Inside the nine-month process of creating Oatly’s annual sustainability report

It gets a little help from its in-house creative team, the Oatly Department of Mind Control.
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Francis Scialabba

5 min read

As more brands set goals to reduce their climate footprint, they’re turning to sustainability reports to update stakeholders—investors, consumers, employees, and yes, even journalists—on their progress. It can be a cumbersome ordeal, but oat-milk maker Oatly, which has been publishing reports since 2018, has found ways to add a splash of style.

Amid a slew of scientific terms like “energy intensity per produced liter,” and “carbon dioxide equivalents,” the 51-page 2021 Oatly sustainability report published in June also featured a cartoon head of Ashley Allen, its chief sustainability officer, and puns like “prOATocol.”

The sustainability reporting process is voluntary—which means there’s a “lack of recording consensus or criteria” for companies to follow universally, Erin Augustine, Oatly’s director of supply-chain sustainability, told Retail Brew.

Oatly abides by the Global Reporting Initiative, an independent Amsterdam-based organization that publishes a universal standard for companies to follow, as well as sector and topic-specific guidelines.

  • The guidelines for reporting are used by retailers like Walmart and Hormel Foods.
  • Headquartered in Malmö, Sweden, Oatly also follows reporting mandates from the Swedish government, Augustine said.

With standard data reporting paired with Oatly’s signature voice, Augustine, whose CPG background includes managing sustainability at Kellogg’s, said, “We try to balance the needs of different audiences when we write this report.”

Planning it oat out

Augustine said that building the sustainability report takes nine months, so work on the 2022 version will begin in October.

While it’s spearheaded by the CSO and the 25-person sustainability team, the report is a team effort across 50+ employees. “Quite a few people are involved in drafting the report,” she said. “Multiple departments own their own data, and their own KPIs and their own metrics. And then we come together to draft this report each year.”

The report’s construction is made up of three phases:

  1. The first and longest phase is data gathering, pulling from different departments within the company.
  2. The second phase is analyzing the data to make sense of it all.
  3. Finally, the third phase consists of writing and editing the report.

The sustainability team handles the report’s technical writing, sharing both the highs and lows of the year. While it made strides in areas like renewable electricity and water use, its corporate footprint went up by 77% last year as it opened new factories.

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“From a reporting perspective, transparency is a core value for us, as well as sustainability,” Augustine said. “So that’s where reporting the data, and in an open and transparent way, is super important to us.”

Branding together: To punch up the writing and add graphics, the company passes it off to its ~50 person in-house creative team, called the ODMC (Oatly Department of Mind Control). “Those are the copywriters that really then craft the language and the framework for the websites to give it that fun and consumer-friendly style and approach,” she said.

  • They’ll help make tricky phrases more digestible, like calling fiber-residue byproduct Oatly’s “leftovers,” or add an infographic like a milk carton illustrating the percentages of its production methods.
  • Adding more lighthearted elements to a heavier topic like climate change is “a balance we find well,” Augustine noted. “We certainly lean on the ODMC to help elevate the parts that are most interesting, most understandable, most relevant for a wider audience,” she said.

Visually, the reports carry over a lot of Oatly brand elements—it employs its standard black, white, and light blue color palette, along with the same font it uses on its packaging, and shows off a penchant for illustrations. CSO Allen’s name and cartoon head are used throughout the report, giving a topline look at the results and reiterating the company’s long-term sustainability plan, aka “Ashley’s To-Do List.”

  • “It’s a humanizing way of speaking about a sometimes very technical topic, and sometimes [a] very detailed topic,” Augustine said.

Looking ahead…There’s still a lot to check off that to-do list, so once the report is published, Augustine said the company holds internal town-hall meetings to ensure employees “understand the information, understand the context, and can identify the opportunities for them individually, to contribute to and to drive the positive sustainability impact.”

Ultimately, the report serves as “a really invaluable tool to ensure we’re making even more sustainable business decisions in the future,” she said, and the 2021 report laid out a few goals for the rest of 2022. On the docket this year: Investigate how ingredients like vitamins and enzymes affect its GHG emissions, boost the amount of renewable and recycled packaging materials it uses (it’s currently at 87%), and grow its electric-truck program in the US.

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Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.