More meaningful corporate sustainability reporting required

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The Banker 12/09/2023

The Banker

"(...) Corporate reporting on sustainability matters is grossly inadequate. Despite clarifications by global accounting and auditing bodies, discussion and quantification of financially material sustainability risks and opportunities remain largely absent from statutory financial reporting. And, owing to the lack of legally binding standards pertaining to non-financial reporting, companies selectively disclose information in sustainability reports to weave self-serving narratives that too often bear little relationship to their actual impacts.

Users of these statements – from providers of conscious or not-so-conscious capital, to non-governmental organisations promoting environmental or human rights protection – lament the lack of relevant and reliable data to support their investment and/or engagement activities.

The realisation that climate change could present financial risks to the economy and that sustainability considerations were becoming an integral part of investment management has steered the activity of regulators and standard setters towards enhancing climate and other sustainability disclosures by and for investors (...).

 (...) On July 31 2023, the European Commission adopted the Delegated Act, laying out the first set of European Sustainability Reporting Standards under the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.

The CSRD succeeds the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, which mandated fewer than 12,000 EU entities to publish non-financial statements that required neither standardisation nor audit. It imposes sustainability reporting standards and assurance upon nearly 50,000 companies – EU-listed companies excluding micro-enterprises; large companies whether European or subsidiaries of non-EU groups; as well as insurers and credit institutions.

Materiality issues

The CSRD upholds the “double materiality” principle that has been the hallmark of the original EU approach to sustainability reporting since the NFRD. Under the approach, entities are required to report not only how environmental and social issues create material financial risks and opportunities for them (financial materiality lens), but also how their activities and value chains affect people and the environment (impact materiality lens).

Crucially, the ESRS requires an entity to disclose the process it applies to identify its sustainability impacts, risks and opportunities and assess their materiality. This materiality assessment promotes genuine integration of sustainability considerations into strategic management and guards against companies resorting to a tick-box approach to disclosure. 

However, contrary to the spirit and letter of the CSRD, and to draft rules developed with multi-stakeholder support by the commission’s technical advisers, the ESRS falls short of imposing mandatory disclosure of the core sustainability indicators that financial institutions require to comply with the extant EU sustainability regulation (...).

(...) While investors and other users of sustainability information have legitimate cause to be disappointed by the lawmakers’ backtracking on mandatory disclosures, their commitment and efforts to promote the adoption of guardrails for sustainability reporting and assurance can still pave the way for the eventual fulfilment of their needs (...).

Frédéric Ducoulombier is director of the EDHEC-Risk Climate Impact Institute


Copyright The Banker


More meaningful corporate sustainability reporting required, 12/09/2023