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10 Outstanding CSR Reports

CSR report

We've partnered with AHA!, a creative communications firm, to deliver this series on CR communications. Throughout the series, we'll explore why your company's CR communications plan should go beyond the CSR report and give you tools to keep communication flowing all year long. 

In an earlier post, Christian Hicks, Creative Director of Corporate Responsibility at AHA! listed seven signs he uses to determine if a company has a great CSR report including simplicity, engagement, trustworthiness, and a positive forecast.

Many reports are released every year, and, according to GreenBiz and Ernst & Young, the number is growing. Here are ten reports that impressed our TriplePundit writers. To Hicks’ list, we’ll add our own signs, ranging from innovation to interactivity to arresting visuals to positive, proven results. Not coincidentally, many of the companies that generated these creative accountings are strong CSR leaders themselves, although a few on the list might surprise you.

  1. Nike. Veteran writer Leon Kaye, who has reviewed several reports on this list, called Nike’s 2011 report, “quite possibly one of the most compelling and engaging I have ever come across.” Although aesthetics couldn’t hide some of the issues Nike admitted to in the pages, like excessive overtime and hazardous chemical management, Kaye ultimately gave this report a big thumbs up for innovation, education, and how it managed to “bring sustainability alive,” using demonstrations and accessible language to engage users.

  2. Patagonia. It’s no surprise to find Patagonia on this list as the company has long been a CSR trailblazer. Patagonia goes far beyond a simple report to demonstrate its commitment to CSR. This year alone it has stood at the front of the line to register as a B corp, told customers to consume less, and most recently, released The Footprint Chronicles, tracking its product materials from cradle to consumer. Simply putting the name Patagonia on any CSR report is guaranteed to inspire trust, show positive results and look forward to the next groundbreaking goal.

  3. Seventh Generation. Its 2008 report was named Best Small and Medium-Sized Enterprise SME report by Ceres, and its 2009 report pleased Deborah Fleischer by being entirely web-based and interactive. However, as with Nike, we aren’t fooled by a little fun. Seventh Generation’s reports also deliver solid data on its goals, clear measurement, transparency and the ability to drill down into the details.

  4. Coca Cola Enterprises. Not to be confused with Coca-Cola, CCE is its European bottling cousin, who, last year, released a CSR report that is not only “chock full of case studies and human interest stories, but it is also full of quantitative data that allows the reader to decide whether the company is making enough impact on the environmental, social, and governance fronts.” Kaye reports that on top of that, CCE released an engaging video that nutshells it all for you. You can learn more about CCE's sustainability work here.

  5. GE. GE, like Patagonia, has long been known as a green innovator. Its Ecomagination initiative all but eclipses any annual report with its extensive web and social media presence and steady stream of innovative green news all year long. The annual report connects the dots and forecasts what new challenges the company is aiming for in the future. Rather than a single article about GE’s sustainability report, Kaye wrote a series about it’s accomplishments.

  6. L’Oréal. As you might expect, the cosmetic giant’s report is gorgeous, but once you get past its glossy exterior, the inner data beauty shines through. L’Oréal shows it has technological depth by its focus on plant-based materials, and heart by its development of “artificial skin.” The company has increased production of this reconstructed biological tissue, which it uses to discontinue animal testing. The company has also shared this breakthrough with hospitals to benefit burn victims. Far from superficial, L’Oréal’s report shows real depth.

  7. Philips. As with L’Oréal, Philips’ CSR report shows stakeholders a whole new side to the company. Literally. The CEO letter begins, “Dear Stakeholder…” Reviewer Raz Godelnik reminds us that although most conjure images of LED lighting when thinking of Philips, there is much more to the company. Green products comprise 39 percent of its total sales, and one of its standout items in 2011 was a recycled designer coffee machine made from old electronic appliances (I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming). Philips also showed a sensitive social side with their dedication to “oral healthcare, light therapy, water and air purification products and solar-powered lamps.”

  8. H&M. Fashion and cosmetics are two unlikely CSR candidates, yet, here they are. Although they both face industry challenges to being sustainable, both companies have shown dedication and improvement. Fashion is fraught with consumption and waste, yet H&M’s report went against the grain to impress Kaye, addressing many industry criticisms. Despite being the largest user of organic cotton, the company streamlined its processes to conserve 13.2 million gallons of water. A whopping 71 percent of management positions are held by women, and the company has supported educating Bangladesh workers on their rights and developed an ethical clothing line. Fashion will always have resource consumption issues and room for improvement, but this report shows that H&M has taken some great strides.

  9. GM. In its first CSR report after the automobile industry shakeup, GM comes off as a phoenix rising from the ashes. This report really needed to inspire trust and have a strong forward vision in order to dispel any lingering ire taxpayers have about bailing out the car company. The fact that Leon Kaye, who often writes about Detroit’s transformation, is giving the report’s claims the benefit of the doubt says something for the persuasiveness of the content. GM’s stated focus on (water) conservation and reducing waste, while slightly ironic, shows that the company is moving in the right direction. GM’s commitment to give back to Detroit, a community struggling due to the auto industry’s mismanagement, also helps its sincerity efforts.

  10. SAP. RP Siegel had high expectations for the information titan’s annual sustainability report, and he was not disappointed. “One would expect their annual sustainability report to be a highly readable and information-rich document, which is exactly what it is.” In keeping with its transition from physical installation to cloud computing, its report has morphed from PDF to interactive, web-based format. SAP goes beyond describing their own conservation efforts and demonstrates how their products help other companies achieve their sustainability goals.

We capped our list at ten, but there are many outstanding reports out there. Which ones impressed you?

Image credit: Unsplash

Andrea Newell headshotAndrea Newell

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

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