The next three years will see CSR/Sustainability reporting transition from a "nice to have" to a "Cost of Entry". Companies will find themselves less able to win contracts, upstream supply chain participants will expect reports, and banks will demand to see the CSR report just as they require a set of (audited) financial statements (I'll talk about "audited" in another post).
Today the creation and maintenance of a CSR report can be expensive and time-consuming, and there doesn't seem to be the demand.
Cast your mind back to the darkest reaches of history - say - 1995. The Internet was reasonably well established, and you could search for sites, sort of. If you knew the website of a company (or someone's e-mail address, not everyone had one) you could type in the www then the e-mail address after the @ but before the ".com", and if you were lucky, or the company was really really big, you could find a website.
Companies around the world knew that being on the web mattered, and certainly the leaders had some pretty fantastic sites.
A century or two later, sometime around 1998, I don't remember when exactly, I did the little dance of the cut-and-paste to search for a company website... and for this search, there was no site. I rang my contact at the company and asked "I'm surprised your company doesn't have a website. Why not?"
The answer I got was "Creating and maintaining a website is expensive and time-consuming, and there doesn't seem to be the demand." Sound familiar?
So what changed to make websites truly ubiquitous?
The cost of creation plummeted, tools became available to help build sites, large numbers of people played with HTML and other web technologies. But most important, people; me, and you, began to expect to find a website. Companies without websites dropped in our estimation as "serious" companies.
Did the websites need to be sexy, smart, absolutely current as of this morning? No. But there had better be a site.
The coming explosion
CSR/Sustainability reporting is at that cusp. the big companies, regardless of industry, have CSR reports. Thousands of companies provide reports to the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project), over a thousand are producing GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) compliant reports and/or GRI Content Indexes. Today I go to websites and wonder if I do not see Corporate Responsibility, or CSR, or Sustainability. I'm reaching the point where I wonder what they are hiding.
And I ask "I'm surprised you don't have a sustainability policy or a CSR report. Why not?" Well, you know the answer that I'm getting.
But that is about to change, and change pretty radically. Demand creates innovation. Innovation drives adoption. Adoption feeds innovation and demand.
I am confident that there will soon be tools and processes that will make the creation of CSR reports "easy", inexpensive, and ubiquitous. And when that happens, centuries will have passed in an instant, and we will be living in a world in which CSR/Sustainability reporting is simply assumed. That regardless of the size of the company, if it is a "serious" company, wanting to attract and retain clients, staff, and frankly needing to demonstrate that it understands the importance of the societal/corporate "contract", CSR/Sustainability reporting will be a core element of communications and corporate reporting. Just like a website for (audited) financial statements are today.