Amid a surge in corporate sustainability reporting globally, the need for a free, online platform like the Reporting Exchange has never been greater, argue Johanna Tähtinen and Juliet Taylor of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development
Corporate reporting is a key tool for companies to frame and communicate their strategy, performance and value creation models beyond just financials. Given its utility, it’s no wonder that corporate reporting requirements around sustainability topics have increased from fewer than 50 to nearly 1,000 since 1992.
But the lack of co-ordination between different reporting standards and frameworks makes it frustrating, overwhelming and time-consuming for companies and investors to keep up.
The Reporting Exchange was built to help companies know what, where and how to report on sustainability information, in partnership between the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) and Ecodesk, with funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation.
This free, online platform is the single most up-to-date and comprehensive source of information on sustainability reporting requirements and resources currently available, with information on nearly 2,000 reporting requirements and resources covering 69 countries.
Investors are asking for more and better quality ESG information
Its goal is also to help investors understand the context for, and influences affecting, corporate sustainability reporting.
Since launching the Reporting Exchange at the London Stock Exchange in 2017, we’ve undertaken a major effort to help business and investors navigate the often-confusing world of corporate sustainability reporting, and have even received recognition from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for our work progressing corporate reporting on sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Through this work, we’ve learned a lot about corporate reporting trends around the world, including key differences between major economies and emerging trends that are relevant for everyone.
By diving into the corporate reporting landscapes in China, North America, Vietnam, Australia, India, Singapore and Southeast Asia, Costa Rica and Japan, we uncovered three key trends worth noting in 2019 and beyond.
1. Investors are asking for more and better quality environmental, social and governance (ESG) information impacting companies’ behaviour, and this is driving a surge in corporate reporting around the world.
For instance, in Japan, socially responsible investment has increased by more than 143% from 2016 to 2017, and the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF), the largest pool of retirement savings in the world, became a signatory of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) in 2015 and increasingly uses ESG aspects in its decision-making.
Disclosure of non-financial performance may become the realm of the chief financial officer
This interest from investors for decision-useful ESG information can be seen across the regions. WBCSD knowledge partner Yale University says investors are becoming one of the key drivers for disclosure in the United States and Canada, adding that “this will mean disclosure of non-financial performance may become the realm of the chief financial officer”.
This market drive means that companies must provide decision-useful and comparable information on material ESG aspects to investors. However, it’s still hard for investors to get the information they need, which makes it difficult for markets to efficiently allocate capital to the most sustainable companies.
Despite this growing demand to mainstream ESG information, the data shows that ESG reporting requirements steer disclosure often through specialist systems to authorities and associations, for instance greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions directly to CDP, or ministries such as the Environmental Protection Ministry in China. In other words, ESG information is not always being disclosed in mainstream annual reports, hindering information flow to capital markets.
2. Other key stakeholders expect information regarding the private sector’s role in attaining healthy societies and environment.
For instance, Costa Rica is undergoing peer review in an evaluation process to join the OECD, which has had a major influence on business and its ties to sustainable development. In China, the SDGs are being integrated into National Implementation Plans, with expectations and incentives from the business sector.
This illustrates that many international agreements, such as the Paris Agreement or the SDGs, are being passed into national action plans and regulations with clear expectations that the private sector contributes in attaining healthy societies and environments.
Companies should get their houses in order with respect to their reporting practices
3. Corporate sustainability reporting is on its way to being legally mandated. Interestingly, across the regions we researched, ESG reporting requirements are mostly mandatory, except in the United States, where SASB’s accounting standards raise the voluntary count.
Mandatory reporting requirements can help scale the number of companies integrating ESG information into its processes. In India, for instance, the recent update to the Companies Act and Listing Obligations now mandates the country’s largest and public companies to improve governance and action on corporate sustainability, with disclosure of sustainability policies, targets and outcomes required through their mainstream annual reports.
Companies should be aware of the implications and get their houses in order with respect to their reporting practices and standards.
We are launching a new tool to help organise, categorise and structure ESG indicators that are commonly used for external reporting. The idea is to encourage people who prepare reports to identify which indicators are most useful and relevant to their reporting.
Juliet Taylor is manager, redefining value and climate and energy, and Johanna Tähtinen is associate, redefining value, at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development
ESG reporting WBCSD CDSB Reporting Exchange climate Ecodesk