report:
- The company reported $42 million dollars in annualized energy savings through more than 4,500 energy efficiency projects.
- AT&T met its four-year $100 million commitment to AT&T Aspire, the largest education initiative in the company’s history. The program is specifically focused on high school retention and workforce readiness. It supported more than 1,000 national and community organizations, impacted more than one million students and established the groundwork for an expanded $250 million commitment planned over five years, announced in 2012.
- The company is beginning the transition of AT&T-branded accessory packaging to a plastic comprised of up to 30 percent plant-based materials.
- It collected about 3.0 million cell phones for reuse or recycling.
- Through AT&T’s own use of “travel replacement” technology, logging more than 2.9 million Telepresence minutes, realizing almost $13.9 million in travel dollars saved and more than 8,261 metric tons of CO2 emissions averted.
- Connect For Good Community: In 2011, AT&T launched the first-ever corporate Causes.com community, Connect For Good. Since its launch, the AT&T Connect For Good Community has donated more than $239,000 for charities.
While AT&T has CSR achievements it can be proud of, there’s no doubt that the new format is the jewel of the crown in this report. It provides the reader with a pathway of 16 steps, where each step is dedicated to a different topic. The first one is ‘promoting safety with AT&T smart controls,’ followed by ‘AT&T Aspire — its signature education initiative’, ‘AT&T mHealth platform’ and so on. Each of the topics includes a menu on the right side with links to further information on subtopics. For those who want to learn more on these issues there are PDFs and links to related webpages on AT&T’s website.
The report’s pathway definitely provides a visual and user-friendly experience and unlike many other CSR reports, it’s far from being dull. It even provides readers with the opportunity to answer questions about the data in the report and by answering, they can choose one of three Causes.com charities and AT&T will then make a donation on their behalf to the chosen organization.
At the same time, the interactive report still lacks couple of important elements. First, there’s no map so, for example, if you’re interested in learning about AT&T’s waste management, you’ll need either to go through almost all the steps to figure out that the information can be found in step #15 or just to guess and try your luck clicking randomly on the steps. Even after going through all the steps, if you have a bad memory and you don’t remember on which step each topic is, you will find yourself spending a lot of time searching for it. In addition, short-span readers who just want some highlights will need to go to the sustainability report website, which is sort of a complementary platform to the interactive report, offering brief highlights on environment, people and community and technology.
The report also lacks interactivity in terms of receiving feedback from its readers, as there’s no place for comments or engaging in discussion with AT&T or other stakeholders. Finally, it does seem that consumers will have hard time learning about the report if they just visit AT&T’s homepage. You can’t find even a small link to the sustainability report page there. Now, this is not unique to AT&T, and unfortunately most companies have a similar problem. Yet, when a company like AT&T announces it wants to empower consumers “to live more sustainable lives,” doesn’t it make sense to make the report not just interactive, but also visible?
In any case, the new platform is welcome progress. If AT&T will find ways to make it a bit easier to navigate and enhance its visibility, it can eventually become an example for companies to seriously consider when they prepare their sustainability reports.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.