Antea Group, MassTLC

Guest Blog Post: Flipping the Lens on Sustainability Disclosure Frameworks

Written by: Nick
Martin and Michael Rieger, Antea Group (MassTLC Member)
It seems that every
day there is an article about the ‘Internet of Things’ or ‘Big Data’ and while
we have yet to fully grasp the magnitude of this shift in technologies, it is a
clear indication of where we are headed in terms of access and sharing of
information.  This new operating
environment with transparency and disclosure expectations is bound to increase
given the state of technology, social media, and access to information.
The last decade has
demonstrated the importance of transparency within the business world and we believe
most companies, either through voluntary or mandated response, have embraced
this as a fundamental requirement of success. The renewed calls for transparency
have been amplified by simultaneous technological advancements and
opportunistic stakeholders ranging from investor representatives (e.g., CDP,
Ceres) to major corporations such as Walmart. The result has been an explosion of
disclosure requests and expectations being placed upon companies in the United
States and abroad. Many companies are feeling overwhelmed by survey requests,
requiring a significant and seemingly endless allocation of resources.
Companies are
increasingly being pushed into a precarious position of either declining
sustainability disclosures outright or picking and choosing which surveys to
respond to. Branded companies with a complex and diverse stakeholder base have
increasingly begun to question the ongoing business value of disclosures
compared with redirecting resources to other company investments and
While the question of
‘do’ or ‘do not’ disclose will remain, in this blog we offer a different
perspective on the business value of utilizing disclosure frameworks and
requests. If you ‘flip the lens’, you can find an invaluable resource that we
believe is underappreciated.    
Disclosure frameworks
have completed significant research and ‘leg work’ to define the most critical
and effective elements of Corporate strategies. They have engaged leading
experts and companies, facilitating a rigorous development and maintenance
effort to accelerate Corporate adoption of sustainability-related initiatives. The
business value is that surveys and associated scoring methodologies can be
utilized by companies as comprehensive gap analysis tools for developing an
effective, holistic strategy and/or validating efforts to date. Furthermore,
these methods are absolutely free and include a wealth of guidance information
and resources (e.g., reports, webinars, diagnostic tools, etc.).
Making This Real
The following are
three examples of disclosure frameworks that are primed for extracting
meaningful insights and utilizing these as a gap analysis process to enhance
company standards:
§ CDP (Water, Climate Change, and Forests) – an exceptionally transparent organization
with surveys, methodologies, and scoring publicly available: https://www.cdp.net/en-US/Pages/guidance.aspx
Ø Questions to ask: is
our strategy well aligned with the associated CDP questionnaire?  Can we answer questions affirmatively?  What are the gaps, especially for elements
that CDP applies a higher scoring weight? 

§ Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) – the G4 Standard outlines a process for
completing Corporate annual reports, including clear guidance on individual
indicator definitions and a quality rating methodology. In addition, GRI
provides a search tool to see real examples of Corporate reports at varying
quality levels, which provides valuable benchmarks and examples to utilize in
developing your company’s annual report.  
Ø Questions to ask:
Which of the GRI indicators is our company able and comfortable reporting? If
not able or comfortable, why not (e.g., insufficient data, not material, not a
compelling story or performance level, not previously considered)? How do we
compare to sector or peer leaders? Are there elements of the GRI guidance that
would help our other disclosures (e.g., website material, supplier or customer
communications, materiality assessment)?

§ Sustainability Accounting Standards Board
– a unique initiative
that is focused upon defining the materiality of social and environmental
issues for up to 80 unique sectors.  The
ultimate objective is to embed the outputs of the SASB Standards into financial
disclosures (e.g., 10-K, SEC Filings). The website provides: 1) Industry
Briefs; 2) Industry-specific Standards; and, 3) a Materiality Map. http://www.sasb.org/approach/our-process/industry-briefs/technology-communication-sector-industry-briefs/
Ø Questions to ask:
has our company acknowledged the same materiality issues as proposed by SASB
for our sector?  If not, what are the
differences and why? How prepared are we to align with the SASB Standards if
they are integrated into financial filings? 
Is there additional data we should consider collecting now to be prepared? 
In addition to these
examples, there are many others that could be utilized in a similar manner such
as: ISO 14001;
ISO 50001; USGBC Leadership in Energy &
Environmental Design (LEED); UN Global Compact and CEO Water Mandate; and Ceres
Aqua Gauge and the Ceres Roadmap for Sustainability.  There are also a variety of industry and
material sourcing-specific guidelines.  
While disclosure
frameworks and standards will likely continue to proliferate in at least the
short-term, companies can ‘flip the lens’ and extract added value by using
these well thought-out resources. This approach will benefit companies to
define cutting edge strategies, drive business value and prepare the
organization internally, regardless of ultimate disclosure decisions

Nick Martin is
Sustainability Practice Lead (
nick.martin@anteagroup.com) and Michael Rieger (michael.rieger@anteagroup.com) is a Consultant in the Boston area with Antea Group

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