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Sustainability is not an easy task for the companies. We asked analysts, investors, and journalist to have their say on sustainability on corporate websites and 24% of the Capital Market Survey respondents think sustainability sections would need improvements. Interestingly, 52% of the respondents also stated that they don’t read sustainability reports. For companies, the results indicate that information in HTML is needed more than ever and point to need a for alternative distribution channels.

Sustainability reports are competing with other channels

Both this and last year, our Web Management Surveys revealed that around 70% of corporate communications respondents saw sustainability information as a high priority for them. Companies have been putting more resources into improving sustainability information in 2017. This year’s Capital Market Survey showed however that stakeholders still don’t utilise sustainability data to its full potential– only 48% of the respondents actually read the sustainability reports, rising 14% from last year.  

Do you access information in sustainability reports?

Analysts and investors were asked to rate the 16 different sustainability themes on corporate sites from not important to very important (1-5). Sustainability strategy (average 3.38), the latest sustainability report (3.30), as well as environmental targets and achievements (3.26), were ranked as the most important topics, as can be seen on the graph.

In addition, the topics that went up in importance the most compared with 2016 results were sustainability strategy (average changed from 3.03 to 3.38), information on how sustainability is reported on (average changed from 2.86 to 3.10), and the sustainability reports themselves (average changed from 3.06 to 3.30). Surprisingly, even if the stakeholders perceive sustainability information and sustainability reports as important, half of the respondents don’t access them. This challenges companies to present data outside of the sustainability reports.

Most important sustainability related information on corporate websites (average): 1 = not important at all/ 5 = very important
Sust. StrategyLatest Sust. ReportEnvironm. KPIsEnvironm. dataCode of Conduct

Data in numbers missed

As the Capital Market Survey results reveal, more information about sustainability is needed. Stakeholders are looking for more and more numeric data on corporate websites, as quantitative data is easier to grasp and compare to peers.  The survey’s open comments highlighted how respondents frequently miss sustainability data in numbers on topics such as past environmental achievements and current sustainability targets, along with key performance indicators (KPIs). According to Karin Arrenfeldt, Sustainability Consultant at Hallvarsson & Halvarsson, companies can utilise digital channels to support transparency.

Quantifying your company’s non-financial targets and achievements, along with the financial data, is important to meet the increasing demands of transparency from stakeholders. Digital channels provide a great opportunity to make data available for both broader and very specific targets groups, for example by using interactive features, infographics or film and by being active where your actual audience is active.  - Karin Arrenfeldt, Hallvarsson & Halvarsson 

By providing sustainability data in numbers, companies can be more transparent towards their stakeholders. For investors and analysts, quantitative data also offers the possibility to compare the company’s performance over time and with peers. This means that offering readers quick and easily accessible sustainability information in HTML might be a way to support stakeholder needs more efficiently. 

Accessing sustainability information more popular on LinkedIn

As the use of sustainability reports rose from last year (from 34% to 48%), results also show an increase in the use of social media. According to the Capital Market Survey, 28% of respondents say they use corporate social media channels to read about companies. The results also highlight how the popularity of LinkedIn and Wikipedia is increasing amongst stakeholders looking for sustainability information on social media.  Surprisingly, the use of LinkedIn increased by 14% and Wikipedia went up by 10% within the last year, while other channels were closer to last year’s results, as can be seen from the graph below.

FacebookYoutubeGoogle PlusTwitterWikipediaLinkedIn

Despite the overall low numbers for social media use, the results imply that for stakeholders, LinkedIn and Wikipedia are becoming more relevant than other channels when they are looking for sustainability information.  Companies have been increasingly promoting sustainability reports on websites and social media. This might be the reason why the use of reports became more popular together with the use of LinkedIn. 

Please tilt your phone into landscape mode to see the graph properly

How to improve your sustainability communication 

  • Transparency is the key: this means being clear on what you want to achieve as well as your journey on how to get there. 
  • Clarify and quantify: what does your vision mean in terms of specific KPIs and numbers, and how can it communicated in a way so that it reaches, is understandable and interesting to your stakeholders. Use of storytelling to support and add context to your data.
  • Meet your stakeholders: if not in the physical world, in the digital one. Use digital channels to get insights on your stakeholders expectations,  what information they want and how they want to consume it. This is valuable not only to build on effective communication but it can also add important input to your strategic sustainability work. 

For inspiration: 

Read more about Electrolux and how they work with sustainability and numeric data on LinkedIn

In short: Sustainability sections matter to capital market professionals, but are also meaningful for other stakeholders, such as job seekers. As the topic is important for a diverse group of stakeholders and often visited by a broad audience, offering transparent information is the way to meet the stakeholders. Clarity is the key.

By Anna Dunder

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