Sustainability reporting builds on existing business management tools and concepts and applies them in a broader context in response to a complex and highly interactive social, environmental, and economic environment. It builds on conventional business management techniques—such as key performance indicators—but applies them with a focus on triple bottom line and life cycle management. It requires a sophisticated approach of integrating nonfinancial, sustainable performance measures into the traditional reporting of an organization.
The challenge of sustainability for business organizations is to extract value from sustainability reporting so that it constructively guides and transforms their business operations. Sustainability reporting without strategic purpose may result in information that is nice to know; costly to obtain; and of little benefit to the company, the environment, or society.
Sustainability reporting in the hands of a proactive organization that learns, adapts, and continuously improves can give a competitive advantage in dealing with the challenging environment that businesses face. Sustainability reporting allows companies to identify business risks or “hot spots” that were previously undetected and also to alert management to business opportunities related to new markets, products, and services.
While sustainability reporting is still maturing, there is considerable guidance and expertise available to help guide management in incorporating sustainable practices into their organizations. The tools, frameworks, and guidelines discussed in this chapter can assist a company in its progression to sustainability.
The resources needed to implement aspects of sustainability reporting can be significant. Therefore many of the concepts in this chapter are most relevant for medium and large businesses and can be particularly challenging to smaller organizations. Many of the tools and processes discussed in this chapter are geared toward small, incremental change as a part of continuous improvement. All businesses, small or large, new or mature, can implement aspects of sustainability reporting into their organization to achieve improved operating results while minimizing negative societal impacts and emphasizing positive societal impacts.