Advancing sustainability reporting and disclosure
For more than two decades, ERM has been at the leading edge in helping advance public sustainability reporting and disclosure.
Investors, governments, communities, employees and other stakeholders increasingly demand greater transparency regarding nonfinancial performance. Publicly disclosing sustainability challenges, risks and opportunities provides organizations with a framework for engaging with key stakeholders while enhancing credibility, reputation and ultimately shareholder value.
In 2015, thousands of organizations published sustainability reports. Approximately 80 percent of the S&P 500 published a sustainability report, up from 20 percent in 2011, according to the Governance and Accountability Institute. Research conducted for publication of the 2016 Carrots and Sticks report identified more than 380 sustainability reporting instruments in over 60 countries, with 65 percent of these classified as mandatory.
Improving reporting for our clients
We are recognized experts in reporting standards, frameworks and expectations, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Sustainable Accounting Standards Board (SASB), Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI), industry-specific guidelines and many others.
ERM works with clients to identify the key audiences for reporting and their areas of interest and expectations. We help clients determine the content to include in their reports through materiality assessments and the provision of benchmarking of competitor and best-in-class reports. We review information gaps and work closely with our clients to gather, assess and manage data and additional information and conduct interviews with internal and external stakeholders. Our team is able to draft, edit and finalize the report text in partnership with the client. We work closely with independent graphic design agencies or the client's own design team to ensure both printed and web-based reports and related communications pieces meet expectations. Following publication, ERM assists clients in obtaining and analyzing stakeholder feedback on the company's report. We help clients use the reporting process to drive positive change in policies, goals, programs and performance.
ERM Certification and Verification Services (ERM CVS) provides report assurance services, covering verification of specified data through to full report assurance. This independent review adds value externally, as well as internally, helping to ensure that strategic and operational management decisions are based on reliable data. External stakeholders seek trustworthy information on sustainability performance in a range of areas, from carbon emissions to community engagement. ERM CVS focuses on enhancing the reporting processes and the reliability of the data, and adding credibility to publicly available information. To this end, ERM CVS provides an independent and external assurance service that can also be combined with other ERM CVS services, such as GHG verification and ISO 14001 certification.
Advancing GRI guidelines
We continue to work with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) around its G4 Guidelines, one of the most widely used reporting standards. The GRI Guidelines enable organizations to measure, understand and communicate their sustainability-related impacts, opportunities and performance. We have supported GRI in several ways in our role as a GRI GOLD Community member (formerly Organizational Stakeholder). During FY16, an ERM Technical Director served on the Global Standards Reporting Board, which was established to support the transition to the GRI Reporting Standard that is currently taking place. Several ERM experts have presented sessions on GRI reporting and assurance at numerous conferences and webinars. Most recently, we presented a Master Class at the 2016 GRI Conference in Amsterdam that explored the politics, norms and expectations of organizations to help sustainability professionals operate within difficult circumstances. As a GRI-certified training partner in the United States, ERM offers public and private courses designed for individuals and organizations interested in a deeper understanding of GRI, sustainability and sustainability reporting. We also have been involved in GRI commissioned studies in various regions of the world.
In October 2015, ERM published a study on the value of the sustainability reporting process and the GRI G4 guidelines, based on a survey of a wide range of organizations, industries and those experienced in reporting. ERM's 2015 Corporate Responsibility Reporting Survey found that as the reporting landscape continues to evolve, companies are finding new ways to leverage corporate responsibility reporting to benefit their business and advance their sustainability programs. Most strikingly, respondents felt that the process used to produce the report was as valuable, if not more valuable, than publishing the report itself. At the same time, many respondents indicated that there are still ample opportunities to increase the value extracted from the reporting process and to make the overall process more efficient. Download ERM's full report on our 2015 Corporate Responsibility Reporting Survey.
Of particular note, ERM CVS conducted third-party assurance of GRI's own 2015 G4 sustainability report, the first time GRI has undergone formal external assurance.
Supporting WBCSD reporting initiatives
We have been involved with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in two projects aimed at improving the quality and value of sustainability reporting. ERM and ERM CVS were key contributors to the publication entitled Assurance: Generating value from external assurance of sustainability reporting. The paper is the result of the WBCSD Redefining Value Assurance Project, which brought together 11 reporting companies, eight assurance providers and 11 non-WBCSD members, including assurance standards setters, universities and professional bodies, and three observer organizations. ERM and ERM CVS played a key role in the core working group that drafted and developed the report. The project has generated interest among WBCSD members by explaining how external assurance can add value to their sustainability efforts and enhance their reporting.
In addition, ERM joined the WBCSD working group supporting the Reporting Exchange, a freely available, multilingual, global sustainability reporting knowledge platform. This pioneering platform will enable business to make sense of the reporting requirements or guidance relevant to them at the national, regional and international level. Using a crowdsourcing model to enable timely updating of information, the Reporting Exchange will identify the reporting regulations, rules, policies, practices, initiatives, standards, codes and guidance that make up the reporting landscape as it evolves over time. This platform will provide much needed clarification to business. It will also be a useful tool for regulators, investors, academics, nongovernmental organizations and civil society, as well as for organizations developing reporting initiatives. The Reporting Exchange platform will be available in open beta format at the end of 2016 to enable public users to share their feedback, and it is planned for global release in mid-2017.