Sustainability Reporting Challenges: Where Companies Often Miss the Mark

November 9, 2023by Team IRIS CARBON0

Sustainability reporting has emerged as a linchpin for companies navigating the dynamic intersection of business and societal responsibility. In an era where corporate accountability and environmental consciousness are at the forefront, the meticulous documentation of a company’s sustainability efforts is not just a trend but a strategic necessity. However, amid the growing emphasis on transparency, numerous companies find themselves grappling with sustainability reporting challenges, often missing the mark on crucial aspects.

This blog post aims to unravel the intricacies of these challenges, exploring why companies stumble and providing insights into overcoming the hurdles to create more robust sustainability reports.

The Significance of Sustainability Reporting

Sustainability reporting is not merely a bureaucratic exercise or a checkbox for corporate social responsibility (CSR); it is a critical component of a company’s narrative. Beyond the altruistic motivations, businesses increasingly recognize the tangible benefits tied to sustainability reporting. One such advantage is the enhancement of corporate reputation. In an interconnected world where information travels at unprecedented speeds, consumers, investors, and other stakeholders scrutinize companies for their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) practices. A well-crafted sustainability report becomes a powerful tool for companies to communicate their commitment to responsible business practices, directly influencing how they are perceived in the eyes of the public.

Moreover, sustainability reporting serves as a magnet for investors who are increasingly integrating ESG factors into their decision-making processes. As investment strategies pivot toward sustainable and ethical considerations, companies that can demonstrate a robust commitment to sustainability stand to attract a more diverse and socially conscious investor base. In essence, sustainability reporting is not just about complying with guidelines; it is a strategic move that can open doors to new partnerships, enhance market competitiveness, and bolster a company’s financial standing.

Common Objectives and Frameworks in Sustainability Reporting

To navigate the complex landscape of sustainability reporting, companies often turn to established frameworks that provide a structured approach to disclosure. Notable among these frameworks are the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), European Union Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) and International Sustainability Standards Board.
The GRI has emerged as a global standard, furnishing a comprehensive set of guidelines for companies to measure and disclose their economic, environmental, and social performance. Similarly, the ESRS focuses on standardizing reporting in environmental, social, and governance domains, while the ISSB is dedicated to developing globally recognized sustainability reporting standards. Together, these organizations contribute to shaping a more standardized and transparent landscape for sustainability reporting.

These frameworks serve as roadmaps for companies, aligning their reporting with global standards and facilitating comparability across industries. They encourage organizations to set specific objectives related to their sustainability goals, ensuring a common language for communication. Companies adopting these frameworks often aim to achieve objectives such as increased transparency, accountability, and a positive impact on their triple bottom line – people, planet, and profit. In the following sections, we will delve into the challenges companies face in realizing these objectives and adhering to established frameworks.

Challenges Faced by Companies: An In-Depth Analysis

In aligning with environmental, social, and economic goals, meticulous reporting is crucial for companies. However, the pursuit of sustainability comes with challenges that impact the ability to communicate a comprehensive narrative, shaping the landscape of corporate responsibility in today’s interconnected world.

1.Insufficient Data Collection and Reporting

One of the fundamental pillars of robust sustainability reporting is the accurate and comprehensive collection of data. However, companies often encounter challenges in this initial phase, leading to incomplete or inaccurate reporting. In some instances, the sheer volume and complexity of data can overwhelm organizations, making it difficult to gather information on various environmental, social, and governance aspects. This lack of comprehensive data not only hampers the accuracy of sustainability reports but also undermines the credibility of a company’s commitment to transparency.

Real-world examples abound, where companies faced public scrutiny due to inaccuracies or omissions in their sustainability reports. Whether it’s misrepresenting carbon emissions or failing to account for supply chain practices, insufficient data collection can result in a distorted narrative that erodes trust among stakeholders. In this context, companies need to invest in robust data collection systems, ensuring that the information presented in their sustainability reports is not only accurate but also reflects the true extent of their environmental and social impact.

2. Lack of Clear Communication

While data accuracy is paramount, clear and transparent communication is equally essential in sustainability reporting. Companies often miss the mark when it comes to articulating their sustainability initiatives, goals, and performance in a way that resonates with diverse stakeholders. Vague or overly complex language, coupled with a lack of context, can leave readers confused and sceptical.

In some cases, companies unintentionally convey a sense of greenwashing – a misleading or exaggerated claim of environmentally friendly practices. This not only damages a company’s reputation but also undermines the broader objective of sustainability reporting, which is to foster genuine accountability and transparency. The challenge, therefore, lies in striking a balance between providing detailed information for stakeholders with a technical understanding and presenting the information in a digestible format for a broader audience.

3.Sustainability Reporting is Time Consuming

Time is a valuable resource, and sustainability reporting demands a significant investment. The process involves coordination across various teams and departments, each contributing data and insights. From data collection to analysis and report generation, the time-consuming nature of sustainability reporting poses a challenge for companies already juggling a myriad of tasks. Balancing the need for comprehensive reporting with other essential business activities requires strategic planning and efficient resource allocation.

4. Failure to Set Measurable Goals

Sustainability reporting is not just about showcasing current initiatives but also about outlining a path for continuous improvement. Companies often falter by failing to set clear and measurable sustainability goals. Vague aspirations without specific targets lack the impact needed to drive meaningful change.

To illustrate, a company expressing a commitment to reduce its carbon footprint is commendable, but without quantifiable targets and timelines, the report lacks the teeth necessary to hold the company accountable. Setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) goals is essential in demonstrating a company’s commitment to making tangible progress on its sustainability journey.

5. Suffering from Data Overload

Sustainability reporting encompasses a broad spectrum of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) covering environmental, social, and economic aspects. Collecting data from all these different sources can lead to data overload, where the sheer volume of information becomes overwhelming. Pouring resources into data collection alone is not sufficient; companies must navigate through this sea of data to extract meaningful insights. Striking a balance between comprehensive reporting and avoiding drowning in data requires strategic planning, advanced analytics, and a clear focus on relevant metrics aligned with the company’s sustainability goals.

6. Limited Stakeholder Engagement

Sustainability is a collective effort that extends beyond a company’s internal operations. Engaging stakeholders, including customers, employees, local communities, and investors, is crucial for a holistic and accurate sustainability narrative. However, companies often face challenges in effectively involving stakeholders in their reporting processes.

Limited engagement can result in oversight or neglect of critical issues that matter to stakeholders. For instance, a company may prioritize certain sustainability metrics without considering the perspectives of local communities impacted by its operations. Successful sustainability reporting requires companies to adopt inclusive practices that capture diverse stakeholder perspectives, ensuring a more comprehensive and accurate representation of their social and environmental impact. In the subsequent sections, we will explore best practices for overcoming these challenges and fostering a more robust approach to sustainability reporting.

7. There’s not enough visibility into the supply chain

While many companies report their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, they struggle with reporting Scope 3 emissions from both downstream and upstream activities. Scope 3 reporting entails having high-quality data on emissions associated with the extraction, manufacturing and processing of all raw materials in the supply chain, including disposing off the product. Despite having established IT departments, many companies still collect suppliers’ data using manual spreadsheets, which may no longer be feasible with the increased data demand for Scope 3 reporting.

8. It’s difficult to get quality data from cross-functional units

Quality data sits at the heart of sustainability reporting. It improves companies’ legitimacy and is the foundation for their ESG baselines and their SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based) targets. Quality data also gives companies better insights into their operational performance, how well they’re progressing toward their ESG goals and what their biggest areas for improvement are. However, with poor coordination among business functions such as operations, procurement, human resources, finance and legal, as well as varying data quality from each unit, chief sustainability officers often receive siloed data, which makes obtaining insights labor-intensive and time-consuming. The data is often piecemeal and unverifiable.

It is essential to break down these silos by collecting and analyzing data from functional units to provide a centralized overview of the performance of diverse sustainability targets.

Best Practices for Overcoming Sustainability Reporting Challenges

Effectively navigating sustainability reporting challenges requires a proactive approach and the adoption of best practices. Companies that excel in this realm often share common strategies that contribute to the robustness of their sustainability reports.

1. Comprehensive Data Management Systems

To address the data collection and reporting challenges, companies are increasingly investing in advanced data management systems. These systems not only streamline the process of collecting, analyzing, and reporting data but also ensure its accuracy and completeness. Automation tools and artificial intelligence applications play a pivotal role in enhancing the efficiency of data-related tasks, allowing companies to focus on deriving meaningful insights and setting ambitious yet achievable sustainability goals.

2. Transparent Communication Strategies

Clear and transparent communication is paramount in addressing the challenge of conveying sustainability efforts effectively. Companies are adopting communication strategies that prioritize simplicity without compromising substance. This involves using accessible language, visual aids, and engaging storytelling to convey the impact of their sustainability initiatives. By being open about successes and challenges, companies build trust with stakeholders and avoid the pitfalls of ambiguity that can tarnish their reputation.

3. Setting SMART Sustainability Goals

Overcoming the hurdle of setting measurable and meaningful sustainability goals involves adopting the SMART criteria – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Companies that articulate clear and quantifiable objectives provide stakeholders with a roadmap for tracking progress. This not only enhances accountability but also allows for a more accurate assessment of a company’s impact on environmental, social, and governance fronts.

4. Evolving Stakeholder Expectations

Stakeholders, from consumers to investors, are becoming more sophisticated in their expectations of sustainability reporting. Beyond basic compliance with frameworks, companies will likely face increasing pressure to demonstrate genuine commitment and innovation in addressing global challenges. The future demands not just reporting for compliance but a strategic, forward-looking approach that aligns sustainability initiatives with broader societal and environmental goals.

5.Standardization and Harmonization

Standardization efforts in sustainability reporting are gaining momentum, with organizations like the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) and the European Sustainability Reporting Standard (ESRS) playing pivotal roles. The ISSB and ESRS are spearheading initiatives to standardize reporting frameworks, aiming to bring greater cohesion to the landscape.

The ISSB is dedicated to developing globally recognized sustainability reporting standards. By establishing a common set of guidelines, ISSB aims to enhance consistency and comparability in sustainability reporting across different entities. This not only simplifies the reporting process for companies but also provides stakeholders with a clearer and more standardized view of sustainability performance.

Similarly, the ESRS focuses on standardizing reporting in the specific domains of environmental, social, and governance factors. By setting comprehensive standards, ESRS seeks to harmonize reporting practices, making it easier for companies to adhere to a unified framework. This standardization process can significantly reduce the reporting burden on companies, while also facilitating a more systematic assessment of sustainability performance across industries.

In summary, ISSB and ESRS are actively contributing to the standardization and harmonization of sustainability reporting frameworks, underscoring the importance of a unified approach for the future of transparent and comparable sustainability reporting.

The Future of Sustainability Reporting

As businesses evolve in response to changing global dynamics, so too does the landscape of sustainability reporting. Emerging trends offer a glimpse into the future, shaping how companies will approach and adapt to the challenges discussed earlier.

Integration of Technology and Blockchain

The integration of technology, including blockchain, is poised to revolutionize sustainability reporting. Blockchain, with its decentralized and transparent nature, has the potential to enhance the reliability and traceability of reported data. This technology can provide a tamper-resistant ledger, assuring stakeholders of the accuracy and authenticity of the information presented in sustainability reports. As companies increasingly leverage advanced technologies, the future of sustainability reporting holds the promise of heightened trust and credibility.

Utilizing Software Solutions

To optimize and streamline the entire sustainability reporting process, companies can leverage advanced software solutions. These tools can facilitate data collection, analysis, and report generation, reducing manual effort and minimizing the risk of errors. Integrating software solutions like IRIS CARBON® into the reporting workflow enhances efficiency, allowing companies to stay agile and responsive in the rapidly evolving landscape of sustainability/ESG reporting.


In conclusion, as companies navigate the evolving landscape of sustainability reporting, embracing technological advancements, meeting stakeholder expectations, and contributing to standardization will be pivotal in overcoming challenges and shaping a future where sustainability reporting becomes not just a requirement but a cornerstone of responsible business practices. Ultimately, the benefits of sustainability reporting can help companies gain a foothold in the future economy. It leads to new and improved sustainable products, services, and business models. This, in turn, can attract more customers and improve financial performance.

IRIS CARBON® facilitates ESG report authoring, with the entire process from mapping stakeholder requirements to publicizing sustainability disclosures handled on an intuitive and user-friendly cloud-based, collaborative platform. It helps transform your sustainability reports into digital, machine-readable documents that your stakeholders can access with greater ease to analyze and compare your data across peer companies and industry sectors for better decision-making.

Align your sustainability objectives with your business strategy and financial goals with an effective ESG reporting platform like IRIS CARBON®

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