Navigating the Way to Sustainability

While USA Corporate Sustainability Reporting Continues To Rise -- External Assurance Of Sustainability Data Lags Global Trends

Source: G&A Institute


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Peter M. Hamilton 

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(New York, NY, April 4, 2013) --  A report released today by the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Focal Point USA examines the external assurance practices of US companies that use the GRI Guidelines.  The analysis, conducted in collaboration with GRI’s US Data Partner and Organizational Stakeholder Governance & Accountability Institute, found that while sustainability reporting in the U.S. continues to grow, corporate reporters in the US are less likely to obtain third party assurance as their global peers.

A recent G&A Institute research report -- titled “2012 Sustainability Reporting – Does it Matter?” -- documents the current growth in corporate reporting in the US is exceeding the global average growth of recent years.  More than half (53%) of all of the companies in the S&P 500 Index and Fortune 500 are now publishing sustainability reports.

In order to show commitment to greater transparency and demonstrate the reliability of the data in a sustainability report, organizations often choose to have the report externally assured by an independent third party.  The GRI recommends this practice in the Framework, but does not require it. 

By obtaining external assurance companies communicate to the users of the report (investors and other stakeholders) that information is reliable and the organization has taken a credible approach to reporting its ESG disclosure.

Interviews were conducted with research participants to gauge an understanding of key issues often identified by the market, such as:

  • Is the practice of external assurance of sustainability reports seen as important?
  • What value does assurance provide at various stages in the reporting process?
  • Did the selected provider and approach correspond with what the reporter expected or aspired to achieve?

American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' (AICPA) spokesperson Amy Pawlicki commented that, “We are very pleased that GRI has conducted this research study to gain a better understanding of third-party verification on GRI-based reports.  This research represents an important step in helping the preparers and users of sustainability disclosures better assess the diversity of assurance options available to them.”

Louis Coppola, Executive Vice President - G&A Institute said: "It is encouraging to see many more U.S. corporations embracing the GRI Framework for their sustainability reporting, and to see that the volume of reporting dramatically increasing. We expect to see more U.S. companies externally assure their sustainability reports, and are carefully tracking this practice as the US Data Partner for GRI."

Rina Levy – “As a GRI US Sector Leader over the past 2-years, Bloomberg has worked very closely with the GRI Focal Point USA team to more rigorously analyze reporting trends and report quality.  Third party assurance of non-financial information is increasing in the US, but not at a pace comparable to other parts of the world, or at a pace that one would expect given the rapidly expanding interest in data from the financial markets”

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Top-line findings of the report:

  • In the USA, 10 percent (26 out of 269 reporters) of GRI framework sustainability reports obtained external assurance in 2011. The international percentage is much higher at 38 percent.

  • Most assured reports (in this analysis, reports designated with a “+” symbol) in the USA in 2011 were Application Level B reports. Globally, assured reports were more likely to be from Application Level A reports.

  • A total of 30 (different) assurance statements were identified in the studay, with several of the reports containing more than one assurance statement.

  • Forty (40) percent of providers in the sample were traditional accountancy firms, followed by about 35 percent from engineering firms and 25 percent from other professional services firms.

A complimentary full copy of the report can be accessed here:

And here:

Global Reporting Initiative Focal Point USA
As part of its regional expansion strategy, GRI established Focal Point USA in October 2010, with an official launch hosted by the NYSE in January 2011.  .  Focal Point USA is supported by founding sponsors Deloitte LLP, Ernst & Young LLP, KPMG LLP, and PwC U.S., and was initially hosted by The Conference Board.  GRI is now hosted in New York City by the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC)

GRI Focal Point USA plays a crucial role in mainstreaming sustainability reporting and aims to boost the number of US companies reporting on sustainability, as well as improve the quality of those reports, and to increase US organizations’ input into developing new guidance for sustainability reporting.

About: Governance & Accountability Institute

Governance and Accountability Institute is the exclusive GRI Data Partner for Ireland, United Kingdom and USA.

The G&A Institute, Inc. is a global consulting, research, news and trend monitoring, editorial services / publishing, analysis, and advisory [services] organization serving leaders and boards of organizations in the corporate (private), and investment sectors.


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Thanks to GRI Focal Point USA for assistance in the preparation of the research report, and a thank you to the following for their ongoing support of the GRI Focus Point USA effort:

FOUNDING SPONSORS: Accounting and professional services firms in the United States – Deloitte, Ernst & Young LLP, KPMG and PwC

GRI USSECTOR LEADERS: Bloomberg, Clorox, Curran & Connors, Dell NYSE Euronext, Sprint and The Mosaic Company – for committing to showing leadership in their sector when it comes to sustainability reporting and working closely with us to crystallize that leadership into action.

BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Mark Cohen, Vanderbilt University; Julie Gorte, PAX World; Sean Harrigan (Chairman), Past Executive Director, States Council, Region 8; Peter Westra, Global Reporting Initiative; Heather White, New Standards.

ADVISORY GROUP: Mark Cohen, Vanderbilt University; Eric Hespenheide, Deloitte LLP; John Hickox, KPMG LLP; Kathy Nieland, PwC US; Curtis Ravenel, Bloomberg; Steve Starbuck, Ernst  & Young LLP; David Vidal, The Conference Board.

And of course GRI thanks our North American Organizational Stakeholders, our North American GRI Certified Training Partners and the GRI Secretariat.

Report Credits:

Research and analysis

  • Marjella Alma, Mike Wallace - Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Focal Point USA
  • Louis Coppola, Dan Doyle - Governance and Accountability Institute - GRI Data Partner for Ireland, United Kingdom and United States of America

Data provided

  • Rina Levy - Bloomberg LP
  • Ian van der Vlugt - Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) – Global Secretariat, Amsterdam
  • Louis Coppola - Governance and Accountability Institute

Interviews undertaken by: Gwendolyn White - Ball State University and Marjella Alma - GRI Focal Point USA

Lay-out and editing: Curran & Connors Inc., Sector Leader of GRI Focal Point USA

For media interviews: Please contact: Peter M. Hamilton at Governance & Accountability Institute (646) 430 8230 x 18

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