European accountants consult on universal environmental reporting guidelines

The European Federation of Accountancy Experts (FEE) will comment on plans to create international guidelines for corporate environmental reports. Feedback is requested on issues such as reporting on legal infractions and assessing indirect environmental impacts.

Following publication of a European-focused report, Towards a generally accepted framework for environmental reporting, FEE is seeking comments on a further discussion paper entitled Providing Assurance on Environmental Reports by the end of February. This second paper will be submitted to the International Auditing Practices Committee (IAPC) in order to further work towards universal standards in environmental reporting.

FEE believes that the current situation is far from ideal, with standards in corporate environmental reports varying widely: “FEE believes that the room for differences in the scope of engagements and in subsequent reporting is undesirable to both the entities [reporting companies] and the users of the environmental reports and increases the expectation gap.”

Specific questions posed in FEE’s paper include:

  • Are scope limitations acceptable? For instance, the exclusion of qualitative information or indirect impacts or a restriction to information provided on certain environmental impacts (for example, only waste and emissions to water).
  • Should the professional accountant continue with an engagement to provide a high level of assurance if it appears that the client’s Environmental Information System is inadequate?
  • What additional measures could be taken by the professional accountant to ensure that users understand the limitations of an assurance report as well as the benefits provided?

FEE believes that environmental reporting is a growing sector and is important precisely because the reports are of potential use to a greater number of people than are firms’ financial reports. The rising profile within Europe of environmental reporting includes national and EU-wide awards schemes.

The Dutch accountancy association, Nivra, along with the association of environmental accountants (VMA), has honoured the ING group with the 1998 award Dutch in environmental reporting. ING, a banking services group, includes both direct and indirect environmental impacts in its environmental annual report. Its work to reduce direct environmental impacts includes corporate energy conservation plans for all of its sites in the Netherlands as well as attempts to reduce the frequency of employee motorised travel.

ING will be nominated for the annual European award in environmental reporting, to be handed out in April 2000. Associations from 11 European countries nominate reports for the award.

Copies of FEE’s discussion paper on Providing Assurance on Environmental Reports can be obtained from Saskia Slomp.

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