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What is a Sustainability Report?

Every year, the number of companies who formally disclose their environmental impacts and initiatives is increasing. In 2017, 84% of Canada’s largest 100 companies (by revenue) reported their sustainability performance, up from 81% in 2015. That number has only grown since then, and there are companies with greater adoption than us across the board. Today, 93% of the world’s largest companies by revenue report information on their ESG, of which three quarters use the GRI framework.

So What is a Sustainability Report?

A sustainability report is a public document an organization releases that showcases their environmental strategy, programs, and progress over time. They generally include several sections, including but by no means limited to:

  • A statement from the CEO and/or Chief Sustainability Officer
  • The company's sustainability strategy and general approach
  • Environmental metrics over time including carbon emissions, water usage, waste generation and diversion, and more
  • Specific reduction targets
  • An overview of the programs and initiatives in place
  • Plans for the future

While there are no enforced standards for sustainability reports, there is a generally accepted format and a set of disclosures many companies make. Depending on their industry, size, and other factors companies may choose to make specific ESG disclosures.

What's in a Sustainability Report?

​A sustainability report is a report published by a company or organization about the economic, environmental and social impacts caused by its everyday activities. A sustainability report also presents the organization's values and governance model, and demonstrates the link between its strategy and its commitment to a sustainable global economy (Source).


Sustainability reports - not including integrated reports - include information in two categories: social and environmental. It is our view that the environmental section of a report should be larger, is science-based, and is more pertinent than the social side. This is only due to the urgency of the environmental crisis and the imperative of focused, rapid action. However, there are few official disclosures in which social governance and performance are disclosed, so it is encouraged to include them.

In our post on the 5 things every sustainability report should have, we talk about why reporting needs to go beyond the numbers. Showing executive (usually President/CEO) support is paramount, and demonstrating that your sustainability strategy contributes to and is in line with your business strategy will ensure your environmental initiatives go beyond the surface level to address real impacts.

Most sustainability reports use frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and/or comply with global movements like the Carbon Disclosure Protocol (CDP) or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What Makes a Great Sustainability Report

There are a few things that make certain sustainability reports best-in-class. They must be accurate, disclose real impacts and demonstrate real solutions and action, and talk about how they will continue to improve over time. They should demonstrate both executive leadership and ground-up support throughout the organization. Ideally, environmental assessment and impact reduction becomes part of product design, operational decisions, and strategic decision making.

Furthermore, the report should be easily read & shareable. There is no point writing a report for all stakeholders if nobody will read it because it is too boring, bland, or technical. We encourage abundant pictures, excellent graphic design, and storytelling. It is also encouraged to have a PDF report as well as an interactive online experience.

After writing this, it is important to say that there is no one way to go about it. Every company has their own unique approach matching their brand, industry, and character.

If you have any questions about sustainability reporting, connect with us

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