Over the past decades, many initiatives have started to focus on better disclosure by companies. One of the main sustainability reporting standards was developed by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an independent organization founded in the US in 1997 and now headquartered in Amsterdam. It lists 36 standards that companies should try to meet, ranging from its carbon footprint, waste and effect on biodiversity (E) to occupational health and safety, non-discrimination and local rights (S), and policies for anti-corruption, competitive practices and tax payments (G). GRI standards have now been adopted in 90 countries, though not all 36 items will be applicable on a case-by-case basis.
Other organizations offer more bespoke reporting standards and services for client members. These include the Carbon Disclosure Project, which encourages companies to calculate their environmental impact and has various tools to facilitate this. Of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) has a specific target, 12.6, which encourages companies “to adopt sustainable practices and sustainability reporting".
Many sustainability reports are compiled as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) documents issued under the guidelines outlined in the ISO 26000 of 2010 covering the basis requirements. Its key principles encompass corporate accountability, transparency and ethical behavior, and respect for stakeholder interests, the rule of law and human rights. They remain voluntary but have been widely adopted.
Companies are legally obliged, however, to produce an annual financial report detailing their revenues, profits and other performance metrics. Robeco has long argued that most ESG activities are financially material, in that they will influence the company’s overall success. One way to deliver such integrated perspective is for companies to apply integrated reporting to their annual report. The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), a global coalition of regulators, investors, companies, accountants and NGOs promotes integrated reporting to this end.
For long-time sustainable investors such as Robeco, sustainability reports can take many different forms. These range from an over-arching annual integrated Sustainability Report and ‘routine’ activities such as active ownership, engagement, voting and exclusions, to more bespoke policies for climate change, palm oil and diversity. All should be made publicly accessible through the investor’s main website and open to challenge if necessary.Exclusions, Active ownership, Engagement, Voting, ESG.