Making Your CSR Reporting Accessible and Sophisticated: Lessons from PVH

June 9, 2010

I’ve been working with Philips Van Heusen (PVH), the apparel company that owns brands like Calvin Klein, Izod, and Tommy Hilfiger, to help launch their second Corporate Social Responsibility Report online this month. PVH is on the crest of a new wave of apparel companies who report on their impacts. No longer an arena reserved for the largest companies like Gap and Nike, smaller companies like Abercrombie, Nordstrom, and Levi Strauss have started adding or significantly enhancing information on sustainability to their websites in recent years. Given heighted transparency expectations from consumers, socially responsible investors (SRIs), and retail customers, we expect to see more apparel companies—of all sizes—reporting.

Part of the credibility challenge that many newer reporting companies face is making complex CSR information digestible for readers new to CSR (like their employees) while also satisfying sophisticated readers (like SRIs.) PVH found an interesting answer to this challenge with an eight-page CSR summary in the company’s annual report. The summary gives readers a quick and accessible look at the company’s CSR focus areas and accomplishments, while driving to the website for more detailed information. It also includes Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), an important element that helps more savvy readers evaluate the company’s performance. Finally, inclusion in the annual report sends a message to investors about how PVH is integrating CSR into the business.

Some lessons for companies looking to walk the line between approachable and complex in CSR reporting:

Keep focused on your key messages

There is a temptation to include the 'kitchen sink' of all the activities that the company has undertaken—this can make your report a daunting read. Group information in key messages, and align content around them. If something doesn’t fit, it’s ok to cut it.

Identify one or two primary audiences, then get feedback early and often

Focus on your most important readers to help you identify and stick to key messages. Engaging them at the early stages will help you develop and refine content that speaks to the right audience.

Design ‘entry points’ to help new users delve into information

Case studies, icons, quotes, descriptive pictures, links from other media and other tools can help make the contents of a CSR report more understandable to new readers. Think about hooks that can help your readers identify their areas of interest.

Think about distribution as part of the report development strategy By considering how you will get the word out about your report early on, you can help ensure you aren’t developing a report that ultimately goes unread. For instance, PVH created a break room poster for employees in stores and distribution centers who do not have access to the internet at work. For customers, the company is considering messages on receipts that point to the CSR website. Other ideas include leveraging existing communication channels like email blasts, town hall meetings, and intranet bulletins.

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