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What is ESG reporting, and should you be doing it?
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Blog...What is ESG reporting, and should you be doing it?

What is ESG reporting, and should you be doing it?

Business
ESG
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👉 In this article, we’ll delve into what ESG reporting requires, why it’s important for businesses, and what benefits it can bring.
Business
2024-06-12T00:00:00.000Z
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ESG reporting is a topic that's gaining a lot of attention lately. But what does ESG stand for, and why are companies focusing on these metrics?

ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. It’s more than just a buzzword; it’s a strategic approach aimed at reducing negative impacts while enhancing positive contributions to our planet, society, and corporate governance.

Today, ESG is crucial as we face significant environmental challenges like climate change and recognise the importance of social issues such as inequality and human rights. Companies with strong ESG practices are not only better positioned for future success but also contribute to a more sustainable and equitable world.

👉 In this article, we'll explore what ESG reporting entails, its importance in modern society, and the benefits it offers to businesses.

What is ESG reporting?

ESG reporting refers to the process by which companies disclose information related to their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices. This type of reporting provides stakeholders with insights into a company's efforts to operate sustainably, ethically, and responsibly.

Environmental reporting focuses on a company's impact on the planet, including carbon emissions, energy usage, and waste management. Social reporting covers how a company manages relationships with employees, suppliers, customers, and communities, addressing labor practices, diversity, and human rights issues. Governance reporting involves transparency in leadership, executive pay, audits, internal controls, and shareholder rights.

By compiling and disclosing this information, companies can demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development and ethical practices, thereby building trust with investors, customers, and other stakeholders.

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ESG reporting criteria: what's included?

ESG reporting encompasses three key pillars: environmental, social, and governance performance. Each category includes various factors that a company may choose to report on, depending on its industry and regulatory requirements.

Environmental: The environmental aspect evaluates how a company’s operations impact the planet. Metrics might include carbon emissions, water usage, waste management, and opportunities in clean technology.

Social: The social dimension focuses on the company’s impact on people and communities, covering areas such as labor practices, human rights, and community engagement.

Governance: Governance assesses how a company is managed, emphasising transparency, ethical behaviour, and compliance. Metrics can include board diversity, executive compensation, and anti-corruption measures.

Examples of ESG factors within each category include:

What's the difference between ESG and CSR?

ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) share similarities but serve different purposes. CSR involves companies taking responsibility for their social and environmental impacts, often through initiatives like ethical sourcing and philanthropic investing. Historically, this concept can be traced back to philanthropists like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller.

ESG is an evolution of CSR. While CSR focuses on accountability and setting ethical objectives, ESG provides a framework to measure and report on these efforts. ESG criteria quantify and disclose CSR initiatives, offering transparency that aids customers, investors, employees, and potential candidates in making informed decisions.

For example, a tech company might use CSR to commit to reducing its carbon footprint and supporting local communities. ESG reporting would then provide specific metrics, such as a 30% reduction in carbon emissions and a $250,000 donation to local charities, to quantify these commitments and demonstrate progress.

👉 CSR sets the intentions and ensures accountability, while ESG offers a structured way to assess and measure the success of these efforts.

ESG reporting standards

With over 600 ESG frameworks globally, companies often find it challenging to determine which ones to follow. This complexity is exacerbated by varying stakeholder demands and the lack of a standardised reporting format, which can lead to inconsistencies. For example, Volkswagen and Boohoo scored highly on their ESG reports before their respective scandals involving emissions and labor practices.

This fragmented landscape complicates ESG reporting for companies and hinders reliable data comparison for consumers and investors. This has led to calls for global standardisation of ESG reporting.

Some sectors have responded to these criticisms by creating standardised ESG reporting frameworks. For example, the private equity sector’s ESG Data Convergence Initiative aims to standardise ESG metrics and enable comparative reporting for all stakeholders. However, this framework is voluntary, and private equity firms still face diverse ESG reporting requirements beyond its scope.

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ESG reporting frameworks

To navigate the complexities of ESG reporting, many companies adopt well-recognised global standards and frameworks. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): The GRI provides comprehensive guidelines for sustainability reporting, covering economic, environmental, and social impacts. It is widely used by organisations to report on a broad range of sustainability issues and offers a modular framework that can be tailored to different sectors and topics.
  • Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB): SASB offers industry-specific standards for reporting financially material ESG information to investors. Its standards are designed to help businesses identify and communicate sustainability information that is most relevant to financial performance.
  • Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD): The TCFD focuses on climate-related financial risks and opportunities. It provides recommendations for effective climate-related disclosures that can help investors, lenders, and insurance underwriters make informed financial decisions.
  • Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP): CDP operates a global disclosure system for companies to manage their environmental impacts. Companies report on climate change, water security, and deforestation, with the data used by investors, companies, and cities to drive sustainable practices.
  • International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC): IIRC promotes integrated reporting, which combines financial and non-financial information to provide a holistic view of an organisation’s strategy, governance, performance, and prospects. The framework aims to improve the quality of information available to providers of financial capital.
  • United Nations Global Compact (UNGC): The UNGC encourages businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies. Participants are required to report annually on their progress in implementing the UNGC’s ten principles, which cover human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.
  • EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) and Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD): In the EU, the NFRD requires large public-interest companies to disclose non-financial and diversity information. The CSRD, which expands and updates the NFRD, will require more detailed reporting on sustainability matters and is expected to apply to a broader range of companies.
  • Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR): In the UK, the SECR framework mandates that large companies report on their energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and related information. This regulation builds on previous reporting requirements and aims to enhance transparency and accountability.

By adopting these widely recognised frameworks, companies can improve the consistency and comparability of their ESG reports, making it easier for stakeholders to assess their sustainability performance. For more detailed information on these frameworks, explore our dedicated articles and resources.

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Is ESG reporting mandatory?

ESG reporting has gained traction as corporate sustainability becomes increasingly important. However, its mandatory nature varies by region and company type.

EU

In the EU, ESG reporting is mandatory for certain companies under the Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR) and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). The SFDR requires financial market participants to disclose sustainability risks and impacts, while the CSRD expands reporting obligations to include large companies and listed SMEs.

UK

In the UK, ESG reporting is mandated by the Companies Act 2006 and the Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) framework. Publicly listed companies and large private companies with over 500 employees and a turnover exceeding ÂŁ500 million must publish an annual strategic report. This report includes information on environmental impact, employee disclosures, social, community, and human rights issues, and related policies.

US

In the US, there is no federal mandate for ESG reporting. However, the SEC requires public companies to disclose material ESG-related risks and opportunities in their financial filings. Additionally, companies must report on environmental compliance costs and have a code of corporate behaviour and ethics.

Other regions

In other regions, ESG reporting requirements vary. Some countries have introduced mandatory reporting for certain sectors, while others encourage voluntary disclosure.

To stay updated on the evolving ESG reporting landscape, companies should regularly review local regulations and global standards. For more details on specific regulations, check out our dedicated articles on the SFDR, CSRD, and other ESG frameworks.

What are the benefits of ESG reporting?

Even if not legally required, disclosing your company's ESG impact offers numerous benefits.

Key benefits:

âś… Future regulation: Proactively reporting ESG metrics is a form of risk management as it prepares your company for future mandatory requirements, allowing time to develop effective strategies and integrate ESG into your operations ahead of time.

✅ Customers: With 78% of respondents favouring eco-friendly brands, ESG reporting can enhance sales and brand reputation. Consumers are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on a company’s ethical and environmental practices.

âś… Investors: ESG investing is booming, projected to represent 50% of US-managed investments by 2025. Transparent ESG data attracts socially conscious investors who seek to generate returns from responsible companies. Companies lacking ESG disclosures may be viewed as higher-risk and less trustworthy.

âś… Team: Attract and retain talent. 64% of millennials won't take a job if their employer doesn't have a strong CSR policy and 84% report that they would be more loyal to a company that contributes to social and environmental issues. Committing to ESG reporting helps align your company with the values of young workers, thereby improving engagement and motivation.

âś… Financial: Companies with strong ESG performance often see higher ROI, lower risk, and better crisis resilience. Implementing ESG strategies can reduce operational costs, enhance productivity, and open new market opportunities.

âś… Risk and Operations: ESG audits can uncover insights to streamline operations and minimise risks. These audits reveal inefficiencies and potential risks that might otherwise remain hidden, leading to more effective and resilient business practices.

👉 In 2021, 96% of S&P 500 companies and 81% of Russell 1000 companies published sustainability reports, highlighting the growing importance of ESG reporting.
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How to implement effective ESG reportin

Deciding to report on ESG is an important step, but the hard part is making it a reality. Here are detailed steps to effectively implement ESG reporting:

1. Build a team

Form a dedicated team with diverse expertise from across the organisation. This team will be responsible for developing and overseeing the ESG reporting structure, ensuring alignment with your company’s strategic goals and objectives.

2. Conduct a stakeholder materiality assessment

Perform a materiality assessment to identify and prioritise the most relevant ESG issues. Engage with stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors, and suppliers, to understand their concerns and expectations. Analyse industry trends and regulatory requirements to determine key focus areas.

3. Set goals

Identify current performance levels and areas for improvement. Set specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. Ensure these goals address the most material ESG issues and align with overall business objectives. Examples include reducing carbon emissions by a certain percentage, improving diversity and inclusion metrics, or enhancing governance practices.

4. Develop an ESG strategy and roadmap

Create a detailed plan outlining the steps required to achieve your ESG goals. Define short-term and long-term actions, assign responsibilities, and establish timelines. Incorporate milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress. This roadmap should be flexible to adapt to changes and new insights.

5. Implement data collection and reporting systems

Set up robust data collection and management systems to gather accurate and reliable ESG data. Use software tools and technologies that facilitate data tracking and analysis. Ensure data quality and consistency through regular audits and reviews.

6. Communicate, Report, and Continue

Develop a communication strategy to share your ESG goals, plans, and progress both internally and externally. Prepare regular ESG reports, following recognised reporting frameworks such as GRI, SASB, or TCFD. Transparently disclose achievements and challenges, and update stakeholders on ongoing efforts.

7. Integrate ESG into Company Culture

Make ESG an integral part of your company’s culture and operations. Educate and engage employees at all levels about the importance of ESG and their role in achieving the goals. Foster a culture of sustainability and responsibility through training, incentives, and recognition programs.

8. Monitor, Evaluate, and Improve

Regularly review and assess the effectiveness of your ESG strategy and initiatives. Use feedback and performance data to refine your approach and make necessary adjustments. Continuously seek ways to improve and innovate in your ESG practices.

9. Focus on Continuous Improvement

ESG is a long-term commitment. Set realistic goals, perform regular check-ins, and strive for gradual improvement. Don’t expect to achieve perfection immediately. Focus on making steady progress and building a strong foundation for sustainable growth.

By following these steps, companies can effectively implement ESG reporting and create a positive impact on the environment, society, and governance.

ESG infographicESG infographic

ESG reporting challenges

Implementing ESG reporting can be challenging for many organisations. Here are some common hurdles and ways to address them:

  • Data collection and quality - Gathering accurate and comprehensive ESG data can be difficult due to disparate data sources and inconsistent reporting standards. To overcome this, companies should consider investing in integrated data management systems that centralise data collection and ensure consistency and accuracy through regular audits and validation processes.
  • Lack of standardisation - The absence of a universal ESG reporting standard means companies must navigate multiple frameworks, leading to potential inconsistencies. Adopting widely recognised frameworks like GRI, SASB, or TCFD can help standardise reporting practices and facilitate comparability.
  • Resource constraints - ESG reporting requires significant time, effort, and resources, which can be a burden, especially for smaller companies. Organisations can mitigate this by prioritising the most material ESG issues and leveraging technology and external expertise to streamline the reporting process.
  • Stakeholder alignment - Balancing the diverse expectations and requirements of various stakeholders (investors, customers, regulators, etc.) can be challenging. To address this, companies should engage with stakeholders early and regularly to understand their priorities and concerns, ensuring that the ESG strategy aligns with stakeholder expectations.
  • Integration into corporate strategy - Embedding ESG into the core business strategy and operations can meet resistance and requires a shift in corporate culture. Strong leadership commitment, continuous education, and clear communication of the benefits of ESG practices can help facilitate this integration.
  • Regulatory compliance - Keeping up with evolving ESG regulations and requirements across different regions can be complex. Companies should stay informed about regulatory changes and consider engaging with legal and sustainability experts to ensure compliance.
  • Ensuring data transparency - Maintaining transparency in ESG reporting is crucial for building trust with stakeholders. Implementing robust governance practices, third-party audits, and transparent disclosure processes can enhance the credibility and reliability of ESG reports.

    👉 By recognising and addressing these challenges, companies can develop a more effective and credible ESG reporting process, ultimately contributing to their long-term sustainability and success.
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How Greenly can help with ESG reporting

Greenly offers a comprehensive suite of services designed to assist companies at every stage of their ESG reporting and sustainability journey. Here’s how Greenly can support your efforts:

Start your climate journey by measuring your GHG emissions

  • Carbon assessment - Calculate your Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. With the support of our climate expert team, build custom action plans aimed at reducing these emissions.

Decarbonise your supply chain

  • Supplier engagement - Engage your suppliers in your journey to Net Zero, helping them reduce their carbon emissions and monitor their progress.
  • Supply chain optimisation - Identify the most wasteful suppliers and replace them with less carbon-intensive alternatives. Analyse your Scope 3 emissions to improve transparency in your ESG communications.

Determine your product’s full impact with Life Cycle Assessment

  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) - Conduct a comprehensive LCA to provide transparency to your customers and gain a competitive edge. Understand the full environmental impact of your products and identify areas for improvement.

Build your carbon action blueprint

  • Decarbonisation roadmap - Establish a detailed roadmap for decarbonisation, complete with science-based reduction goals and actionable steps toward achieving Net Zero.
  • Customised actions - Choose industry-specific actions and follow step-by-step implementation guidelines. Leverage Greenly’s proven tools and expertise to assess reduction potential and associated costs.

CSRD with Greenly

  • CSRD guidance - Navigate the complexities of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) with Greenly’s specific tools and dedicated platform.

Align with SBTi

  • SBTi alignment - Start your journey with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and rely on Greenly to guide you through the validation process. Our team will expertly collect and analyse global sustainability and emissions data to support your efforts.

Greenly’s comprehensive services and expert support can help your company effectively measure, manage, and report its ESG performance, driving towards a more sustainable future. For more information and to get started on your ESG journey, visit our website.

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