The early issues of this newsletter over a decade ago had a feature that seems quaint today: in each issue we published a list of corporate ESG reports that we had found through our own extensive searching. You see, most companies would publish their “corporate social responsibility,” “corporate environmental,” and (a few) “sustainability” reports with no fanfare, no announcement. And so, we had to look here, there and everywhere to find a new report to share.
The percentage of reports published compared to the total universe of large caps was tiny – very tiny indeed. But we noticed in our constant monitoring that the number of such reports published by U.S. headquartered companies, while small, was steadily increasing.
We wondered then, what was happening in the universe of S&P 500 Index© firms, representing a huge part of the available equity investments on stock exchanges. In those early days of what is now ESG reporting, the European peers of U.S. companies published many more reports – so when a U.S. company published a report, that was news to share!
We began a thorough examination of U.S. corporate ESG disclosure, looking at calendar year 2010 reporting, to share in our first trends reports in 2011. We found that just under 20 percent of U.S. firms in the S&P 500 had published a report.
In the following year (our trends report of 2012, for 2011 reporting) we were quite surprised to find that more than half of the S&P 500 firms were now publishing reports. And that increased to almost three-quarters of the firms by the next trends report (in 2013 for 2012 reporting).
And soon enough we were at nine-out-ten of the index companies were publishing ESG reports (far too many to list in the newsletter!). Many readers of our annual trends report began to regularly ask about the reporting activities of the next batch of publicly-traded large cap companies – the Russell 1000 Index® firms. We expanded the S&P 500 research four years ago to all of the Russell 1000. Over the years ESG reporting became more sophisticated, more in-depth, and more valuable to stakeholders seeking ESG data sets.
We devote many months of the year to in-depth research and analysis on corporate ESG reporting for these trends’ reports. A talented team of G&A team members work with a highly-qualified team of analyst-interns (most of them participating in master’s degree studies in sustainability topics) who scour corporate reports for details that we share in the trends report. You will see their names and backgrounds in the report.
Over the years we have had an outstanding team each year to develop the contents of the trend report – and they have gone on to great careers in various sectors, we are proud to say. Our Honor Roll of present and past analyst-interns is here.
We have always made the trends report available free of charge to all in the belief that more information and intelligence on corporate ESG reporting will enable more stakeholders use the information -- and pass on their expectations to companies to provide more details in their periodic ESG disclosures. This has worked, as we have been told by a number of experts, to help encourage more ESG disclosures by companies and to encourage asset owners and managers to look closely at the data and narratives disclosed by publicly-traded enterprises.
Over time, the content examined, and data/narrative captured has become a powerful resource for the G&A team as we assist publicly-traded and privately managed firms with their ESG disclosure and reporting.
We have more to say about the trends report project in the new 2022 edition. Here's the link to the report if you have not read it yet!