In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in the business world. ESG refers to the set of non-financial metrics that companies use to measure their impact on the environment and society. These metrics include carbon emissions, diversity and inclusion, and board diversity.
ESG is vital for several reasons. Firstly, consumers are becoming more environmentally and socially conscious and increasingly demanding that the companies they buy from align with their values. Secondly, investors recognize the potential financial impact of ESG factors and incorporate them into their investment decisions. Finally, regulators are mandating ESG disclosure to increase transparency and accountability.
However, a significant challenge for companies is the lack of globally recognized ESG reporting standards and frameworks. Companies are often left to navigate a complex and confusing landscape of different frameworks and standards, making it difficult to know which ones to prioritize and how to report on their sustainability performance.
This blog will explore some of the most critical ESG frameworks, and standards companies can use to report on their sustainability performance. We will also discuss how these frameworks and standards complement each other.
ESG Frameworks & Standards
ESG frameworks are tools that companies can use to report on their sustainability efforts and performance in areas such as environmental impact, social responsibility, and corporate governance. There are three categories of ESG frameworks:
Voluntary disclosure frameworks
Companies actively disclose their sustainability-related policies, practices, and performance data to the public. The most popular voluntary disclosure frameworks include:
- Climate Disclosure Project (CDP): This framework focuses on water security, forest health and preservation, and an organization’s carbon footprint.
- Global Real Estate Industry Benchmark (GRESB): This framework is used for building-related ESG data, assets, and real estate portfolios.
- Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI): This framework provides a subscription-based survey of building-related ESG data, assets, and real estate portfolios.
Guidance frameworks & standards
These frameworks provide recommended methodologies and guidance to help companies identify, manage, and report on their ESG performance. ESG standards are globally recognized guidelines for reporting sustainability-related data, policies, and practices. They provide a framework for companies to disclose ESG information consistently, reasonably, and transparently.
The most popular guidance frameworks include:
- Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB): This framework focuses on financial substantive information that’s relevant to investors.
- Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): This framework addresses a range of ESG topics that are deemed relevant to the organization and all related management approach components.
- Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD): This framework provides disclosures focused on target-related risks to financial systems.
- Carbon Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB): This framework aims to standardize the reporting of environmental information.
- International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC): This framework aims to accelerate the adoption of integrated reporting.
Two important ESG standards currently in development are:
- European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG): The EFRAG is a non-profit organization that aims to develop high-quality and harmonized ESG reporting standards for use in the European Union. The EFRAG presented the first set of finalized ESG standards in March 2022, with additional sector-specific standards for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) planned for release by mid-2023. Once finalized, the European Commission will enforce the EFRAG standards in all European countries.
- International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB): The ISSB aims to develop a single set of globally recognized accounting disclosure standards to bring transparency to financial markets. This work has involved collaboration between various organizations, such as the World Economic Forum (WWF). The IFRS Foundation has also signed a collaborative agreement with the GRI to coordinate the activities of both organizations.
Using ESG Frameworks and Standards Together
Different ESG frameworks and standards can complement each other, and companies can benefit from using them. For example:
- SASB framework and TCFD framework: The SASB framework supports the TCFD framework by providing investors with more detailed ESG-related financial information. The SASB provides industry-specific standards for companies to disclose material ESG risks and opportunities, while the TCFD framework helps companies report climate-related risks and opportunities.
- SASB framework and IIRC: The SASB and IIRC announced their intention to merge into a unified organization named the Value Reporting Foundation (VRF). The aim is to create a baseline for corporate sustainability disclosure that can be used worldwide. The SASB framework provides investors with standardized ESG information, while the IIRC framework provides an integrated reporting approach that combines financial and non-financial information.
- SASB framework and GRI: SASB and GRI aim to show how organizations can use these standards together for the best results. The GRI provides a broader set of ESG disclosures, while the SASB provides industry-specific guidance that enables companies to identify and disclose the most material ESG risks and opportunities. Companies can provide a comprehensive picture of their sustainability performance using both frameworks.
By using ESG frameworks and standards together, companies can provide a comprehensive and standardized picture of their sustainability performance. This helps them meet investor expectations and enables them to identify and address ESG-related risks and opportunities and ultimately drive long-term value creation.
These frameworks assess an organization’s performance based on aggregated, publicly available data. The most popular third-party aggregator players include:
- Bloomberg Terminal ESG Analysis: Public information displayed in annual and sustainability reports, CSR reports, and websites are aggregated and assessed.
- Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS E&S) Quality Score (ISS): Sustainability and CSR reports, integrated reports, publicly available company policies, and information are aggregated and assessed.
- MSCI: This framework shows a company’s exposure to ESG risks and how it compares to industry competitors.
- Sustainalytics: This framework aggregates and assesses company data based on public company-sourced findings and media reports.
Choosing the right frameworks and standards depends on the business-specific requirements, industry, and impact. Many standards and frameworks complement each other, and results are optimized when used together.
ESG reporting is becoming increasingly important for companies worldwide, and using ESG frameworks and standards to report on sustainability is crucial. However, the lack of globally recognized ESG reporting standards and frameworks can make it confusing for companies to understand how to report their ESG criteria.
Companies must prioritize ESG reporting and use the resources discussed in this blog to ensure they report accurately and effectively. Companies can use multiple frameworks and standards to optimize their ESG reporting results. Lastly, it’s important to emphasize the need for globally recognized standards to make ESG reporting more consistent and comparable across companies and industries.
If you need help making sense of ESG frameworks and standards, contact Veritrove for help.