European firms top sustainable reporting

Sustainable reports from companies are getting bigger – but not necessarily better. A survey of corporate reporting finds that firms are still struggling to breach the ‘glass ceiling’ of accountability.

Of the 50 reports surveyed in Trust Us: The 2002 Global Reporters Survey of Corporate Sustainability Reporting, the top seven were issued by European companies including BAA, British Telecom, Rio Tinto, Shell BP and the Co-operative Bank at number one. Reports were ranked according to a number of criteria including social, economic and environmental reporting.

The survey, compiled by UNEP and consultancy SustainAbility, found that companies using the Global Reporting Initiative guidelines scored significantly better than those that did not. However, the overall quality of reports appears to have reached a plateau, says the survey, with scores virtually unchanged since the last analysis in 2000. Only the top seven firms achieved scores above 50%.

The size of reports has increased substantially to an average of 86 pages – a 45% increase over the 2000 level. But bigger doesn’t meant better, with longer reports likely to impede transparency rather than enhance it as readers struggle through them, says UNEP.

Corporations are also shifting their focus from the environment to more social and economic dimensions of sustainability, finds UNEP. Two-thirds used GRI guidelines, which the survey recommends re-writing in order to concentrate reports on materiality and reduce the ‘carpet-bombing’ effect.

The study concludes that sustainability reporting offers companies the chance to rebuild trust lost with the public, provided the reports are thorough. “To succeed, corporate reporters must ensure that their reporting directly addresses three key areas: materiality, the links with corporate governance and, the most surprising gap in many of these reports, the links with brands,” says John Elkington, Chairman of SustainAbility.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie