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Navigating the Evolution of Sustainability Reporting: Trends and Insights

Posted on Categories SustainabilityTags

In a time where external pressures and debate exists for and against ESG’s role in corporate strategy, the approach to sustainability reporting continues to undergo significant transformation.

If you are involved in your company’s sustainability efforts, it’s essential to stay abreast of these shifts to align your reporting practices with the evolving landscape. This article explores current trends, opportunities, and challenges we see in sustainability reporting, offering insights to refine and enhance the telling of your organization’s story.

Embracing Different Formats

While traditional navigable PDFs remain prevalent for sustainability reports, there’s an untapped potential in online reports and sustainability microsites. These platforms offer a dynamic way to present progress and achievements, allowing for real-time updates and consistent year-over-year design and structure. Transitioning to an interactive format can significantly increase stakeholder engagement, providing an immersive experience that goes beyond static pages and allows the user to navigate to what matters to them the most. Recently, Dan Romito with Pickering Energy Partners observed a growing trend towards the creation of a separate ESG-focused PowerPoint deck communicating key highlights as opposed to lengthy sustainability reports. Although we have not yet seen a tradeoff, we do note that most of our client companies are creating both – a sustainability report and summary slide deck.

ESG report example

Consistency in Structure and Terminology

The rise of rating agency bots scraping reports for data underscores the importance of consistency in report structure and terminology. Maintaining a uniform layout and using key terms uniformly enhances the report’s readability and facilitates easier comparison of year-over-year performance and peer analysis. Consistent use of color, symbols, and iconography further elevates the report’s impact, making it more accessible and engaging for diverse audiences.

The Shift Towards Integrated Reporting

Europe’s early adoption of “one reporting” — the integration of financial and ESG disclosures — has been a slower evolution in the U.S. However, though we only have two clients doing consolidated reports, we are seeing clients create “companion” design and content alignment between their sustainability reports and their Proxies – even cross utilizing data, design and graphical assets. Although currently limited, the move towards tighter integration is a proactive move fueled by expected SEC disclosure changes and in many instances, a company’s ability to operate internationally. Though on March 6th it was reported that the SEC has pulled back a bit from its original proposal, we still expect to see additional rules and requirements set forth. New disclosure rules will at a minimum require more robust integration of ESG data and information into the 10K and other key financial reports. That combined with increasing assurance requirements and a potential shift in reporting ownership into a company’s finance/controller/audit function, there is question as to whether the sustainability report as we know it will cease to exist – will there be any “design” at all? Will the “story” be stripped to make way for more data and validation?

The Timing and Length Dilemmas

Contrary to traditional financial reports, ESG reports lack a specific “season,” offering flexibility but also presenting challenges in data collection and auditing. The push for earlier reporting to appease rating agencies and potential SEC deadlines will necessitate more efficient processes and tighter stakeholder collaboration. In the future data gathering and verification processes will require alignment with a more compressed corporate reporting schedule. Moreover, the trend towards expanding page counts highlights the need for content prioritization vs. kitchen sink commentary. A shift to a shorter report length also requires more attention (and availability) to quality data over prose. In this vein, we have also witnessed a significant reduction in full re-writes of the report narrative year over year. Most clients are opting to edit and update the prior year report which can help with overall consistency and internal review time. The reporting integration question above may address this length dilemma in time.

Content Focus: Value Creation

Amidst the “anti-ESG” sentiment in some regions, there’s a growing emphasis on framing any investment in E, S or G as a value creator for the business. Highlighting initiatives that either bolster value and financial return or mitigate risk can shift the narrative from a comprehensive list of actions to a strategic selection of impactful efforts. In addition, to build corporate credibility and demonstrate results, it is critical to consistently report year-over-year progress against targets and objectives – a standalone number does not tell the story. This approach aligns with the broader goal of sustainability as a core business strategy, ensuring long-term viability and value.

The Power of Infographics

In a landscape dominated by text-heavy documents, infographics are one of the lagging and yet most valuable assets you can have created for your report as they are a powerful tool to convey complex information succinctly and engagingly. Well-crafted infographics can distill intricate processes or data into easily digestible visuals, enhancing the report’s impact and utility across multiple platforms. However, their development requires time and collaboration, emphasizing the need for early planning and iterative design to achieve the desired clarity and effectiveness.


As sustainability reporting continues to evolve, embracing these trends and adapting to the shifting landscape is crucial. By leveraging digital platforms, maintaining consistency, focusing on material content, and employing visual storytelling and design as a strategic tool, companies can enhance the value and readership of their report. These strategies not only meet the increasing demands of stakeholders but also position organizations as leaders in the global push towards sustainable and value-creating business practices.

Avatar photoAs President at Savage Brands, Bethany is known for forging powerful connections – connecting people to people and connecting companies with the fresh ideas that make their brands purposeful. In her recent book, "Get Your Head Out of Your Bottom Line and Build Your Brand on Purpose," Bethany conveys to business leaders the importance of leading with purpose.