Sustainability reports are a very useful tool for all companies who wish to communicate their actions towards sustainable development. They include a number of issues that directly or indirectly relate to the company and its activities, and can be of interest to different stakeholder groups that are involved with the company. Sustainability reporting is the tool an organization can use in order to understand both its exposure to risks, and potential business opportunities. It is also the process of collecting and analyzing information and data necessary for creating long-term value supporting transparency in environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements. Sustainability reporting is gradually becoming an essential business management tool, since it assists in convincing investors of the organization’s long-term existence. The question is no longer “should we report?” but “what and how should we report?”
Recent research by the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence focuses on the sustainability reporting trends of companies and organizations in North America, on the use of specific reporting standards and guidelines, and on the external assurance practices followed by these companies and organizations.
The research was conducted by analyzing more than 400 unique sustainability reports in the U.S. and Canada for the 2014 reporting period. These reports were published by companies of all sizes (Large, Multinational and Small-Medium Enterprises) and belong to a variety of sectors (Financial, Energy and Energy Utilities, and Mining being the top three reporting sectors).
The results of the research identify and verify some very interesting trends. For example, there is a clearly visible trend of public companies (82%) to publish sustainability reports in order to disclose information and be transparent about their sustainability performance. What is also interesting is that there is a growing trend for Small-Medium Enterprises to publish sustainability reports in order to increase their transparency, attract customers and grow their business. The number of SME’s, which publish sustainability reports, is expected to grow in the following years.
The reporting guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) remain the most widely used reporting guidelines for conducting sustainability reports while surprisingly, there are still large brands which do not use GRI or other guidelines. The percentage of companies and organizations in North America that seek external assurance remains well below the global average raising questions about the level of transparency and credibility of the data disclosed in the sustainability reports.
The results will also be presented for the first time in CSE's upcoming Advanced Certified Sustainability (CSR) Practitioner Trainings (IEMA Approved) in Houston, Texas (Feb 25th) and Toronto, Canada (Apr 14th), and will be provided complimentary through CSE's Sustainability Academy Initiative in all online Certified Sustainability programs.