Corporate sustainability reporting "on the up"

Review of international best practice finds growing attention to the "triple bottom line"

Corporate sustainability reporting "is here to stay," according to a new survey backed by the UN Environment Programme. But though more companies are reporting in more sophisticated ways, very few are facing up to the part they play in fundamental sustainability issues such as use of fossil fuels, increasing air travel or continued ecosystem destruction, the report concludes.

Prepared by London-based consultancy Sustainability, "The Global Reporters" is the latest in a series of studies by the firm charting the development of corporate environmental reporting.

It finds continuing rapid growth in both quantity and quality of reporting. Though it screened only 200 reports addressing economic, social and environmental issues for the study, it adds that "there are doubtless hundreds (possibly thousands) more...and clearly many more companies report in 2000 than did a decade ago".

Quality has been boosted by the Global Reporting Initiative (ENDS Daily 30 June) and other sustainability reporting guidelines, the study says. There has also been a boom in independent verification and assurance of company reports. In 1994, just four of 100 environment reports were verified, rising to 28 of 100 in 1997 (ENDS Daily 10 December 1997) and to 25 of the top 50 reports in this year's survey.

New challenges remain formidable, the study stresses. It finds that only a small number of firms currently make the business case for sustainability, and very few are open about their public policy agenda. Too few firms are developing "key performance indicators," needed to increase clarity for stakeholders and enable benchmarking.

Benchmarking remains a key tool to encourage reporting and drive up standards, the consultancy maintains. The study ranks the global 50 "best" sustainability reports based on tests such as how well a company explains its business context for sustainable development, how far its information enables a judgement on its actions and how well the information serves stakeholders.

Top of the pile comes UK airport operator BAA, followed by Danish pharmaceuticals firm Novo Nordisk, and three more British-based firms, The Cooperative Bank, British Telecom and oil major BP. Ranked six to ten are oil firm Shell, Australian mining firm WMC, Swedish welding products maker ESAB, US pharmaceuticals giant Bristol-Myers Squibb and German car maker Volkswagen.

Follow Up:
Sustainability, tel: +44 20 72 45 11 16, and press release.

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