International Corporate Sustainability Report
25 November 2004 at 12:11 pm
Company boards are failing to identify key social and environmental risks but major progress has been reported by international survey of top corporate sustainability reports.
Boards are failing to disclose to financial investors how environmental and social issues pose strategic risks and opportunities for their businesses, according to an international review of corporate sustainability reports by SustainAbility, the United Nations Environment Program and Standard &
Risk & Opportunity: Best Practice in Non-Financial Reporting finds that only three reports of the Top 50 companies assess the balance sheet implications of key environmental and social risks, despite this information being increasingly important to analysts, investors, lenders, insurers and re-insurers.
The survey is SustainAbility and UNEP’s sixth international review of corporate environmental and sustainability reports. But the 2004 survey is the first in partnership with Standard & Poor’s – and the first to explore the link between credit ratings and the quality of companies’ governance and disclosure of non-financial risks.
Over 350 reports were submitted and 50 were selected by an international
independent expert committee for a full analysis.
The top three overall are Co-operative Financial Services (UK), Novo Nordisk (Denmark) and BP (UK).
Over half of the Top 50 reports are new to the survey and overall it found that there has been a significant rise in sustainability reporting quality since 2002.
SustainAbility Chairman John Elkington says corporate governance is the hottest topic but recent scandals have meant most boards are focused on financial integrity issues – to the detriment of the bigger picture of non-financial risks and opportunities.
Elkington says the good news is that the overall quality of non-financial reporting has improved dramatically since the first benchmark survey, in 1994.
He says now the challenge is to ensure leading companies integrate their financial and non-financial accounting and reporting in ways that help analysts and rating agencies do their job properly.
The report says most current attempts are resulting in ‘Frankenstein’s Monsters’, stitched together from ill-matched parts, but 2005 will see
leadership companies setting new standards.
It found that 47 out of the 50 top reporters are users of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Guidelines.
Key findings of the 2004 survey include:
— Leading companies have made significant improvements in the quality of their non-financial reporting since 2002.
— Corporate governance is an area where the quality of coverage has jumped strikingly. But it seems that boards do not yet grasp the evolving links between corporate governance and the triple bottom line agenda.
— With the growing focus on corporate governance, the spotlight is often on compliance and on financial integrity, rather than on the ‘beyond compliance’ agenda — including wider ethical, social and environmental issues.
— The overwhelming majority of Top 50 companies also have investment grade credit ratings. While it would be inappropriate to suggest causation here, it is striking that enhanced transparency and disclosure via sustainability reporting is so clearly linked to companies that display strong levels of credit quality, a widely-recognised indicator of operating and financial stability.
— Even the best reports suggest continuing, fundamental weaknesses in companies’ governance and, most particularly, in their ability to identify, assess and manage priority non-financial issues.
The 2004 results show a number of striking shifts in the top 50 companies.
Record numbers of companies now score above 50% in the rating,
highlighting a substantial improvement in the overall quality of the reports
benchmarked — and indicating that reporting has stepped up a gear in
For the first time there is one company, Co-operative Financial Services, passing the 70% mark on our benchmark, with other companies — Novo Nordisk, BP, British American Tobacco, BT, BAA, Rabobank, Rio Tinto, and Shell — following very close behind.
SustainAbility is a strategy consultancy and independent think-tank specialising in business risks and market opportunities of corporate responsibility and sustainable development.
If you would like an electronic copy of the report Risk & Opportunity: Best Practice in Non-Financial Reporting send an email with the title in the subject line to firstname.lastname@example.org.