Why Your ESG Report Needs a Narrative, The Writing Company

ESG reports are typically based on reams of data. But companies should pay equal attention to their ESG narrative, which connects the dots between their ESG values and their business.

By Michaela Cavallaro, executive editor, The Writing Company

For many people tasked with overseeing a corporate ESG report, the first concern is data — how to gather it, ensure it’s accurate, compare it to competitors’ and to industry standards, and support it with the appropriate context. These are all important considerations. But many ESG reports could benefit from similar attention to narrative — your organization’s ESG story.

An ESG report is an opportunity to tell a story about your company. Ideally, that story connects the dots between your ESG activities and your business, showing how progress on ESG enhances the organization’s business value.

For that reason, it’s best to set aside some time early in your reporting process — and certainly well before writing begins — to define your ESG narrative. You might start by thinking of it as an elevator pitch for your company’s approach to ESG. The narrative doesn’t have to be elaborate or complex; in fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. We’ve worked with clients whose narratives are as simple as “our ESG strategy helps ensure we deliver on our corporate vision.”

As you develop the report, the narrative serves as an organizing principle: Do wastewater treatment numbers demonstrate how we’re delivering on our corporate vision? If so, they should be included in the body of the report, not just tucked away in an index or appendix — and the copy accompanying them should make that impact clear. With a clear ESG narrative, even the driest material — like details about cybersecurity policies or compliance procedures — can support and advance your most important messages.

Meeting readers’ needs

A data-first approach to ESG reporting may be appropriate in some cases, but companies should be aware of the implications. A “just the facts” approach, heavy on charts and tables, sends the message that you’re simply reporting what you have to, whether because of regulatory requirements or pressure from stakeholders. This type of report will meet the needs of the investors and analysts who use CTRL-F to search for specific figures, standards or commitments. However, it only provides a limited view of your company’s ESG story.

A narrative approach offers the opportunity to bring in more voices from your organization, who can tell deeper stories about what the numbers mean. They can also show what your approach to ESG looks like in real life — a message that may be particularly compelling to current and prospective employees, community partners and vendors. These readers may skim casually, looking for images, headlines or topics that catch their attention.

To draw them in and deepen your ESG report, we recommend supporting the facts and figures with:

Case studies and sidebars that show your ESG priorities in action – items such as a case study of a weatherization project, a profile of a new talent development program or a “by the numbers” look at data on employee participation in volunteer efforts.

High-quality photography. Some use of stock photos may  be unavoidable, but when possible, supplement them with current snapshots of real people and places in your organization.

Compelling pull quotes that provide a personal point of view on your company’s ESG-related activities and align with your narrative. Pre-written quotes from top leadership are a given in many reports; if possible, add lightly edited quotes from live interviews with employees or community partners.

Publishing an ESG report takes enormous time and resources. Building your report around a strong narrative helps make the most of that investment, ensuring that readers come away with a full understanding of how your ESG program enhances your company’s value.

Contact Michaela
Michaela Cavallaro

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CSR Talent Group Finds Capacity Challenges for more than 50% of in-house CSR, ESG, and Sustainability Leaders

New Data Reveals Disconnect Between CSR/ESG Goals and Capacity

New research from CSR Talent Group reveals that many companies lack the capacity needed to achieve their CSR, ESG, and Sustainability goals.(New York, NY – October 2021) Time, professional network, and cost are top barriers. Full report here

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CSR Executive Launches Platform to Meet CSR, ESG and Sustainability Talent Demand in Covid-19 Era

The 1st global, on-demand service to enable businesses of any size to achieve their corporate citizenship  goals

(New York, NY – Jan. 26, 2021) In response to the rapidly growing business demand in the Covid-19 era for specialized talent in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Environment, Society and Governance (ESG) and Sustainability, veteran CSR executive, Tom Knowlton, today announced the launch of the first global, on-demand CSR talent platform.

The mission of Knowlton’s new company headquartered in New York City, CSR Talent Group, is to service the mostly untapped 99.9 percent of companies – responsible for creating nearly two out of three new jobs (64%) – within our economy that, to date, are underrepresented in the social impact space. CSR Talent Group enables firms to easily access experts to tackle the most pressing issues of the day, including ensuring an inclusive workplace, developing policies to help reverse the warming of our planet, and how companies can take action to directly benefit the communities where they operate.

“The economic impact of COVID-19 has forced business executives to rethink the most efficient way to meet their workforce staffing needs and to help build a more just, sustainable, and equitable world. We offer companies an economically efficient model to hire individual consultants with specialized talent to meet their specific corporate social responsibility goals and needs,” says Knowlton, Founder of CSR Talent Group, who has worked with Fortune 500 companies, such as DuPont, Goldman Sachs, Novartis, and Symantec, for the last 25 years to develop their CSR approach and programs, most recently as a partner and head of the corporate practice at TCC Group in New York City.

“Tom’s knowledge of CSR and expertise as a consultant is clear,” said Pat McCrummen, Global Community Impact Leader, DuPont. “The creation of CSR Talent Group is a natural extension of his lifelong commitment of helping all companies maximize their impact as a force for good.”

“Tom is an expert on CSR issues and a strong project leader with excellent business skills,” said Mike Rizer, Executive Director, Corporate Affairs Ally Bank. “I look forward to working with CSR Talent Group.”

The timing of the new firm’s launch coincides with the accelerated rise of independent talent and project-based opportunities that most companies can afford to take on. The model is also recession-proof because companies can take on part-time or contractual talent and expand or contract, as needed, and still meet their CSR, ESG and Sustainability goals.

“We recognize the need for specialized talent at a reasonable price point to meet a wide range of corporate citizenship needs,” concludes Knowlton, who holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “That’s why we have created the first central hub of vetted experts with a deep subject and issue experience available, ‘on-tap,’ to all companies – when they need it – to reach their CSR, ESG and Sustainability goals faster.”

According to a September 2020 Porter Novelli Executive Purpose Study:

  • More than three out of four executives (76%) acknowledge the role of business in perpetuating systemic racial inequality and are committing to action now more than ever.
  • 8-in-10 executives feel that business has the scale, speed, and acumen to solve today’s most pressing problems
  • 7-in-10 executives feel that to truly be purpose-driven, a brand must be willing to take risks that address social justice.
  • 9-in-10 executives believe that business must benefit all stakeholders (not just shareholders alone).

Media contact: Sean Crowley, 202-495-8520-c, seancrowley57@gmail.com

#CSR #ESG #Sustainability #Socialimpact

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Business Journal – Startup Spotlight: CSR Talent Group

Westchester & Fairfield County Business Journals

Startup Spotlight: CSR Talent Group

While the pandemic grabbed the majority of headlines last year, issues surrounding social justice weren’t far behind. Now, the impact of the protests in the streets is being felt in the boardrooms of companies nationwide.

Tom Knowlton
“Companies are thinking about some of these things, especially around diversity, equity and inclusion issues. It’s becoming clear that what they might have been doing in the past and how they’ve been approaching it was not sufficient,” says Tom Knowlton, founder of CSR Talent Group, a New York-based on-demand corporate social responsibility talent marketplace. “There was a general awakening for people and corporations in this country around what it means to have an impact and really move the needle on issues that maybe they didn’t take seriously before.”

Building upon more than two decades spent in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) space, Knowlton says he launched his business this year to provide resources for companies looking to ramp up and maximize their efforts at a time when it is more important than ever to do so.

“Corporate social responsibility is mainstream in that every company is aware of it and knows they have to do it. But there’s still a lot of potential for companies to do more and to do better,” he tells the Business Journal. “What’s changing is the way people are putting pressure on companies, including employees. People want to work for companies that align with their values and are doing good things.”

A recent report by the nonprofit Business for Social Responsibility says that younger workers, specifically millennials, who became the largest generation in the labor force as of 2016, are more likely than previous generations to seek employment at companies that demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility. It goes on to say that millennials will make up 75 percent of the global workforce in 2025, which means that companies looking to hire and retain the next generation of talent need to invest in and communicate about their social responsibility initiatives.

“I’ve seen it in my work, you can almost feel the culture of a company when you go in. You can get a sense of their commitment to CSR, whether it’s a green washing or a PR effort and frankly, it’s really dependent on the leadership,” Knowlton says. “It seems obvious but if the CEO’s not engaged, not committed, not taking it seriously, senior leaders see that, and that lack of sincerity permeates the entire company.”

Conversely, he says that in companies where leadership is fully engaged in CSR efforts, even if they aren’t fully up and running, he feels confident that commitment will lead to progress.

“You know they are committed to doing something, even if they’re not yet sure how to do it the right way,” he says, adding that shifts in education are helping the overall CSR landscape. “I’m hopeful because a lot of the young people coming out of business school have gone through an entirely different type of curriculum where this is integrated with some of their courses. The thinking is different.”

To quickly and effectively address a social responsibility goal, Knowlton says his company works with clients to find experienced personnel who are ready to work on day one.

“I want to be able to put in front of them four or five people that I vetted and that meet our criteria and our requirements. They have to have been a consultant for a certain number of years, they have to have done work in this space with other companies,” he says of his talent pool, all of whom work as independent contractors.

“We’re really looking for people with 15 to 20 years of experience because that’s what a lot of these companies need. They don’t necessarily need junior folks to do research. If we can find them that expert who can do it efficiently, quickly, affordably and in a way that is a little less painful for the company because of the time allocation and the cost, that’s our goal.”

Knowlton says companies need to go forward with their CSR strategy as a key operating factor.

“Companies are obviously struggling with budgets, their business model may need some tinkering. But the pressures on them from their stakeholders are not going away.”

Media contact: Sean Crowley, 202-495-8520-c, seancrowley57@gmail.com

#CSR #ESG #Sustainability #Socialimpact

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