Why the corporate website should breathe sustainability

This year's Capital Market Survey was conducted during a global pandemic, so when asking investors about the importance of sustainability on the corporate website it would have been reasonable to expect their attention to be elsewhere. This wasn't the case, as instead we found the responses placed more value on sustainability coverage than ever before.

As the global temperature rises year on year, so too does the onus on large companies to take responsibility for their impact across a number of sustainability frontiers. As we recently revealed, the corporate website's presentation of sustainability can directly inform whether a jobseeker chooses to apply to a company. This year's Capital Market Survey shows that the importance is just as fundamental for investors and analysts. Let's take a look at some of the key facets of a sustainability section, from the minds of those who use them to shape investment decisions.

A strategy without supporting material is empty rhetoric

88% of this year's Capital Market Survey respondents agree that a strategy is the lynchpin of the sustainability section. We've been tracking the importance of a strategy for several years now, and it continues to rise as stakeholders increasingly expect companies to show a formalised approach to their corporate responsibilities.

Average importance of a sustainability strategy on the corporate website since 2012:
(1 = Not important at all, 5 = Very important)

Line graph of the importance of Sustainability strategy since 2012. Y axis = the years from 2012 to 2020, X axis = 2.8 to 3.8 in importance on a 5-point scale. The graph shows the line starts around 2.8 in importance in 2012 and steadily rises year on year, with a sharper increase to 3.8 this year.

Not all strategies are created equal, however. A strategy is less meaningful when the company doesn't present it in context with any figures of recent performance or any clarified objectives to act upon. What is the current or previous performance across key metrics? What are the future targets?

"Put sustainability objectives & achievements in the context of the long-term group's strategy and business model."
-Buy-side analyst covering global markets

An oil and gas company might state that a part of their strategy is to target net zero emissions, but the picture feels incomplete if they haven't provided their latest greenhouse gas (GHG) figures along with a date by which to meet the target. When presented with the fuller picture, an analyst can more easily draw their own assessments of possible implications for the share price down the line.

Environmental data should reveal the blueprint for a greener future

"[I look for] quantified performance figures and evidence that there is active management of performance associated with those figures. If we can't quantify it, it's very hard to pay any attention at all."
-Sell-side analyst covering Northern and Eastern European markets

Environmental data is the most in-demand area of sustainability performance, and as such it's greatly important for adding weight to your strategy. Stakeholders expect companies to measure and report environmental progress on the corporate website, as it's the location where the majority seek this information. If figures are unflattering or targets have been missed, your company can use the opportunity to stress commitment to improving, rather than to "gloss over weaknesses" - as one buy-side analyst covering Western European markets is tired of seeing.

Average importance of environmental performance data on the corporate website since 2011:
(1 = Not important at all, 5 = Very important)

Line graph of the importance of environmental data since 2012. Y axis = the years from 2011 to 2020, X axis = 2.8 to 3.8 in importance on a 5-point scale. The graph shows the line starts around 2.8 in importance in 2012 and steadily rises year on year, with a sharper increase to 3.8 this year.

Once the devastation of COVID-19 eases, companies will be presented with an opportune moment to focus on their environmental performance, as - aside from the human cost - the pandemic has paved the way for the largest reduction in global CO2 emissions since WWII. Naturally companies will be eager to press on with business as usual, but they shouldn't pass on the chance to communicate how swiftly their targets could be reached in this new world.

Another innovative method for reducing emissions is by building sustainability into a greener corporate website. It's a little-known fact that the way the website is built and where it is hosted forms a part of a company's carbon footprint.

Now is the time to improve

More than a third of this year's Capital Market Survey respondents feel that sustainability sections of corporate websites need to improve. Only 10% felt this way in 2016. As the demand for sustainability information has spiked, many of Europe's largest companies have been slow to react, failing to offer their stakeholders the increased level of detail now expected on the corporate website.

Respondents who feel the sustainability section should be improved since 2016:
(% out of 100)

A business journalist covering global markets left this comment on the general experience of corporate websites, and it's not an isolated view:

"I want hard facts about what a company is doing and what they are striving to achieve rather than fluffy marketing."

Sustainability seems to be perceived as fluffier than most website sections. Companies need to lay out the facts as transparently as possible and let their website breathe sustainability for the good of their investment potential.

If you would like help strengthening your sustainability communications, please get in touch.

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