The Anatomy of Healthy CSR Reporting


By Geoff Ledford

The human body is an amazing machine, made up of individual muscles and organs that work together to support life. Consider this for a moment: While most machines simply wear out with use, our bodies actually get stronger the more we use them.

At thinkPARALLAX, we believe that corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication is a similarly remarkable entity. An effectively-communicated CSR story can produce tremendous benefits for an organization – from engaged stakeholders to a growing bottom line. Disney cartoon villains excepted, corporate responsibility provides a cause that most people can rally around. And, like a human body, the overall health of an organization’s CSR communication also depends on many parts working in unison.

However, in our experience we’ve seen firsthand what can happen when the essential “organs” of CSR communication strategy fail to come together. Potentially transformative CSR initiatives get buried in the pages of dense, technical reports, robbed of their power simply because they were not communicated properly.

To help organizations avoid such unwitting pitfalls, thinkPARALLAX has released our newest issue of Perspectives, The Anatomy of Healthy CSR Reporting. The piece discusses the following five components of healthy CSR communication that are sometimes overlooked.

1. Tailor your message to your audience

Effective communication requires an organization to leverage the full range of tools and communication channels available. That means social media, video, infographics, customer-facing communications, internal campaigns, special events, speaking engagements, paid media, and so on. Don’t be afraid to think beyond the report!

2. Infuse hard data with human connection

The best sustainability communications balance facts with an emotional appeal that makes them relevant. GHG emissions, product life cycle analysis, and supply chain impacts are weighty, technical issues that, on their own, may alienate certain audience segments. Numbers and hard data become more meaningful when they are woven into a narrative.

3. Back up your claims with verified and relevant data

While emotional appeal plays a crucial role in effective sustainability communication, it can be a slippery slope. It’s well and good to have a picture of your CEO shaking hands and kissing babies, but you’d better have good solid data to back up such images and make them relevant.

4. Talk with your audience – not at them

If you’ve ever watched a good stand up comedian interact with an audience, you’ve already experienced how effective audience engagement can be. Audiences love to be asked participate – especially when the subject in question is something that they care about. Give your audiences a place to tell you what they think, feel, and value, and your audiences will engage with your CSR communications openly and enthusiastically.

5. Have the guts to tell the whole story

Sustainability is hard. We don’t have all the answers. In the face of the environmental challenges facing our planet, that’s a difficult reality. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Unfortunately, many corporations view sustainability reporting as a story that can only be told using sunshine, smiley faces, and rainbows. While this might seem like the “safe” strategy, such an approach is inherently short-sighted. Brands that really want to make inroads with their audiences must be comfortable addressing issues that don’t have an immediate solution.

The full issue of Perspectives examines each of these parts in more detail, provides more examples of each strategy at work, and offers tips for maximizing the effectiveness of CSR communication. To read more, download the full version of The Anatomy of Healthy CSR Reporting

Geoff Ledford is a Creative Strategist at thinkPARALLAX – a strategic creative communications agency with a passion for building brands with purpose. We work at the intersection of business strategy, sustainability, and communication. Our values stem from the belief that profit and sustainability are not mutually exclusive – good business means doing the right thing. We cultivate knowledge, spread awareness, and create purposeful connections with audiences.

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