Investors have well realized the impact of environmental, social and governance issues on investment portfolios and are increasingly demanding for transparent disclosures from corporates. Consequently, corporates are now looking to attract investments by reporting on their ESG risks in an enhanced manner.
Corporates and asset managers are looking for disclosures that are:
- Data driven, forward-looking, timely and comprehensive information that shows how ESG issues are affecting the systemic risks and opportunities faced by companies.
- Uniform and comparable key performance indicators to analyse the ESG value of an investment portfolio, in a similar manner to financial performance.
- Report on the climate resilience of business strategies and how enterprises are acclimatizing to the climate transition.
A good place for companies to start the reporting process is by understanding the purpose of their disclosures and how it will add value to the organization. This is exactly where a sustainability framework is needed – A sustainability framework guides corporates in aligning their sustainability purpose, values and strategy while also helping them report the same in a simple manner that can be easily comprehended by investors. Such frameworks provide a good structure to disclosures, delivery of good quality information and help companies increase credibility with stakeholders.
There are a multitude of frameworks to choose from; some are broader in their scope i.e., they focus on disclosures relating to overall ESG issues while others are more limited in capacity i.e. only focus on climate-related themes or may apply to only a certain sector like the Global ESG Benchmark for Real Assets (GRESB) specifically for real assets. The wide spectrum of sustainability frameworks comes with its own challenges. It makes reporting a confusing task, as companies find it difficult to choose the best framework for their organization. However, knowing the key objective of each framework would allow companies to effectively determine which one suits them the best to report their sustainability performance and impacts.
In order to demystify the sustainability landscape, here is a summary of most commonly used sustainability frameworks.
|Framework||Focus||Purpose||Scoring||Who can Report||Timeframe/Deadline|
|CDP||Primarily GHG emissions, but has grown to address water and forestry issues as well.||CDP holds the largest repository of corporate GHG emissions and energy use data in the world and is backed by nearly 800 institutional investors representing more than $90 trillion in assets.
Its transparent scoring methodology helps respondents understand exactly what’s expected of them. CDP was regarded as the world’s most most credible sustainability rating in 2013.
|Companies receive two separate scores for Disclosure and Performance using a 100- point scale. CDP recognizes top scoring companies in the Carbon Disclosure Leadership Index [CDLI]||Public and private companies, cities, government agencies, NGO’s, supply chains.||Climate Change program Feb 1 – May 29
Supply Chain program April 1 – July 3.
Cities program: Jan 1 – Mar 31
Water and Forestry programs: Feb 1 to June 30.
|CDSB||Offers a framework for reporting environmental information with the same rigour as financial information.||The CDSB Framework for reporting environmental and climate change information is designed to help organisations prepare and present environmental information in mainstream reports for the benefit of investors. It allows investors to assess the relationship between specific environmental matters and the organization’s strategy, performance and prospects.||Focus is on integrating environmental information into mainstream reports. So no scoring system||Organisations including single companies or entities and corporate groups.||Anytime, but typically integrated into a company’s annual/sustainability report|
|GRESB||ESG performance of the commercial real estate sector only.
Include asset- and entity-level disclosures.
|Private and public institutional investors look to GRESB’s annual survey as the barometer of sustainability performance in the commercial real estate industry.
Its niche target audience allows it to give deeper and more accurate insights into industry performance and reveal “investment grade” results.
|Responses scored out of a possible 140.5 points distributed across two categories of data.
Heavy weighting placed on the implementation and asset-level performance.
|Commercial real estate owners, asset managers and developers.||April 1 – June 30|
|GRI||Corporate social responsibility with an equal weight on ESG factors.
Heavy on stakeholder engagement to determine materiality
|Announced as the official reporting standard of the UNGC, making it the default reporting framework for the compact’s associated companies. It is one of the most widely adopted and respected frameworks.||Focus is on transparency so no true scoring methodology; new guidelines require companies to choose from “Core” or “Complete” reporting||Public and private companies, cities, governments, agencies, hospitals, universities, NGOs||Anytime, but typically integrated into a company’s annual/sustainability report|
|SASB||US public companies only.
Industry-specific issues deemed material to investors.
|SASB’s standards enable comparison of peer performance and benchmarking within an industry.
Studies by Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank have shown the stock of companies who disclose on sustainability outperforms that of companies who do not.
|No scoring system.
Instead SASB is a standardized methodology for reporting sustainability performance through the Form 10-K.
|No one yet – they’ve just released their first sector reporting guidelines.||Integrated into quarterly 10-K fillings.|
|DJSI||Material industry specific criteria Different weights of economic, social and environmental indicators for different sectors.||Membership in DSJI is prestigious as it represents the top 10% of the 2500 largest companies in the S&P Global Broad Market Index.
The Corporate Sustainability Assessment [CSA] brings a sector-specific focus and need-to-know simplicity to disclosure for public companies.
This index was regarded as the world’s second most credible sustainability rating after CDP.
|Companies receive a total Sustainability Score is between 0-100 and are ranked against peers; includes a Media and Stakeholder Analysis; those scoring within the top 10% are included in index.||The 2500 largest public companies in the world.||April 3 – May 28|
Apart from the ones listed above, there are some additional frameworks that can also be used by companies in their reporting process –
Developed by the International Business Council in collaboration with Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC, this super-framework aggregates guidelines from many of the other frameworks in an attempt to standardise disclosures and align them with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The core and expanded set of “Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics and Disclosures” can be used by companies to align their mainstream reporting using standard and common ESG indicators that track their contributions towards the SDGs on a consistent basis. The metrics are deliberately based on existing standards, with the near-term objectives of accelerating convergence among the leading private standard-setters and bringing greater comparability and consistency to the reporting of ESG disclosures.
EU Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation
The Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) requires all financial market players in the EU to report ESG issues, with additional obligations for products that promote ESG characteristics or have long-term investment goals. The main objective of SFDR is to limit the danger of financial market participants engaging in greenwashing while also improving transparency, making it easier for end investors to comprehend how ESG and sustainability can be factored into their investments.
The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) develops consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers, and other stakeholders.
An integrated report (IR) aims to communicate information on how a company creates value over time with its strategy, governance, performance and prospects.
How to identify the most suitable sustainability frameworks for your organization?
While all of the previous section frameworks appear to vary significantly from one another, the fact is that they share the same aim of fostering stronger decision-making for companies and creating long-term value through transparency. Their shared mission indicates that they are not rivals, and they’re not mutually exclusive as well. However, one primary distinction between these frameworks is evident in the manner they describe materiality. Companies can determine the best option of framework by defining their most material (key) economic, environmental and social factors and relating them to their core business activities, objectives and strategies. Additionally, the choice of an acceptable framework is guided by the geographical location of the organization, its size and core business function, as well as the nature of the industry and maturity of its industry counterparts. In addition, the emergence of stringent laws and the strengthening of regulations on sustainable development have been key factors for the selection of a particular framework.
Each of these frameworks has its own unique objective, they share the same responsibility of helping and empowering organizations to navigate their greater impact. Implementing these frameworks will help private, social and government organizations interact more efficiently with their stakeholders and proactively disclose about how they bring value to community, the environment and the economy.
The shared purpose of all of these frameworks indicates that they are working more closely and not opposing. The collaboration of GRI and SASB, which was initiated at the Ceres Conference in San Francisco in 2017, has shown that both these frameworks are structured for distinct but complementary reasons. Notably, GRI focuses on the effect of the business activities on the environment and SASB on the impact of the world on the company. In addition, GRI and IIRC have recently partnered that will allow companies to use both frameworks to provide insights into generating value and accountability. The Corporate Reporting Dialog is also an initiative of the IIRC to put all these frameworks under the same structure as adapting to investor demands for coherence and standardisation between these frameworks. Yet the formation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has disrupted the universe of new innovations in sustainability by providing internationally agreed guidelines for all sustainability frameworks and a shared target. In particular, GRI cooperates with the UN Global Compact by Reporting on SDGs to inform organizations on the necessary reporting of SDGs.
In September 2020, five leading framework producers (CDP, CDSB, GRI, IIRC, and SASB) released a “Statement of Intent to Work Together Towards Comprehensive Corporate Reporting.” This group will be collaborating on an ongoing basis to make their frameworks more complementary and interoperable.