14 November 2010

CSR Reporting Risks

Much has been written about the benefits of CSR and Sustainability reporting, so it may be worth taking some time to consider the risks, and potential mitigation of those risks. CSR and Sustainability reporting has a purpose, foremost to communicate a company's achievements, challenges and plan for being a responsible business, and to achieve a level of sustainability possible to that company and its industry.

It is easy (for those involved with sustainability or CSR) to assume that the benefits of reporting outweigh the risks or costs. This is an assumption that needs to be met head-on, to ensure that in each particular situation, the appropriate benefits are being achieved, accurate and relevant information is being reported, key stakeholders are engaged, and that the primary audiences are reading and using the reports.


I’ll start with the assumption that a CSR / Sustainability report is produced, and that a project team is responsible for creation and maintenance of the report. So this is not "just a report", it is a project and a process. What could possibly go wrong? To a certain extent, the list of possible risks mirrors those of any project or set of deliverables. After all, it represents a set of approved expenditure designed to address a set of business needs and issues, and deliver a set of business benefits that should outweigh the investment.

Yet CSR / Sustainability reporting is not just another project or report. A CSR / Sustainability report combines aspects of marketing, financial and regulatory reporting, operational efficiency and effectiveness, and enunciation of the vision and mission of the enterprise. There's a lot riding on that funny little report with its photos of windmills, smiling girls and daisies.

So what are the risks? Here is a summary list, with more detail in the full White Paper.

·         Is it worth it?
·         Market expectations
·         Green-washing
·         Fraud
·         Regulatory requirements
·         Delivery of promise
·         Is it being read? Hitting the target

In discussion each of these risks, I hope you'll bear with my being boring and using a structured approach. For each risk, I'll describe the risk, discuss the likelihood, impact, how to monitor and responses. Dull yes, but systematic when dealing with discussion of risk. And far to long for a blog posting.

You can download the full White Paper here.


  1. As far as I notice very often, CSR process is much more a source of innovation and opportunities rather than Risks.


  2. Ecophanie,

    You are quite right. One of my former roles was Innovation. Yet even with innovation, it is imperative that risks be identified and managed. And CSR reporting (something I explicitly stated would be important to our clients) is a wonderful example of potential innovation, with serious risks if not effectively managed as a project and process, with objectives clearly defined, and KPIs put in place.

    Equally, CSR / Sustainability provides probably the greatest opportunity for true business process innovation, and that should be included in any business case. If returns can be estimated, they should be. If not, then other benefits should be highlighted and measured.