THE STATE OF PLAY IN SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING IN THE EUROPEAN UNION EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

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1 THE STATE OF PLAY IN SUSTAINABILITY REPORTING IN THE EUROPEAN UNION EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Katelijne van Wensen MSc (CREM), Wijnand Brer MSc (CREM), Jhanna Klein MSc (adelphi), Jutta Knpf PhD (adelphi) This study is part f a services cntract fr the Eurpean Cmmissin t supprt the High Level Grup n Crprate Scial Respnsibility. The prject was led by adelphi with supprt frm CREM, PPRC, SOMO and ICLEI.

2 The State f Play in Sustainability Reprting in the Eurpean Unin Executive Summary 2 Intrductin Since the 1990s, the number f cmpanies disclsing infrmatin n their envirnmental, scial and gvernance (ESG) perfrmance has grwn significantly. Fr many large multinatinal cmpanies (MNEs) sustainability reprting has becme a mainstream phenmenn, while fr many small and medium-sized cmpanies (SMEs) reprting is still a challenge. Expectatins f reader grups and the infrmatin prvided by reprting rganisatins d nt always match, even thugh the quality f sustainability reprts imprves and web-based reprting ffers pprtunities t tailr the infrmatin t the reader. The State f Play in Sustainability Reprting in the Eurpean Unin 1 prvides a general verview f the current practices and trends in sustainability reprting in EU Member States. The study examines: What reprting activities cmpanies perfrm in general, and which challenges reprting rganisatins and readers f sustainability reprts face. T what extent cmpanies reprting practices and readers needs match with each ther. This match and mismatch between the tw perspectives is limited t the different grups f readers in general, t what they expect frm the reprts, and t what cmpanies generally prvide and aim fr. Which public plicy instruments are available t gvernments, t regulate r stimulate the uptake and quality f sustainability reprts, and what the effects f these instruments are. The general term used in this study is sustainability reprting, which means the prvisin f envirnmental, scial and gvernance infrmatin within dcuments, such as annual reprts and sustainability reprts (hard-cpy r web-based, e.g. dwnladable in PDF-frmat). The infrmatin prvided in the study can be used by the Eurpean Cmmissin, individual Member States and ther stakehlders, t frmulate their wn recmmendatins, and t take further steps t ptimize the rle f sustainability reprting in sciety. Main Develpments in Sustainability Reprting Over the last decade, the fllwing trends and develpments in sustainability reprting have becme visible: Cmpanies use a wide variety f cmmunicatin instruments, tls and channels t reach the respective audiences fr their sustainability reprting. Reprting is grwing in numbers (arund 4,000 reprts are registered glbally and 2,000 in Eurpe), but is still quite limited cmpared t the ttal number f cmpanies (arund 82,000 MNEs and many mre SMEs wrldwide). There is a grwing use f reprting schemes like the G3 Guidelines f the Glbal Reprting Initiative (GRI), and the Cmmunicatin n Prgress (COP) prescribed by 1 This study has been undertaken fr DG Emplyment, Scial Affairs and Inclusin f the Eurpean Unin and was executed under the service cntract t Supprt the Wrk f the Crprate Scial Respnsibility (CSR) High-Level Grup f Member States Representatives [Cntract Ref. N. VC/2009/0532].

3 The State f Play in Sustainability Reprting in the Eurpean Unin Executive Summary 3 the United Natins Glbal Cmpact (UNGC), as well as f nline cmmunicatin tls and web-based applicatins, such as XBRL (extensible Business Reprting Language), fr a better exchange and cmparability f business data. In the debate n the future f reprting, integrated reprting is ne f the majr tpics. There is an increasing cperatin between the different rganisatins invlved in sustainability reprting. Nearly all f the varius platfrms and rganisatins prmting sustainability reprting have develped partnerships with the GRI. This includes the UN Glbal Cmpact, AccuntAbility, OECD, UNEP, the Carbn Disclsure Prject and many gvernments and sectr rganisatins. Lking at the key tpics that cmpanies reprt n, it shws that disclsure f carbn emissins has becme quite cmmn, while reprting n human rights is relatively new, but f grwing imprtance. Online reprting is becming cmmn practice, ffering an pprtunity t prvide additinal infrmatin, t tailr infrmatin t the target grup and t enable stakehlder feedback. External verificatin is grwing, as is stakehlder engagement and integrated reprting. Reprting rankings, awards and schemes may cnstitute an interesting stimulus t the uptake f sustainability reprting and the quality f sustainability reprts. Mst stakehlders regard reprting schemes as a valuable tl t imprve the quality f reprting and t imprve cmparability between cmpanies. GRI is regarded as the best available and a gd starting pint. Hwever, sme argue that the GRI Guidelines are t cmplicated fr SMEs. Als the prvisin f a UNGC COP is a new glbal trend. The use f sectr supplements is regarded by many interviewees as a psitive develpment, while thers indicate that reprts may becme t specialised. Furthermre, sme argue that using ne reprting scheme may result in a tick-bx exercise, leaving t much rm fr green-washing. The Cmpanies Perspective n Sustainability Reprting With regard t the cmpanies perspective n sustainability reprting the main cnclusins can be drawn cncerning their mtivatins t reprt r nt t reprt, and their challenges: Mtivatins t reprt vary amng cmpanies. Ethical cnsideratins, reputatin and brand value have becme mre imprtant, while the relevance f ecnmic cnsideratins has decreased. Reputatin as a mtivatin fr sustainability reprting is especially imprtant fr MNEs, due t ptentially large envirnmental and scial impacts and the invlvement in internatinal supply chains where labur issues, envirnmental issues and human rights issues play an imprtant rle. Reasns fr cmpanies nt t reprt in mst cases relate t the fact that they d nt expect much benefit frm reprting. Reasns fr SMEs nt t reprt are mainly cnnected t the assciated csts f reprting. On the ther hand, experience frm supprting SMEs shws that when they are given the right supprt and tls, prgress is pssible.

4 The State f Play in Sustainability Reprting in the Eurpean Unin Executive Summary 4 Challenges with regard t reprting include the selectin f tpics t reprt n, the sensitivity f infrmatin and the (perceived) csts f data cllectin. Key challenges t reprting cmpanies are related t the reprting bundaries and t issues related t the cntent ( materiality, stakehlder inclusiveness, sustainability cntext and cmpleteness ), and t the quality ( balance, cmparability, accuracy, timeliness and clarity ) f the reprt. These issues are described in the reprting principles f the GRI G3 Guidelines, which cnstitute an imprtant reference fr decisins n the cntent f reprts. Anther imprtant reference is the UNGC (fr prducing a COP), in which the 10 UNGC Principles and UN Gals can be used t define cntent. The Readers Perspective n Sustainability Reprting With regard t the readers, the main findings f their perspective n sustainability reprting are that: T them, the key indicatrs f a quality reprt, are transparency, cmpleteness and balance. Cmpanies shuld prvide infrmatin with a high degree f credibility and relevance. Many stakehlders are n lnger satisfied with reactive crprate respnses t the wrld s prblems. With cnsiderable media cverage f envirnmental and scial issues, cmpanies have an pprtunity t align their brands with psitive values and earn credit fr their imprved perfrmance. Quality reprting als requires a cntext fr the infrmatin presented, allwing cmparisns between different prducts and actrs. Readers frm business, civil sciety and ther grups tend t share the same pinins regarding the desired cntents and quality f the reprts. The main differences lie in hw the varius reader categries use the reprts.. Readers tend t require the fllwing infrmatin t be part f such reprts: A link between sustainability strategy and verall business strategy and planning. Cmmitment t sustainability. Actins taken t address sustainability issues shwing what actual measures are being taken by the cmpany regarding sustainability impacts in practical terms. Innvative thinking t slve sustainability challenges.

5 The State f Play in Sustainability Reprting in the Eurpean Unin Executive Summary 5 Frm the interviews, it can be learned that, fr example: Very different types f readers agree with the view that reprts ften lack materiality, are ften incmplete and are smetimes selective in their cntent. They argue that in many cases the balance between gd and bad news ften turn t the side f gd news, favuring the psitive image f a cmpany. Imprtant differences were bserved by mst f the peple interviewed between the reprting quality f large cmpanies and SMEs. One explanatin fr this culd be that large cmpanies may have a prfessinal divisin dealing with reprting, while SMEs ften lack the time and financial resurces t reprt. Matching the Cmpanies and Readers Perspective The cmpanies and readers interviewed agreed n several imprtant characteristics f sustainability reprting, crrespnding t infrmatin fund in recent literature: Reprting is nt a gal in itself, but is meant t imprve a cmpany s sustainability perfrmance. Regulatin f the develpment f sustainability reprts, the cntent f the reprts and the verificatin f these reprts (assurance) culd ffer imprtant benefits when it cmes t quality, credibility and cmparability f reprting. Integrated reprting cnstitutes a prmising way f further increasing the status f nn-financial infrmatin. The relevance f a strnger stakehlder engagement in the reprting prcess. Hwever, expectatins f readers are nt always being met, which might be the result f real r perceived limitatins t sustainability reprting: Many readers are still sceptical abut the credibility f sustainability reprts. They are still under the impressin that there is an imbalance in the infrmatin presented (between success stries and issues a cmpany still needs t imprve n). They feel that the issues, which are f imprtance t them, are nt adequately cvered. Sme (ptential) reader grups have nt yet been adequately reached with current sustainability reprts. The key challenge fr reprting cmpanies then, is t put tgether a sustainability reprt that reflects all issues f imprtance bth t the enterprise and its stakehlders, and that is still easy t read fr the wide variety f readers with very different needs and interests. A cmpany has t address varius external and internal stakehlders at the same time. The cmpany s chice f target grups may depend n the sectr, the mtivatin fr reprting, the interests f the cmpany, and its strategic fcus.

6 The State f Play in Sustainability Reprting in the Eurpean Unin Executive Summary 6 The infrmatin n the cmpanies and readers perspective with regard t sustainability reprting, shws that there is still rm fr imprvement n bth the cntent and quality f reprting. EU Gvernments Rle in Sustainability Reprting The EU and its Member States are very active regarding sustainability reprting and public plicy instruments n sustainability reprting, which vary widely, in type, fcus and actrs invlved. Infrmatin n the effect and impact n reprting practices f public plicy instruments is limited, hwever, sme cnclusins can be drawn: Gvernments are increasingly assessing the effects f their plicy instruments, shwing that public plicies have cntributed t a strnger uptake f sustainability reprting (recent studies in Denmark and Sweden). At the same time, many cmpanies had already been reprting befre legislatin was intrduced. In the case f the UK fr example, apart frm lbbying and media attentin, the driving frces f reprting practices were the financial cmmunities, business players and NGOs, and the fact that many reprting experts are based in the UK. Individual natinal framewrks and legislatin may lead t different schemes and bligatins. Especially in the case f publishing lcal reprts, as well as a glbal reprt that summarizes infrmatin frm the lcal level, differing disclsure requirements becme prblematic. Tls fr gvernments, which are already effectively being used, and which can be used mre t ptimize sustainability reprting, are, fr example: Creating instruments t benchmark and recgnize gd perfrmance. Setting an example by prducing a sustainability reprt in public agencies. Prmting awareness f the benefits f reprting within gvernment. Actively participating in discussins n the future f reprting. Assisting develping cuntries in data-cllectin technlgies. Requiring state-wned cmpanies t publish sustainability reprts. Playing a rle against fragmentatin f sustainability reprting regulatins. Fr many large multinatinal cmpanies, sustainability reprting has becme a mainstream phenmenn. Als EU gvernments are very active regarding sustainability reprting. Hwever, the quantity f sustainability reprts is still very small cmpared t the large number f MNEs in the EU. Furthermre, bth the quality f the reprts and the public plicy instruments n sustainability reprting still vary widely. In cperatin with cmpanies and rganisatins active in the field f (sustainability) reprting, gvernments may be able t further enhance the number f reprts and the quality f reprting substantially.

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