In recent years, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Sustainability reports have come to play an essential role in the development of corporate sustainability

They are a means of tracking progress on key activities and performance indicators relating to CSR and sustainability, of providing transparency with various stakeholders, and of helping the company themselves to focus on their own sustainability strategy and work out the best way to move forward.

However, there is a growing sense across the CSR world that the proliferation of different Reporting standards, frameworks and requirements means that the process of bringing together a company’s CSR report has become an increasingly burdensome task, taking up an awful lot of time, effort and resources.

This has led to suggestions that CSR and sustainability officers are not left with enough time to carry out other vital aspects of their roles, such as leading and developing their company’s CSR strategy, or actually addressing any challenges that are highlighted by their own reports.

To this end, one could ask whether the phenomenon of ‘Over-Reporting’ is becoming a critical issue for the CSR community. Added to this, one could debate whether we have reached the stage where the overload of standards and requirements begins to defeat the whole point of reporting on these topics in the first place. Certainly, we could question whether a company’s CSR Report should be seen as the #1 measure of its performance on key environmental and social responsibility.

Needless to say, nobody in their right mind can argue that the CSR Report has reached the end of its shelf life. For starters, while some will ask what the point is of measuring and reporting on thousands and thousands of different indicators, by and large businesses are not required to fulfil each and every one of these. In fact, some CSR professionals see the explosion of different Reporting standards as a good thing in that it represents choice: there is something for everyone, and different types of businesses can choose a different framework according to the material needs of their organisation and stakeholders.

However, this glut of standards does have its downsides, beyond the sheer effort of adhering to them all. Having to wade through such a vast sea of metrics and indicators can be daunting for the stakeholders for whom the reports are written in the first place, let alone for the CSR teams who have to compile them! And that’s only once you’ve decided which standards to follow – choosing which of the many frameworks is best suited to your company and stakeholders’ needs can be a mammoth task in itself. All of this can be tough enough for any company, but for those that aren’t large multinationals and which may only have small CSR departments with limited budgets, the equation is even trickier.

So has the Reporting industry gone overboard? Have we overstretched the limits of what could be considered an acceptable and reasonable approach to Reporting standards? Do we need to take a step back and ask what the point of Reporting is? Not in a nihilistic “what’s the point?” way, but in a “what is the purpose of us doing this?” way. Should CSR leaders take it upon themselves to stand up and argue that excessive Reporting is not necessary when it comes to demonstrating a company’s CSR/sustainability performance, and that it should be a case of ‘Quality, not Quantity’?

Perhaps. These are all, of course, complex questions to which there is no single straight answer (*Disclaimer! I certainly don’t know the answers!*), and maybe it’s time to have a debate about how Reporting fits into the global drive for corporate responsibility and sustainability. One thing that can be said for certain, however, is that wherever you may stand on the issue, it can NOT be an excuse to simply not do anything about reporting, or to allow standards and frameworks to be dropped. We have to remember how important the CSR Reporting process is.

But maybe we could just go a bit easier on the whole thing?!

This was originally published on Ethical Corporation's Responsible Business blog.

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