From CDP to UN PRI: edie’s A to Z of ESG standards and disclosure frameworks
Investors are increasingly asking businesses to disclose information relating to their plans and performance regarding environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics. Here, edie lists the most popular disclosure frameworks, with a focus on the ‘E’, to help readers navigate this jargon-heavy landscape.
On both voluntary and mandatory bases, the demand for non-financial disclosures from investors on the companies and projects they back is growing.
Regarding mandates, Daamaran claims that, between 2013 and 2018, the number of recorded regulations concerning non-financial reporting increased by 72%. This trend has only continued since then, with the proliferation of voluntary platforms and their growing backing providing governments with a supportive environment. Of course, the tightening of national targets on issues like emissions is also a key contributor.
The global disclosures framework space has, historically, grown without a great deal of international collaboration, leading to a situation that has been described as a ‘wild west’ or an ‘alphabet soup’. This could well be set to change as more regulation comes into force and as the International Sustainability Standards Board, formed last October, matures.
In the meantime, this article serves as a handy A-Z reference guide, listing and briefly explaining some of the world’s most common environmental disclosure standards and frameworks. edie is focusing in on the ‘E’ in ESG, as this is our primary focus more broadly.
This article forms part of edie’s Climate Finance Week 2022 (18-22 July), a dedicated editorial campaign including exclusive content and events dedicated to the sustainable finance movement. Click here to see all of our other content and events for this week.
Not-for-profit CDP was founded in 2000 and launched its environmental disclosures platform in 2002. By the end of 2021, more than 680 investors and 13,000 companies had signed up. CDP also collects environmental information from more than 1,200 cities, states and regions. Its mission has always been to “make environmental reporting and environmental risk management a new business norm”.
This level of support makes CDP one of the most popular and largest disclosure platforms in the issues it covers – namely climate, water and forests. The platform serves as a location for corporates to disclose their impacts and targets, and for investors to access this information in a unified format. Investors are also enabled to engage with companies that are either not disclosing at all, or not disclosing information that meets investor expectations.
For cities, states and regions, CDP presents an opportunity to access and share best-practice approaches to measuring and disclosing things like climate mitigation progress, climate-related risks and resilience, forest impact and water impact.
For the private and public sector, CDP produces a list of the top performers each year, known as its ‘A-Lists’.
Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB)
Not-for-profit CDSB was founded in 2007 and states ts mission as “providing investors and financial markets with material information through the integration of climate-related information into mainstream financial reporting”.
It launched its first framework for reporting climate information in 20101 and, in 2015, added new frameworks covering information on natural capital. The climate reporting framework is closely aligned with the TCFD (more information below) and, since 2018, CDSB has been hosting an online TCFD Knowledge Hub to share best practice.
CDSB is a popular platform in the UK and EU, having achieved explicit backing from policymakers in both geographies. In the UK, it is referenced as a good framework through which to meet non-financial disclosures reliance in the Companies Act. In the EU, it is referenced in non-financial reporting guidance.
In November 2021, it was confirmed that the CDSB will be consolidated into the new Ineternational Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB, more information below). This means that its standards and frameworks are in the process of being incorporated in a new set of standards, yet to be launched.
The ISSB was formally launched at COP26 last year. Danone’s former chief executive Emmanuel Faber was subsequently appointed as its chair. It will consolidate several existing initiatives, including the CDSB and the Value Reporting Foundation, to create a global baseline for corporate disclosures on environmental sustainability in line with investor demands.
Also feeding in to the ISSB process are the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB), the Financial Stability Board’s Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), the VRF and the World Economic Forum (Forum), supported by the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) and its Technical Expert Group of securities regulators.
The ISSB was first proposed by the not-for-profit International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS Foundation) in early 2021. A beta framework is due out later this year. Climate will be the first issue covered, but plans for disclosures on other environmental and social issues are in the works. As well as providing a broad framework, there will be specific recommendations for specific industries and across thematic lines.
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
The GRI is one of the more mature standards organisations on this list. It was founded in 1997 and produces frameworks for disclosures by private and public sector actors, including corporates and national/sub-national governments.
It describes its set of sustainability reporting standards as the most comprehensive in the world. It provides ‘Universal Standards’, applicable to all organisations and covering issues relating to environmental and human rights due diligence as well as anti-corruption. It also provides ‘Sector Standards’, enabling more detail to be disclosed in key sectors such as oil and gas; goal; mining and agriculture, aquaculture and fishing.
Revisions and new additions are almost always in the pipeline. For example, in May, the GRI revised its standards to help companies measure and disclose information regarding contributions to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Non-Financial Reporting Directive (applicable in the EU only)
The EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive came into effect in 2018 and has since been adapted into national law for all member states, with countries mandating varying degrees of disclosure. It applies to all listed and unlisted companies with 250 or more staff and recording turnovers of €40m or more, in all sectors. Certain large private sector partnerships are also covered.
The directive mandates disclosures on on environmental and social issues; employee treatment; human rights; corruption and bribery and diversity on firms’ boards. It is shaped around ‘double materiality’ – the idea that companies can have direct and indirect impacts on these issues, and that the general worsening of performance on these issues can present risks to businesses.
The European Parliament and Governments of member states came to a provisional agreement in June on new reporting requirements that will replace the Directive, called the Directive on Corporate Sustainability and Due Diligence. It will have the same reach as its predecessor. A key change will be the addition of measurements of ESG-related risks and opportunities, including regulatory, legal and reputational risk. Requirements will also be tightened on supply chain impact disclosures. Click here to read edie’s full story on the changes, and click here to read a guest blog on the changes from former International Integrated Reporting Council chief Richard Howitt.
Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTi)
The SBTi verifies whether emissions reduction targets from businesses are aligned with climate science by assessing their compatibility with the Paris Agreement’s temperature pathways – ‘well below’ 2C and 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Having a science-based target lets investors know that your organisation’s climate mitigation approach is credible; indeed, it is a pre-requisite for membership to many key collaborative initiatives such as the Race to Zero.
To verify with the SBTi, companies must state their intention to do so them complete the process within 24 months. 3,373 companies have stated their intention so far, with 1,546 having had their targets approved.
The SBTi’s partnership organisation are CDP (see above for more information), the UN Global Compact, the World Resources Institute and WWF.
Last year, the SBTi launched its net-zero standard, which requires businesses to set 1.5C-aligned 2030 targets and credible targets through to 2050 also. In launching that commitment, the initiative began the process for phasing out the ‘well below’ 2C verification, paving the way for 1.5C alignment to be the minimum requirement and net-zero the leadership position. Read edie’s full story on that change here.
A net-zero standard for the financial sector specifically is due in early 2023.
Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics
The concept of ‘Stakeholder Capitalism’ is an economic model whereby businesses exist not simply to prioritise short-term returns for shareholders, but to also deliver consistent benefits in non-financial forms for all stakeholders. The concept has understandably gained traction over the past two years in particular.
At the World Economic Forum’s 2020 meeting in Davos, 120 companies and dozens of other organisations supported the creation of common metrics and disclosres on non-financial issues of importance to stakeholders. The metrics are informed by other ESG standards that already existed, including many of those listed in this article.
A set of 21 core and 34 expanded metrics were published in September 2020, covering people, planet, prosperity and governance themes. As of May 2022, 70 companies had begun including the Metrics in their annual reporting.
Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)
SASB stated that its standards differ from many of the others included in this article as they focus specifically on the most financially material sustainability topics for certain sectors and themes. For example, data security is most material in the software industry. Water management will be more material to beverage and FMCG producers than small office-based firms.
It hosts 77 Industry Standards through which companies can disclose, and an Engagement Guide and Implementation Guide to help investors make sense of disclosures and further engage with companies.
SASB was merged into the Value Reporting Foundation in 2021, along with the International Integrated Reporting Council. Its Industry Standard and other resources remain available to companies.
Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures (TCFD)
The TCFD was formed by the Financial Sustainability Board in a bid to encourage the uptake of unified climate risk and opportunity measurement and disclosure across the private sector. It first published its framework in 2017, outlining guidance for disclosures regarding governance, strategy, risk management and climate targets. A key and unique facet of the framework is that it encourages businesses to undertake scenario analysis. This involves mapping likely risks and opportunities to the business’s value chain at a range of global warming trajectories, including those detailed in the Paris Agreement.
The TCFD has received widespread support on a voluntary basis. As of October 2021, more than 2,600 organisations had voiced support for the framework. As has always been the case, voicing support does not mean full alignment with the TCFD’s recommendations. The TCFD has repeatedly voiced concerns over only slow increases in the quality of reporting.
With 90% of global GDP now covered by net-zero targets, TCFD-aligned disclosures are set to be mandated in several nations in the near future, including the G7, Switzerland and New Zealand. The US is also using the TCFD to form its emissions disclosure requirements. The first major economy to mandate TCFD disclosures was the UK, with the first phase of requirements entering force in April this year. Click here for edie’s full explainer on the UK mandate.
Task Force on Nature-Related Disclosures (TNFD)
The TNFD officially launched in June 2021 with an overarching aim to align corporate reporting and financial spending to alleviate nature-related risks.
The aim of the TNFD was to compliment the growth of the TCFD as interest in nature-related risk grows at all levels. The TNFD follows a similar pattern; it aims to give companies and financial institutions a complete picture of their environmental risks.
March saw the TNFD unveiling the first beta version of its framework. An updated version was then published in June, with a full release confirmed for 2023. Three ‘consultation groups’ are working to develop the standard, including Governments and businesses in Australia, India, the Netherlands and the UK. Also represented are the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), tasked with engaging Indigenous communities.
UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI)
Founded in 2005, the PRI is an UN-supported international network of investors working together to implement its six aspirational principles, often referenced as “the Principles”. Unlike many of the other initiatives detailed here, this applies to institutional investors only.
The Principles are as follows:
- Incorporating ESG issues into investment analysis and decision-making processes.
- Being active owners and incorporate ESG issues into our ownership policies and practices.
- Seeking appropriate disclosure on ESG issues by the entities in which we invest.
- Promoting acceptance and implementation of the Principles within the investment industry.
- Working together to enhance our effectiveness in implementing the Principles.
- Reporting on our activities and progress towards implementing the Principles.
The PRI has received the support of signatories with more than $70trn of assets under management and its PRI Reporting Framework is regarded as the largest of its kind in the world.
Join the conversation during edie’s Green Finance Focus Week
Readers interested in the ESG disclosure movement are encouraged to take part in edie’s ongoing Green Finance Focus Week (18-22 July).
Throughout the week, the edie editorial team will be publishing a range of features, interviews, reports and more to inform and inspire readers around making sense of the ESG landscape and scaling up finance to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future. We will also be hosting a series of online Inspiration Sessions on the afternoon of Thursday 21 July, sponsored by Inspired Energy and featuring expert speakers from organisations including Natwest, Standard Chartered and the We Mean Business Coalition. Click here for details and to register.
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