Long-term sustainability has taken a backseat to short-term profitability since the 1970s when the quarterly earnings report became standard operating procedure and the horizon of return was shortened to that period. Today, however, the global community is shouldering collectively the burden of looming and interconnected universal challenges, such as climate change, food security, humanitarian crises, and inequality. Because of their scale and complexity, these issues cannot be solved by one government or one company or even one industry or one sector. Instead, they demand a concerted effort that harnesses the best resources and talents of governments, NGOs, the private sector, and civil society.
Sustainability reporting—also known as corporate citizenship, CSR, ESG, or non-financial reporting—is widely considered a best practice of companies worldwide. The reporting process—and the resulting report—has become essential for strategic decision-making, enabling stronger long-term planning, stakeholder relations, and data-driven insights. With the growing popularity of disclosure, reports are becoming more sophisticated and useful for decision makers and leaders in the company, as well as for external audiences such as investors—who are using the information to make more accurate market evaluations.
Connecting business and social value is the goal of corporate citizenship work, and our member companies are continually finding creative and meaningful ways to integrate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) priorities into their companies’ day-to-day operations. According to the Center’s State of Corporate Citizenship 2017, integrating corporate citizenship creates business value for companies (see Figure A), so it’s no wonder executives plan to increase funding to these efforts in the coming years (see Figure B).
Today’s companies face substantial pressure from stakeholders—both internal and external—to monitor and report on a variety of environmental metrics. The benefits to the company are clear, as research shows that successfully managing a company’s environmental footprint can strengthen a firm’s financial performance[i], help them maintain that performance over the long term[ii], improve the company’s image,[iii] and identify and mitigate potential risks to operations.[iv]
The following is excerpted from The State of Corporate Citizenship 2017. To learn more about how you can prioritize the corporate citizenship issues that are most important to your stakeholders and business context, consider joining online from October 2-November 22, 2017 for our Materiality: Determining Priorities for Corporate Citizenship Strategy and Reporting course.
While the 2017 State of Corporate Citizenship shows a declining interest in formal stakeholder engagement among executive respondents, engaging with both internal and external audiences can be an important component of any corporate citizenship program. Through stakeholder engagement, companies can fully understand their social, environmental, and economic impacts, and prioritize the issues that are most important to both stakeholders and their business context.
Many companies, like CBRE—the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm—use the insights they gather from stakeholders to inform a materiality assessment, creating a roadmap for more strategic time and resource allocation, and more comprehensive reporting.
Last month, leaders from around the world gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco to build on the tremendous achievement of the 2015 Paris Agreement during COP22. There, they recommitted to a collaborative target-driven effort to limit climate change. During the conference, 11 countries—including Italy, Japan, Malaysia, and Pakistan—ratified the Paris Agreement, bringing the total number up to 111, far more than the 55 countries covering 55 percent of global GHG emissions required to elevate the accord to international law. The United States, Canada, Mexico, and Germany released strategies for radically cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury. The U.S. report outlines plans to meet an 80 percent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels by 2050, referencing an ambitious transition to a low-carbon energy system and innovative carbon storage and removal tactics.
In 2015, corporate citizenship took unprecedented steps forward. Multiple stakeholders—including business leaders—came together to commit to combating climate change and ensuring sustainable progress. The resulting United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent years of work and hope. With 17 objectives and 169 specific targets that address issues ranging from education and inequality to economic growth and the environment, the SDGs are encompassing.
Watch: 'We The People' for The Global Goals
Corporate citizenship is one of the most dynamic and exciting fields in business today – the urgency of global issues, the evolving expectations of stakeholders, and the improvements in our ability to track and communicate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) activity are trends that have created a vibrant, challenging, and ever-changing business ecosystem.
In response to this complex environment, companies have called on organizations like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) to create a uniform and structured way to report credibly on the ESG issues that matter to their company and its stakeholders. GRI has responded.
On October 19, GRI issued their updated Sustainability Reporting Standards after nearly a year spent collecting comments, suggestions, and feedback from a variety of stakeholders.
To keep up with global trends and challenges, GRI continually refines its guidelines, employing a multi-stakeholder approach to ensure that the reporting tool aligns the current needs of companies with the needs of society to better support meaningful change through corporate action. This year, GRI is transitioning G4—its most comprehensive and up-to-date reporting framework—from guidelines to standards, and has proposed three Universal Standards, as well as 35 Topic-Specific Standards. The organization is in the process of receiving feedback from global stakeholders on its draft Standards, having released them in April.
This spring, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) opened for comment a review of its Regulation S-K filing—inviting comment on both form and substance of disclosures for companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges. Among many other matters, the SEC consultation document sought comment on whether disclosure on sustainability and other matters related to social policy should be mandated.