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The sustainability report, just a chore?

By Dr Marcel Trachsel, Founder and Partner

Non-financial reporting is becoming increasingly important: From 2024, many Swiss companies will be required by law to publish a detailed, data-based sustainability report every year. They will have to show what they are doing in the areas of environmental protection, social engagement and governance (ESG). This is a challenge for many companies. However, sustainability reporting also offers great opportunities, not least in terms of enhancing a company's reputation.

Ein Windrad auf einer grünen Wiese vor einer Berglandschaft situiert.

Reporting on sustainability performance is a global trend. In Switzerland, new provisions on corporate responsibility and reporting in the Swiss Code of Obligations (OR) came into force on 1 January 2023. Swiss companies of a certain size will be legally obliged to report annually and transparently on the risks of their business activities in the areas of the environment, social affairs, employee concerns, human rights and anti-corruption. They must report on how they intend to reduce these risks and how they are measuring the success of these activities.

This reporting will be required for the first time in 2024 for the 2023 financial year. The basics therefore need to be laid today.

With the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), the EU has also significantly extended the legislation on non-financial reporting in 2021.

Sustainability communication as a success factor

Basically, the new legislation will affect listed companies with more than 500 employees and a balance sheet total of CHF 20 million or an annual sale of CHF 40 million.

But also small and medium-sized companies will be affected. As suppliers, for example, they will have to account for their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.

Pressure from investors, consumers and NGOs is increasing, too. Proactive preparation and implementation of sustainability reporting is therefore advisable.

"Today's companies are no longer judged solely on their economic performance. Environmentally sound behaviour and social responsibility are becoming increasingly important". Sustainability Report 2020/21 of the Swiss Salt Works

Same standards as for the annual report

In future, sustainability reporting has to fulfill the same standards as the annual report. It must therefore be based on comprehensible facts and figures. Shareholders, the media, NGOs, but also financial adivsors and creditors will closely examine the published data. In an article in the NZZ of 3 October 2022, Daniel Lucien Bühr, partner at the law firm Lalive, points out that it is no longer enough to publish general, non-binding sustainability reports.

The report must show the company's objectives and strategies and how they are being implemented. It should also identify the main risks and how they are being managed. To do this, current and relevant data need to be compiled and presented in a form that is readable for the stakeholders. Internationally recognised guidelines such as those of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provide a framework and guidance.

When companies use the sustainability report as a tool to regularly review and update their ESG performance and targets, it becomes an indispensable part of their sustainability strategy and its implementation in practice.

int/ext is advising several clients on the development of their sustainability strategy and the implementation of their sustainability reports. Below you will find a checklist for producing a sustainability report.

Do you have questions about sustainability reporting or are you looking for active support? Contact us, we are happy to help.

From the field: How to produce a sustainability report

In designing and producing sustainability reports, we have found that proactive planning, close monitoring of the project and a well-coordinated team of several internal and external specialists are important keys to success.

Step 1: Put together a core team

A core team with the following skills is required to produce a sustainability report:

  • Project management: An experienced person from the internal communications department or an agency who will be responsible for managing the project from concept to the finished digital or printed report.

  • Sustainability reporting experience: An internal or external communications expert with an affinity for scientific and technical topics, who will provide communications advice, develop the concept, gather basic information and write the report part.

  • Sustainability expertise: An internal or external expert with a focus on sustainability strategy and implementation, responsible for technical/scientific advice, concept development, data collection and writing the technical (GRI) part.

  • Design expertise for the visualisation, design and implementation of the report and the resulting content for corporate communications.

Roles and responsibilities within the core team need to be clearly defined to ensure smooth project management.

Step 2: Concept development

In order to publish a sustainability report, a concept must be approved by the Board. This contains:

  • Objectives and stakeholders

  • Key topics and messages

  • Editorial concept

    • Content and structure of the report part

    • Content and structure of the technical (GRI) part

    • Tonality

    • Language options

  • Design concept

  • Responsibilities

  • List of contact persons

  • Schedule

  • Budget

Step 3: Implementing the sustainability report

The sustainability report is implemented based on the concept. Close consultation and cooperation of all parties involved is crucial.

  • Research, data collection

  • Interviews with contact persons and experts

  • Gathering basic information

  • Copywriting the report part

  • Copywriting the technical (GRI) part

  • Alignment and validation of report and technical (GRI) parts

  • Visualisation and photo material

  • Review after feedback of contact persons and experts

  • Preparation of language versions

  • Design and layout, animation, video production, etc. (according to concept)

  • Publication/distribution

  • Content development for other corporate communication channels, if applicable

Contact us for a conversation on the opportunities of sustainability reporting for your company.


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