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November 09, 2010
Despite Recession, More Companies Are Producing Sustainability Reports
    by Robert Kropp

PricewaterhouseCoopers publishes fourth in a series of surveys of sustainability reporting, recommending the Global Reporting Initiative and the UN Global Compact as starting points for new reporters.


For its fourth survey of trends in corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability reporting, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) reviewed 602 companies listed in five Standard & Poor's indexes. In addition, the CSR reports of 75 companies—25 each from Canada and the United States, and 25 from Europe, Asia, and Japan—were analyzed by PwC for the benchmarking of best practices.

Noting that the number of sustainability reports has continued to increase despite the global economic recession, the report asserts that such reports have "become critical to a company's credibility, transparency and endurance." While most companies now post CSR information on their websites, however, "Canadian and US companies continue to lag behind companies in other regions when it comes to producing a report," PwC found.

Eight-one percent of European companies now produce a CSR report, an increase of more than 15% over 2009. While only about 40% of Canadian companies now publish such a report, that number also represents an increase of about 15%. The number of US companies producing a report remained about the same, at approximately 40%.

The PwC report is divided into five chapters: Focus, Credibility, Context, Performance, and Accessibility. In keeping with the report's emphasis on engaging key stakeholders, PwC has, along with its collaborator Craib Design & Communications, produced a document that is notable for its frequent use of colorful graphics; as much as it is a survey of corporate sustainability reporting in 2010, the report is also designed to help companies get started in sustainability reporting, and improve the accessibility of the information provided.

Observing that 83% of Canadian sustainability reports used the guidelines of the
Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), PwC recommended the GRI as "a great place for new reporters to start." Overall, 67% of sustainability reports used the GRI guidelines.

PwC also recommended that companies use the principles of the
UN Global Compact, which address human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption, and requires member companies to report on the issues on an annual basis. While 76% of non-North American companies cite the Global Compact principles in their sustainability reports, only 24% of Canadian companies do so.

Included among the key elements of reporting are materiality, governance and management systems, stakeholder engagement, and assurance. Describing the explanation of materiality as "critical," PwC stated, "The best reports will qualify—sometimes quantify—both the potential impact that an issue might have on a company along with the level of concern expressed by stakeholders." For such information to be credible, external assurance by an auditor using accepted standards is helpful. However, only 31% of companies included assurance reports in 2010, and only 27% of reports using the GRI guidelines were externally assured.

Throughout its report, PwC highlighted examples of best practice in sustainability reporting, and identified 40 companies that do so. US-based companies among them included Campbell Soup, Chevron, Coca-Cola, Exxon Mobil, Ford Motor, Intel, and Nike.

 

 
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