At The Works, we believe great sustainability reporting provides an integrated representation of a company’s performance – both financial and non-financial environmental, social and governance topics. Successful integrated reports use sustainability initiatives to give greater context to performance data and illustrate how sustainability priorities (those things we call “material issues”) fit into the company’s business model and inform its decision making.
Integrated reporting is the practice of concisely communicating how an organization’s strategy, governance, performance and goals lead to increased value over a given time.
The Crown Estate’s fifth integrated annual report, “The Crown Estate from Every Perspective,” does just that – and raises the bar for the integrated reporting format. Under the framework of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), the report tells a coherent, concise story about how The Crown Estate delivers value far beyond the bottom line. This report stood out to our team for its praiseworthy approach.
The Crown Estate assumes sustainability is essential to business, not simply a factor outside management practices. In other words, we see companies frame sustainability as something they have to do – for The Crown Estate, sustainability is part of everyday practices, and something that contributes to strong financial returns. The design and layout of the report is aesthetically beautiful, but we want to highlight three areas where particularly effective design was applied.
The Crown Estate overview
Both in content and design, The Crown Estate’s Overview spread sets a solid foundation for the report. It opens with the company’s corporate purpose, “conscious commercialism,” which combines words that have both positive and negative connotations. Using what might be perceived as an oxymoron as its corporate purpose and theme throughout shows that the company is committed to integration as a business strategy. Being actively conscious towards surrounding communities and environments is explicitly stated as being integral to the company reaching its financial goals.
The core content on the two-page spread is a step-by-step guide showing how the corporate purpose is actionable. The guide shows the process by which material issues inform The Crown Estate’s business model and overall corporate strategy. The guide also introduces various design techniques used throughout the report, including photography, diagrams and illustrations
The Crown Estate business model
In this diagram, The Crown Estate demonstrates how it benefits society, and then flows resources back into its institution. As a public entity, it is not good enough just to break even: the company needs to generate both financial and social benefit by investing in environments where a future can thrive.
In many reports, the environment, communities or employees are positioned as “end of the line” beneficiaries of sustainability programs – particularly when a report is a collection of “random acts of kindness.” But The Crown Estate demonstrates how people, land and relationships are “capital” that are critical to ongoing and long-term success. From beginning to end, the model explains that investing in these resources is equally as important as investing in a new development, which concisely illustrates that focusing only on short-term profitability will not support a longer-term lens to prosper in or support future generations. Instead, The Crown Estate is investing in communities, ensuring customer satisfaction and positive reputability, and protecting its surrounding environments. The business model affirms the report’s overarching theme that being socially responsible isn’t just a marketing campaign, but an investment in The Crown Estate’s future.
The Crown Estate took a different approach to highlighting its physical asset portfolio. The use of full-page photography breaks up the report’s formatting and allows the reader to experience a pedestrian’s eye view of a Crown Estate investment.
Layered on top of the photography are both internal and external stakeholder testimonials that help to build a persuasive and authentic narrative. Pairing these testimonials with metrics and information about The Crown Estate’s projects allows stakeholders to see the company’s material issues in action, and contributes to the quality of the report. It takes The Crown Estate’s approach to sustainability from the theoretical to the real world.
A successful integrated approach begins with a company’s true belief that long-term resilience and success includes both financial stability and a broader degree of social and environmental responsibility. The Crown Estate’s 2016/17 Integrated Annual Report has beautifully outlined the financial and social impacts of its decisions, based on a strategy of “conscious commercialism,” in order to create and sustain value over the long term. Attractive design, captivating photography and storytelling invite deep engagement, and we are particularly excited to see how the format transitions online (and might leverage Smart Reporting techniques) in the years to come.
Coming soon: we’ll be interviewing Claudine Blamey, Head of Sustainability at The Crown Estate. We’ll discuss their best practice approach to Integrated Communications and what we can expect in 2018.