PUTTING GOOD DEEDS ON PAPER

by Karthik Subburaman, ECCI Country Manager

Corporate Sustainability and the initiatives around such have come to mean many things to organizations today – ranging from ‘sign of excellence, leadership & transparency’ to mere ‘buzzword to put out there for compliance’. A 2008 EIU survey in Asia reveals that sustainability would be the most critical to company strategy in the next 3 years. Irrespective of companies’ stand on this scale, those implementing sustainable practices & initiatives have found the process of sustainability reporting (SR) a truly rewarding process.

Countries (in SE Asia) such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand lead the race in terms of corporate sustainability over the last 5 years – the common manifestation being generation of a Sustainability Report! Often dubbed as the ‘Corporate Communication of Commitment to Sustainability’. And fittingly these companies and countries have shown tremendous growth in operational performance.

Sustainability reporting while is still in great demand, now there is integrated reporting. It has been primely set up to be the way companies report their annual financial and sustainability information. Integrated reporting, occasionally called connected reporting, aims to provide a consolidated report that conveys to stakeholders, how the company impacts on the environment and community in which it operates, and how the environment and community impact the company’s business.

It’s succinctly defined in a recent publication on ‘Integrated Reporting’ that… reporting on CSR should be a part of mainstream reporting, as a logical outcome of the integration into daily business. It seems time for a transformation in corporate reporting: from a focus on financial information to a concept where all types of relevant information for assessing and evaluating a company’s quality, performance, value and impact are reported in a comprehensive way.”

As of today, only 3% of the companies on the Global Fortune 250 list report on an integrated basis, according to KPMG. But things are sure to change.

Frameworks

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a network-based organization that pioneered the world’s most widely used sustainability reporting framework. GRI is committed to the Framework’s continuous improvement and application worldwide. GRI’s core goals include the mainstreaming of disclosure on environmental, social and governance performance.

The GRI is strongly looking at Integrated Reporting. It proposes that ESG reporting and financial reporting need to converge over the coming decade, and advocates for a standard for integrated reporting to be defined, tested and adopted by 2020. The GRI is a member of the International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC).

In August 2010, at the launch of the IIRC, the GRI said “As the global leader in the field of non-financial reporting guidance, the GRI co-leads the development of this (integrated reporting) framework. GRI’s Guidelines will shape the ESG content for the integrated reporting architecture developed by the IIRC. The next generation of GRI’s Guidelines, G4, will boost the robustness of the integrated reporting framework, better enabling the analysis and assurance of integrated reports. GRI also represents a large network and a wide range of stakeholders, bringing expertise and thought leadership to the IIRC, enhancing the development of an integrated reporting framework.”

There is a growing movement across the globe calling for this type of reporting, with one of the critical reasons / factors being the fact that it drives good corporate governance.

The Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability Project has developed a connected reporting framework. Moves are afoot to set up an International Integrated Reporting Committee (IIRC). This will be a collaboration of key stakeholders in reporting with representation from around the world and from the accounting profession, standard-setters, business, investors and inter-governmental organizations. The aim of the Committee will be to create international standards on integrated reporting.

Key Factors / Benefits of Integrated Reporting

The rise of the integrated report has all sorts of interesting implications. A single report raises the issue for auditors of combined assurance, covering both financial and non-financial information. Sustainability consultants should get a lot busier as companies improve – or create – their sustainability strategies, ensure that sustainable practices are embedded into the business, and reporting systems spew out relevant and credible data.

Highlighting some of the key benefits, certainly must cover the following:

An Integrated Business Conduct

  1. Reaching broad-based stakeholders (with some caution to start with)
  2. Robust monitoring system and above all
  3. The right start for an integrated performance management system

While these are certainly enticing benefits for organizations, there are several key factors that they needs to consider before getting into integrated reporting successfully. It is best for organizations that are already in the process of generating sustainability reports to convert them into integrated reports and will certainly be the direction for the future for all organizations irrespective of size – to ensure and ascertain good corporate governance as well its rightful communication!

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