With ESG issues gaining prominence among institutional investors, there is a need in the market for standards to evaluate how organizations are addressing these issues.
Earlier this month, a group of organizations involved in environmental, social and governance issues (ESG) announced a new agreement to work together to develop a consistent framework for companies to report on these metrics.
The Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB), CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) issued their “Statement of Intent to Work Together Towards Comprehensive Corporate Reporting.” This statement lays out the need for transparent and consistent measurement of various sustainability performance metrics, and a consistent framework for companies to disclose these metrics.
The goup offers reasons for why sustainability disclosures are inherently more difficult to report upon than financial matters, including:
- Differing lenses: Users of sustainability disclosure and data have various reasons for requiring the information. Some use it to make economic decisions, others use it for proxy voting determinations. However, there are considerably more objectives to be considered and the various frameworks offer different lenses for analysis.
- Rapid and evolving change: The sustainability topics themselves, as well as the interest to the various stakeholders, are subject to constant and, often times, rapid change. This makes it difficult to apply or recognize consistency.
- Lack of distinction between data and the ratings relying on that data: There is a common misconception in the market where users confuse sustainability data with the related measurements and ratings, which inherently rely on the data.
Due to the complexity of sustainability disclosure, until now, the GRI, SASB, CDP and CDSB have set differing frameworks and standards, and the IIRC integrates this disclosure with the reporting on financials. By writing this intent letter, the group will work towards developing a comprehensive global corporate reporting system for disclosing sustainability topics combining the salient pieces of all of the various frameworks and standards into a new comprehensive reporting system. This requires that the organizations work together and agree upon a joint vision for the final outcome of sustainability measurement and disclosure. It also requires a joint commitment to not just state the goal, but continue to move forward and collaborate through the changes to the system.
Impact on Corporate Issuers
Given the challenges facing organizations today, from the COVID-19 pandemic to climate change, there is growing consensus that sustainability performance drives financial risk and return. We believe the efforts to create an agreed upon framework is the first of many initiatives we will see among this newly formed partnership.
The five organizations have asked for external help, support and engagement in the following ways:
- Recognize that all of the various frameworks, systems, and standards fit very naturally together into a system that acts in a complementary manner, particularly that this ecosystem can change slowly or very rapidly;
- Provide feedback on the statement of intent;
- Engage with this group and with others who report on sustainability in order to continue to get buy-in and drive the action for change now; and
- Be active in supporting and helping to achieve and evolve the mission of the statement of intent.
As this process evolves, we expect that companies will have many opportunities to be at the forefront of data analysis, reporting and comparing the newly-formed framework with the non-integrated frameworks of the past.
If you have questions about this topic and would like to speak with us, please contact one of the authors or write to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about our approach to helping organizations address ESG issues at rewards.aon.com/esg.