By WRITER, Marc Gunther, @MarcGunther, Journalist, speaker and writer
September 17, 2013 —Corporate sustainability reports have been around since … well, it’s hard to say. The first report may have been published by companies in the chemical industry with serious image problems” in the 1980s, or by Ben & Jerry’s in 1989 or Shell in 1997. No matter — since then, more than 10,000 companies have published more than 50,000 reports, according to, which maintains a searchable database of reports.

But who really reads them? As a reporter who covers business and sustainability, I do. Maybe you do, too — as an employee, investor, researcher or activist.

Here, then, are five tips to help you make sense of the next report that lands on your desk or arrives via email. They were developed with help from Steve Lydenberg of Domini Social Investments — the principal author of How to Read a Corporate Social Responsibility Report, an excellent 2010 study from the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship — and Bill Baue, a consultant and leader of the Sustainability Context Group, an organization working to improve corporate reporting.

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