Have you ever read a sustainability report? Let me guess: Probably not. Reporting on non-financial performances in form of a sustainability or corporate social responsibility report is becoming standard practice among large companies. Sustainability reporting is also an emerging trend among universities.
Writing a report takes time and money. You need not only collect and analyse the data, but craft it in a powerful language, spellcheck it, and find an appealing design. That is a lot of work. But, who actually cares?
John Bailey – Sustainability Manager at the University of London in the United Kingdom – asked himself the same question. As John explained to us: “A lot of people write beautiful reports that are nicely coloured and very extensive. But let us be honest: The majority of students, staff and faculty will not be interested. If somebody sends you a report on something that you are not particularly interested in, will you read it? Probably not.”
John thought about an alternative to communicate information about his university’s sustainability performance: A prezi. In a few clicks, the prezi guides you through performance data and actions the university takes on waste, biodiversity, community, students, carbon, estates, etc.
In a short interview, John explained to us that this is now the second year in a row that they are communicating sustainability data like this – view the prezi from 2014. The feedback that he received from students and staff was very positive. The prezi is primarily for internal use, aimed at staff, decision makers and students within the university. John disseminates the prezi via intranet, social media, a news story on the website, and got top management to announce the report.
Of course, you could argue that calling the prezi a sustainability report might be a bit too much, since it is not a report, but a prezi. Still, I find John’s approach to sustainability reporting very appealing. It reminds us that sustainability reporting is not about writing beautifully designed and lengthy reports that very few people read. Reporting should be about communicating how the university performs on sustainability and what it does to improve its performance. A report can be one product to communicate data and information on sustainability, but there are also many other ways to achieve this.
I think that the prezi of UoL can be a great source of inspiration for Green Offices interested in engaging with sustainability reporting. Just start with gathering data on key sustainability indicators, and communicate this via a prezi, animated video, infographic or poster. You can send a prezi around easily and people can click through it. A 90 second animated video might be nice to watch. An infographic or poster can be printed out and hung up in offices and classrooms. This is how you can report key sustainability data in an engaging way.
I still find it important also to communicate results in a written format. You could do this for instance by publishing a 3-5 page document summarizing the strengths and weaknesses of the university’s sustainability performance, and how it could be improved. Overall you have two products in the end: A poster, infographic, video or prezi to communicate the data to students, staff and faculty, and a short, written analysis with recommendations for decision makers and those that want to read more.
Convinced? Let us know what you think.
Text and interview by Felix Spira. Thanks again to John Bailey for the short interview.