4 Jul 2024

The power of impact reports – and what to do once you’ve published yours

By Liz Naven
Sustainability in the Fashion Industry

“Science tells us what to do, but storytelling makes us want to do it.”

Dr Peter Kareiva, Environmental Scientist and Former Director at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA

We are all made of stories – those that we tell ourselves, the ones we tell each other; the ones we hear in the news, from our colleagues, our governments and leaders, and of course, from businesses and brands. These narratives shape our reality. Their power can be profound, influencing both our beliefs and our actions. 

By changing the stories we tell, we have the opportunity to change the world. Impact reports are one of the most powerful ways we can do this.

What is an impact report?

An annual impact report is a powerful way for a business to creatively and authentically communicate their sustainability progress. These reports turn relevant data, metrics and targets into accessible content that informs and inspires. They share the current and intended impact of a business to the stakeholders it depends upon, highlighting not only the wins but also the lessons learned and any challenges to be overcome.

Crucially, impact reports help to humanise a business’s sustainability efforts. They communicate the difference that’s been made to people’s lives as a result. They educate and fill in the gaps, providing context and inspiration through bold words and striking design. In other words, impact reports tell a memorable story of change.

The business benefits

Crafting an impact report allows you to explain the ‘how’ and ‘why’ behind your business’s actions. Backed by evidence, it can help to reduce the risk of greenwashing, providing your claims are verified and you’ve given a balanced view of both your successes and areas for improvement. The process often helps businesses to further define their sustainability narrative, meaning your communications are not only credible but authentically ‘you’.

Committing to publicly declaring your progress on an annual basis demonstrates that you’re not making empty promises but genuinely committed to real and ongoing change. This transparency and accountability not only builds trust with current and future employees, customers, suppliers and beyond; it also serves as a useful tool for your people, deepening their overall knowledge, enthusiasm and engagement with your impact efforts. 

Making the most of your impact report

Impact reports are not static documents confined to their launch day. Instead, they should be recognised as a rich resource of evidence and stories that can be pulled on throughout the year for strategic communications and internal engagement.

Here are some ideas and examples of how to maximise your impact report:

  • Use your report to create a culture where sustainability is celebrated

The more engaged your team is, the greater chance your business has of achieving its sustainability ambitions. Regular updates and reminders of the actions you’re taking will help people to understand what this means to them and how to get involved. 

Refer to your impact report in staff meetings, ensuring everyone is aware of its significance. Integrate it into staff handbooks, messaging decks and onboarding materials to reinforce its importance. Encourage open discussion by hosting interactive sessions where people can ask questions and dive deeper into the content.

You might take inspiration from purpose-led cloud and digital services organisation Kerv, which has a public sustainability manifesto signed by the entire business. They energised their team with a company-wide ‘brunch & learn’ session ahead of launch day, complemented by ongoing updates, including video explainers, working sessions and opportunities for feedback. Currently more than 10% of their people are engaged part-time in their sustainability strategy, alongside a dedicated Chief Sustainability Officer and Administrator. 

Sustainability Manifesto

  • Reinforce your narrative with a steady drumbeat of communications

Demonstrating a genuine and ongoing commitment to sustainable practices is how you’ll win people’s trust and attention. Consistent, courageous communications will help you to increase awareness of your efforts and values, so you stand out for the right reasons. 

Firstly, your efforts should be given a permanent home in the form of a sustainability landing page, which serves as a central information hub for your key stakeholders and provides a space for your impact report to sit. Look to responsible jewellery brand Monica Vinader, whose sustainability page effectively showcases the key highlights from their report, featuring key KPIs across their three sustainability pillars. These metrics are updated and validated bi-annually, setting a solid example for transparency and accountability.

From there, you can leverage the visuals from your impact report across your social channels, blog and newsletters to reinforce your message. Dive deeper into key initiatives and case studies through explainer videos and articles. Use your content to provoke questions, encourage feedback and educate customers, arming you with valuable insights to improve your efforts and empowering them to make more informed choices. 

A great example of external sustainability communications done well is JDE Peet’s, the world’s leading pure-play coffee and tea company. JDE’s LinkedIn page is regularly updated with their sustainability news and progress, including summary infographics, videos and press releases. A live dashboard on their landing page tracks key targets linked to each pillar of their Common Grounds sustainability programme, while sustainability stories bring those pillars and the company’s actions to life. 

  • Share it far and wide

Remember that your organisation’s impact report is something to be proud of. Beyond the usual communications channels, consider where else you can share it. This could be in a new sales meeting, at home with your family or over coffee with friends. Use it as a talking point at networking events and conferences. Use these opportunities to amplify your communications efforts and bring people on the journey with you, sharing best practice for better business.

Because, above all, storytelling through impact reporting has the power to change people’s minds and influence their actions. If we can harness this power, we can inspire others to join us in creating a better world – one story at a time.

Your communications partner

 Our team will help you to capture the significant impact and reputational opportunity of credible and authentic sustainability communications. We ensure your message resonates with the right people and that you avoid any risk of greenwashing. Speak to one of our experts.