When it comes to sustainability reporting, corporate accounting departments are confronted with a plethora of choices; a huge number of systems that could be used to report a company’s environmental, social and governance credentials. This perhaps explains why one key finding from a recent research project was a call for “a single all-encompassing framework”.
It wasn’t the only finding. Undertaken by the Better Alignment Project, a working group established by the Corporate Reporting Dialogue (CRD), the research also found that connections between different reporting frameworks are poorly communicated to users, while the frameworks also differ in the language and taxonomy they use.
Participants in a series of roundtables told researchers that there was also confusion between frameworks over definitions of materiality. Others worried that much of the current activity on corporate reporting is focused on large, listed companies while offering little focus on the needs of SMEs. There was also a call for more attention to sector-specific reporting.
This all provides food for thought for the alignment project, which brought together the providers of five different reporting systems—the CDP, the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB), the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)—to see how they could work together to harmonise their own reporting systems with the climate-related disclosure guidelines published in 2017 by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), a project of the G20’s Financial Stability Board.
The Better Alignment Project seeks to uncover how the systems overlap—where they are essentially asking for disclosure of the same information—and how it will help fulfil the demands of TCFD reporting. They also aim to highlight the gaps that need filling.
Not all reporting systems are the same. They may differ on the information they require disclosed, the definitions they use, the measures that are valid and, as already mentioned, the language they use to mean much the same thing. It’s enough to cause your average corporate reporting specialist to throw it all in and seek a new career.
It’s important that the preparers of company reports have form of alignment because it will only make it easier to make disclosures relevant to the planet’s biggest issue: climate change. Indeed, companies are under growing pressure to comply with TCFD’s reporting requirements to disclose their climate-related risks and opportunities.
A recent TCFD status report encouraged companies to speed up the pace at which its guidelines are implemented. According to the report: “Given the urgent and unprecedented changes needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the Task Force is concerned that not enough companies are disclosing information about their climate-related risks and opportunities.”
Will framework providers get together to form a single organisation delivering an “all encompassing” one-stop shop for sustainability reporting? That’s unlikely any time soon, despite requests. Current systems are designed to serve different audiences in different jurisdictions with different objectives. Pulling them together would be a much bigger job than aiming for better alignment.
Wim Bartels, programme lead at the CRD, told a briefing this week that though informal conversations had included talk of a single organisation with a single reporting framework, the obstacles were too high.
“It’s easy to say that. It’s very difficult to do it,” he said.
In September the CRD will produce a report that will include a map laying out where the five reporting frameworks help with TCFD reporting, and where there are gaps. Bartels foreshadowed publication by saying there was less “misalignment” than many in the market believe. That at least should provide some aid to corporate reporting departments.