Managing the reporting and assurance process for your company’s ESG outcomes is difficult at the best of times. But you can simplify your sustainability reporting process by following a number of key points.
2019 marked an important milestone as the world announced a clear intent to move to a low-carbon economy. Moving forward, governments, institutions and businesses will have to address how they manage this transition in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of their businesses.
As a result, reporting frameworks that measure and benchmark sustainability performance are changing and updating. As the community’s expectations change, so do the standards in which they are measured.
What gets measured gets managed, and sustainability reports are no different.
Tips to manage and run your sustainability reporting process
Reporting ESG outcomes is a team effort. Before you start your reporting process, develop a communication plan to help educate and inform stakeholders who are involved in the reporting process about why the regimes you are reporting to are so important. Make the communication relevant to each stakeholder group, so they understand why the reports are important to them and their role. Additionally, make it clear what is expected and how key milestones may affect them. Getting your team behind you before you start your assurance process will make the process run smoother and will mean you will have the support of your team when it really matters.
Setting and keeping to a schedule is essential when managing your assurance process. The entire process can take longer than anticipated. Prepare a work breakdown structure of all the tasks that are required to complete the reporting process. Estimate the effort and duration of each task, identify dependencies, place tasks on a timeline and assign responsibilities to each. Consult with stakeholders and get consensus on the work program, schedule and critical path items. Prepare regular status reports, informing stakeholders of progress to date and steps being taken to manage project risks.
Managing the reporting process is all about managing the collection, processing and reporting of data from the bottom up. Achieving the required transparency and auditability is not possible without a data platform. A data platform should support the capture and processing of ESG metrics across an organization and should provide the foundation for continuous and sustainable improvement. Published back in September 2001 when ESG reporting was in its infancy, the GHG Protocol’s reporting principles continue to provide useful guidance for organizations to this day.
Rank your sustainability reporting
Not all data is equal when reporting ESG outcomes. Identify the required data sets early, understand the importance of each data set and address the most material and relevant data sets first. For example, tracking paper consumption in your business for Scope 3 emissions reporting may not be as impactful as improving the accuracy of emissions resulting from air travel, especially as businesses are increasingly operating in a paperless world.
A true view of your performance requires a complete picture. Gaps in your data set may result in missed opportunities to evaluate your performance and can lead to a lower than expected results or scores. Gaps can result from poor quality data or lack of quality controls in your data collection process. It may also result from incorrectly defining the boundaries and scope of your reporting entities. Your data platform should have an easy way to evaluate the completeness of your data set to gain an understanding of the gaps that exist in you data.
While time is of the essence in any sustainability reporting process, consistency wins over speed. Use consistent methods that are recognized and repeatable. This will ensure your process improves each year, which will reduce the time and increase the efficiency of your reporting process. Your data platform should use consistent and repeatable ways of ingesting data on a regular basis in line with your supplier billing cycles. This will ensure timely data capture throughout the year, putting you on a strong footing moving into reporting season.
A coherent and fact-based audit tail should be easily assessed in your data platform. Ensure that assumptions, methodologies and data sources can be easily reviewed by auditors. And record enough information so that a verifier can retrace your process or calculations. For example, record decision-making processes and levels of success for your sustainable initiatives—going further than necessary may help you in future years when additional evidence documentation is required.
Make sure your assumptions and estimations are clear and defensible when interrogated. Make efforts to reduce uncertainties and after a reporting cycle, learn from mistakes by putting in place processes that yield more accurate data (meter data over invoice). Finally, self-verify your results before you prepare your report. Compare like-for-like against prior years to sense check the results by assessing the percentage change. This will help to identify outliers so that you can check to confirm or correct significant variations in your data set.
Once the sustainability reporting process is over and your outcomes have been reported, it’s important to celebrate the success of your team. In the thick of reporting, it’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees. The completed work is designed to make your organization more aware of its impact on the earth and to target programs that promote continuous improvement, which is certainly an achievement to be proud of.