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Standard Setters Unite to Streamline Corporate Reporting

By Amy Brown

Pity the corporate reporting team who has to choose between a dizzying array of sustainability, non-financial and integrated reporting standards to satisfy growing stakeholder and investor demands for clarity and comparability in reporting. It’s not an easy or straightforward task.

Enter the Corporate Reporting Dialogue, a coalition of major international corporate reporting standard-setters and framework providers. Earlier this month, they announced a groundbreaking, two-year project focused on driving better alignment in the corporate reporting landscape.

“Businesses are choking on the so-called ‘alphabet soup,'” Richard Howitt, CEO of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), which convened the Corporate Reporting Dialogue, wrote in Accounting Today.

Cutting the clutter

The International Trade Center identifies more than 230 corporate sustainability standards applicable to more than 80 sectors and 180 countries—all with an amazing variety of acronyms.

The two-year project brings together financial reporting standard-setters (the International Accounting Standards Board and the Financial Accounting Standards Board) and the four most comprehensive and global of sustainability frameworks—the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) and CDP. They will work together on a quest for clarity, coherence, consistency and comparability between the different reporting frameworks.

“It is still a lot of acronyms, but one that holds out a real prospect that we can ‘cut the clutter’ in business reporting,” Howitt wrote.

Making reporting easier to navigate

Launched simultaneously at the Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit in London and the World Congress of Accountants in Sydney, the announcement met a receptive audience.

poll of audience members at a World Congress panel on framework alignment demonstrated the need to bring the frameworks together. They were asked: "Do you find, either as a preparer or as a user of reports, the corporate reporting landscape easy to navigate?" Almost three-quarters of respondents—coming from a variety of nationalities and organizations, but all in professions related to accountancy—answered no.

“The market told us it wanted greater alignment between frameworks, and this project sends a clear reply that this message has been heard and is being acted on,” Howitt wrote in Accounting Today.

The clarity will be welcomed by companies, with an ever-growing number making the decision to do non-financial reporting. According to the Governance and Accountability Institute, 85 percent of the companies in the S&P 500 Index published sustainability or corporate responsibility reports in 2017.

An open, inclusive process

Participants in the project will undertake joint work to map and align their metrics. They're looking to identify how non-financial metrics relate to financial outcomes, with the ultimate aim for a paradigm shift toward the integration of financial and non-financial information. The first phase will include alignment to the Financial Stability Board's Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations, but seek to go well beyond them.

This will not be an internal technical exercise between the frameworks, Howitt promised, but an open process with structured communications, outreach, and stakeholder engagement “to seek to ensure the market is ready, excited and prepared to engage with the results,” he wrote.

An important aspect of the project is to achieve the ultimate aim of integrating financial and non-financial reporting. Today, 1,600 global companies have already adopted integrated reporting.

Image credit: Pixabay

Amy Brown headshot

Based in Florida, Amy has covered sustainability for over 25 years, including for TriplePundit, Reuters Sustainable Business and Ethical Corporation Magazine. She also writes sustainability reports and thought leadership for companies. She is the ghostwriter for Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming Your Company, Industry and the World. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn and her Substack newsletter focused on gray divorce, caregiving and other cultural topics.

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