Around the world, you could hear the collective sighs of relief of thousands of sustainability professionals who, overwhelmed and exhausted, finished the reporting season just a few months ago. The growing number of surveys, reports, guidelines and standards coupled with increasing pressure from stakeholders to go beyond disclosing something to disclosing everything, has left sustainability, corporate governance and CSR leaders’ heads spinning. Even more frustrating is that despite the content and data overlap many of these protocols have, they’re differentiated enough to justify multiple, duplicative reporting efforts.
One standard, globally-recognized report for all? Probably not.
An initial reaction to this fragmented reporting landscape is “why can’t we all agree on one survey, one set of questions and one format?” Unfortunately, the answer is far from straightforward and the question itself speaks to the complexity of non-financial data disclosure.
As we outlined in our last blog post, sustainability protocols come in three types: industry-specific, industry-agnostic or a hybrid of the two. Some have more emphasis on financial impacts of sustainability performance while others focus on social and environmental indicators. Each type offers advantages, with a unifying disadvantage that neither can offer the depth of insight nor specificity desired by all stakeholders. Increasingly, it is left to organizations to choose (or not choose) which standards or surveys to embrace.
Choosing battles, picking low-hanging fruit
Given the lack of a comprehensive reporting standard in the near term, companies and organizations should determine which audience (investors, government, consumers) are most important to them and which reports matter most to these audiences. They should also identify the data and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) most meaningful to their industry and stakeholders and communicate those as appropriate, whether through participation in a sustainability survey or their own annual report.
Shifting to integrated reporting
The “integrated report” is an almost mythological concept touted as the end goal of sustainability disclosure. It refers to the full integration of both business and sustainability performance into a single report communicating the ability of a company or organization to maintain or build real and shared value over time.
The rise of the integrated report in today’s vernacular has been furthered by industry groups like the Sustainability Accounting and Standards Board (SASB), who is currently undertaking an initiative to standardize the material issues and associated metrics that companies should be addressing on a sector by sector basis.
Organizations like BSR advocate a three-report, “blended materiality” approach where an integrated report provides the “overall” picture and financial and sustainability reports provide details to specific stakeholders. Ideally, all three reports would have the same format, performance overview and approval process, making them complementary rather than redundant.
But before integrated reporting achieves widespread adoption, sustainability professionals need to first tackle the headaches of today’s reporting lifecycle.
Developing a future solution, today
Companies and organizations need a single software solution where they can enter and view all their data, both quantitative and qualitative, easily complete reports, and share results with stakeholders at their discretion. This tool would allow sustainability managers to spend less time struggling through the process of disclosure and give them more time implementing initiatives and partnerships that can improve performance.
Motivated by these pain points, Measurabl is currently working to bring this solution to life and we are excited about our progress to date. Our mission of making sustainability something every organization can do regardless of size, resources or expertise is coming closer to reality.