Using The GRI Sustainability Reporting Framework Improves The Quality of ESG Disclosures - Joint Research From G&A Institute and Baruch College Shows
Governance & Accountability Institute, Inc. is the data partner for the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) in the United States, United Kingdom, and The Republic of Ireland. In this role the Institute monitors, collects and analyzes every sustainability report published in these three countries. The results of this pro-bono work help to feed the GRI's "Sustainability Disclosure Database," the largest sustainability database in the world, with 41,734 sustainability reports as of June 30th, 2017.
In addition to this important work, G&A Institute has analyzed the corporate sustainability (and related titles) reporting of the S&P 500® universe of companies for six years in a row, first releasing its benchmark studies on the 2010 reporting year.
In the first year of the study, for 2010 reporting, G&A Institute determined that 80 percent of the leading large-cap companies of the United States of America included in the index were laggards, and not publishing sustainability reports. Generally speaking, this result clearly demonstrated that U.S. companies were lagging many of their corporate peers in Europe where the rates of reporting on Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) issues were much higher and reporting is increasingly mandated.
G&A INSTITUTE RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS
The partners’ data sets matched up on 572 companies which were included as the Universe for this study. The data are taken strictly from reports published any time during the calendar year 2014. The CSR-S Monitor analysts scored companies on their disclosure on the 11 contextual elements, based on information quality and degree of verification. The G&A data were used to separate the scored reports into two buckets, those that utilized the GRI framework, and those that did not. There were a total of 481 (or 84%) companies publishing using the GRI framework, and 91 (16%) companies not using the GRI framework.
Since then, there has been a dramatic increase in the S&P 500 universe companies, with 53% of the S&P 500 companies reporting in 2012; 72% reporting in 2013; 75% reporting in 2014; 81% in 2015, and in the most recent flash report issued by G&A Institute 82% of the S&P 500 were reporting in the 2016 calendar year. See more here.
The dramatic rise in corporate reporting on sustainability is holding steady, with an increasing number of companies disclosing their strategy and performance on ESG metrics.
But Now That Most Companies Are Publishing Sustainability Reports the Question Arises: What is the Quality of the Content of These Reports?
To explore the answers, G&A teamed with The CSR-Sustainability Monitor® (CSR-S Monitor) research team at the Weissman Center for International Business, Baruch College/CUNY, to combine their partners' "Big Data" sets to extract deeper intelligence on the subject.
Baruch's CSR-S Monitor uses a content analysis approach to score CSR / Sustainability reports published by the world’s largest companies as identified in Fortune 500 and Global 500 rankings. The CSR-S Monitor scoring methodology categorizes the content of each report into 11 components called “Contextual Elements,” which cover the most commonly reported sustainability topics: Chair’s / Executive Message, Environment, Philanthropy & Community Involvement, External Stakeholder Engagement, Supply Chain, Labor Relations, Governance, Anti-Corruption, Human Rights, Codes of Conduct, and Integrity Assurance.
More info on these 11 contextual elements can be seen online at: http://www.csrsmonitor.org/methodology/contextual_elements.pdf
(Note that only disclosure in the form of a standalone or web-based CSR report or Integrated Annual Report is considered for the purpose of scoring on the CSR-S Monitor.)
The Question Asked on The Combined "Big Data" Sets Is:
Does Reporting Using The GRI Sustainability Reporting Framework Result in Higher Quality Reports?
The partners set out an ambitious study to answer this question through examining the quality of information and degree of verification provided in the reports that were identified as utilizing the GRI reporting frameworks, and the ones that did not.
Companies using the GRI framework consistently achieved average contextual element scores higher than the companies not using GRI for their reporting (scores are from 0-100 with 100 being the best).
Overall, the score was 45.7% for GRI reporter, vs. 29.6% for non-GRI;
For the Environment element, GRI reporters scored 64.9% vs. 51.0% for non-GRI;
For Labor Relations, GRI reporters scored 55.8% vs. 36.7% for non-GRI;
For Supply Chain, GRI reporters scored 46.6% vs. 28.2% for non-GRI;
For Anti-Corruption, GRI reporters scored 26.4% vs 10.4% for non-GRI;
For Integrity Assurance, GRI reporters scored 31.0% vs. 13.3% for non-GRI;
The largest differential was for Human Rights, with GRI reporters scoring 45.0% vs. 15.0% for non-GRI reporters.
Mert Demir, PhD, Director of Research at Weissman Center, commented on the CSR-S Monitor analysis: "CSR-Sustainability Monitor scores reflect the breadth, depth, and degree of external/independent verification of the information in corporate sustainability reports, regardless of the firm’s underlying ESG performance. While sustainability reporting has become more mainstream over time, these reports still show limited standardization and considerable variation in content and quality, preventing effective comparisons of their information across time as well as among peers. Though stakeholders often find these reports core to their evaluation of a company, these issues make using them effectively challenging.
"The Monitor’s scores indicate these concerns have mostly been addressed with the adoption of a reporting framework such as GRI’s. GRI-compliant reports achieve significantly higher quality scores across all main domains of sustainability reporting. As companies pursue sustainability objectives, they increasingly face the necessity to address growing stakeholder concern and expectations regarding comprehensive, detailed, and material ESG information to complement financial information they believe to be insufficient to assess the big picture alone. And in this respect, following a reporting framework—GRI in particular—seems to make a big difference."
Louis D. Coppola, MBA, Executive VP of G&A Institute and architect of the G&A Institute's various research efforts including the S&P 500 studies, commented: "As we continue our in-depth analysis of corporate sustainability and responsibility disclosure and reporting, it is abundantly clear, year-after-year, that companies following the comprehensive GRI framework enjoy higher scores assigned by independent third party providers on a range of ESG factors important to stakeholders.
"The simple fact is that standardized sustainability reporting helps companies and its stakeholders, including investors to better utilize the information disclosed for decision making. Companies not following the GRI framework, by far the most commonly used sustainability reporting framework in the world, are consistently out-classed by their GRI reporting peers.
"By July 2018, companies reporting utilizing GRI will be required to utilize the new GRI Standards that were released in October 2016, to replace the fourth generation GRI G4. The GRI Standards are the first global standards for sustainability reporting and feature a modular, interrelated structure allowing for more flexibility in updating and in usage. The GRI Standards represent the global best practice for reporting on a range of economic, environmental and social impacts."
The organization reports on the quality of CSR / Sustainability reports from the world's largest companies. Using a content analysis-based system to score corporate reports; there are 11 contextual elements scored, based on scope of coverage, specificity of detail, and degree of verification. Companies in the Fortune 500 and Fortune Global 500 Indices are included in the analysis.
Founded in 1994, Baruch College's Weissman Center for International Business is designated to enable Baruch College/CUNY to respond to the global economy with programs appropriate to a pre-eminent school of business. The Center created the CSR-S Monitor as a tool for analyzing the CSR reporting by the largest U.S. and global companies; in the screening process, analysts measure the degree to which the reporting company provides integrity assurance as to accuracy and completeness of information disclosed.