Layering your stories

28 May 2024 by Mike Tisdall

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Article 4 of 6
So you’ve collected all your data (see Article 5), now how best to convey it to your audiences? Where’s the balance between engaging stories and mandated data?

The answer is ‘layering’ and we explore how to achieve that below.

There’s no one right answer to where to put all the information you want or need to disclose. Best judgement is needed. Different companies will require different solutions. So use the following as a guide:

  1. Layer your storytelling: with the takeaway story at the top. The overall narrative is still the most important thing. If your business story and business strategy has a strong sustainability thread, this must be included in the takeout your readers leave your report with. Remember, that’s the top-line framing of your narrative, and it doesn’t rely on your gender gap data or amount of waste diverted from landfill to convey the executive summary message. First and foremost is the tenor of your storytelling and your messaging hierarchy

  2. Layer in the proof points: the component parts of your business story provide support for your overall takeaway narrative. If sustainability and/or ESG are important to how you do business, provide details of that plan with goals and progress towards them in a later chapter of your annual report

  3. Balance the information. If a strong sustainability narrative is in the main report, your Sustainability/ESG detail can be distilled down to a reference data/compliance section (or separate document, see Article 3) for specialist audiences in the same way that your financials are detailed information for that specific analytical audience. If not, this section of your report probably needs to be fuller, incorporate your sustainability/ESG narrative and be designed to be more accessible to a mainstream audience

  4. Scale appropriately. Large companies with a large footprint or impact environmentally, socially or with large workforces, may need a separate comprehensive Sustainability Report in order to provide the requisite detailed information covering all your activities

The Insight ESG/Sustainability Reporting Framework

The following framework can help you optimise and streamline your non-financial reporting processes. It is not a formula as no one solution fits all. It offers a principles-based communications matrix to suit your specific business needs and aspirations.


ESG/Sustainability Reporting Framework – and context

Storytelling is the basis of effective annual report communication. The same principles can be applied to Sustainability and ESG reporting. Having a framework that you can tailor to your own situation may help you get to the most appropriate solution faster.

I’m sorry, I’ll repeat that

With all your component parts linking back to your overall narrative, the question of repetition will naturally arise. In practical terms, that’s a fact of life. The trick is to make conscious decisions about what gets repeated and why. Readers don’t read everything in a report, and not in a linear fashion. Repetition can be minimised by smart report structuring and thoughtful cross-referencing - digitally where possible. The ‘reference’ document or part of your main document (the detailed and data-rich ESG report) will probably need to include everything. It’s what ‘cream’ floats to the top as key information that impacts your business strategy, your sustainability KPIs and your top material issues that should find themselves repeated in your core storytelling.

Once identified, that key data should help inform your narrative, be used to illustrate your sustainability in action, and report on how you’re tracking on your sustainability goals. Only you can judge what is important enough to elevate into your business narrative, and that judgment includes assessments on open transparency and authenticity vs the risks of burying sensitive information and greenwashing.

Your next challenge is gathering all the information you need from all corners of your organisation. In Article 5 we look at ways to relieve some pain points.