Beyond Sustainability Reporting

By Gerald Trites, FCPA, FCA, CISA
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Reporting has been in the spotlight for several years now. Although the terminology has largely moved to sustainability reporting, it still includes the Environmental, Social and Governmental elements. Much attention has been given to the environmental element and climate-related disclosures, but the others are important and still draw some attention from stakeholders. The social element is not widely understood, even though it has been part of the ESG disclosures from the beginning.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which has released the most comprehensive set of ESG standards so far, includes standards on Labor/Management Relations, Occupational Health and Safety, Training and Education, Diversity and Equal Opportunity, and Non-discrimination, among others with a social flavour.

These are important issues, and many of them relate to the issue of equality. It has been shown that inequality is at the root of most major social upheavals in history, as well as the social unrest currently evident in the US and some European countries. Thomas Piketty has focused on this issue effectively in his research, showing clearly how inequality has shown itself in the vast disparities in income among different groups, regions and countries, although as with anything else in current times, his work has been strongly politicized. Nevertheless, these issues of inequality must be dealt with, or eventually they will come back to bite us.

Inequality needs to be addressed by everyone, including individuals, governments, and companies, which brings us back to what companies can do about social issues.

It goes a lot further than disclosures, although ESG reporting is a start. It includes action on an ongoing basis. The concept of integrated reporting can be helpful. There is much talk in the Sustainability literature about integrated reporting needing integrated thinking, which integrates ESG into the ongoing strategy and management of an organization. This is a comprehensive idea, and, if fully thought through and implemented, can change the company and perhaps even the world.

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