German companies must emphasise their sustainability work on the corporate website
By Chris Henson
Germany's corporate websites are making steps towards digitizing their reporting, in line with the rising preferences of stakeholders. PDF reports still contain plenty of key content that needs to be lifted onto their sites, though, with environmental performance data a prime example of material in minimal supply.
In this year's Webranking study, we evaluated the corporate websites of the largest 65 listed companies in Germany for how closely they are meeting the various needs of their stakeholders. The results show that the average score has decreased for the second consecutive year, to 44.2 points (out of 100) from a 2018-2019 high of 51.6. This decline follows the European trend, and these are two of the possible explanations:
- Stakeholder expectations are rising at a faster rate than communication teams can keep up with
- The Webranking criteria have adapted to reflect modern accessibility standards, and companies are falling short in this area
Despite this, the 44.2 average is still slightly better than the average of companies elsewhere across Europe, so German corporate communication remains relatively solid. One area of strength is digital reporting, which is a real plus as our research shows an increasing number of analysts and investors prefer to read their reports online. Although there is still further progress to be made, German companies are digitalising their reports more rapidly than in most countries across the continent. By contrast, one area where they need to pick up the slack is sustainability content, with particular reference to their environmental impact and progress against targets, which is relevant information for all stakeholder groups.
German reporting is on the cusp of digital transformation
German websites are going digital with their corporate reports at a higher rate than across the rest of Europe. More than half of German annual reports come with either an online summary, or, even better, are available online in full. We've been championing a digital-first approach for some time now, sharing our insights on the many positives of extending this to your reporting. From enabling a more engaging, interactive experience to capturing analytics to improving the mobile experience, the benefits are countless. Our latest research shows an increasing number of financial professionals prefer digital reports to PDF versions too, as they see the upside of being able to easily select and compare figures. From our 2020 Capital Market report we know that 74% prefer to read reports on their screen.
As has been the case in recent years, BASF have one of the best online annual reports in Europe. Their financial statements are available in full, there's a chart generator option for easy comparison of KPIs, and the report is full of interactive features and graphics, such as their value creation model.
Environmental data is important for all stakeholders
German companies need to recognise the importance of showing they have a green focus, as many investors find ethical companies more attractive and many jobseekers want to work for progressive and reputable employers. Your company may have a proactive approach to environmental work, and your website may even express this commitment, but your users will be still sceptical unless you authenticate any statements with more detail. Our latest research shows just how important it is to thoroughly communicate on sustainability through the website, for the benefit of a variety of stakeholders:
- 84% of the capital market look for a company's environmental data and targets on the corporate website
- 82% of jobseekers look for a company's sustainability initiatives on the corporate website
- 80% of jobseekers look for a company's sustainability targets on the corporate website
Despite this, German companies are providing just 24% of the most important environmental information, such as performance data and targets on issues such as the carbon footprint and waste. This is a significantly lower amount than elsewhere in Europe. For example, the average company in a leading country such as Finland or Spain shares double the amount of environmental information than a German company does.
One reason German companies may not be scoring as highly as European counterparts for their environmental information is that none of the country's 65 largest companies fall within the Oil & Gas or Basic Resources Supersectors. Companies across Europe belonging to these Supersectors, along with Utilities, share the most information on their environmental impact and ambition. Clearly these companies understand their business comes with a large footprint, and many are communicating accordingly as a result. By contrast, the Supersector containing the most German companies (9) is Health Care, which is one of the weakest for the minimal amount of environmental information companies share, both within Germany and right across the continent. Regardless of the nature of your business, it's crucial to show stakeholders what your environmental impact is - no matter how small it may seem - as they need to know that you have a vision which aligns with their expectations of a modern company.
The German winners and the biggest climber
BASF win the Germany list for the 5th year in succession, continuing to set a high bar for the excellent service they deliver to stakeholders. Their impressive score of 74.3 points (out of 100) also maintains their status as the company with the best corporate website in the Chemicals supersector. Deutsche Telekom climb nine places to take 2nd, while Henkel finish 3rd, representing their first time on the Webranking podium since the inception of the Germany list. This year's best climber is Sartorius Group, with the content on their refreshed website improving their score by 10.7 points, which moves the company 18 places higher to 39th.
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See the full German results