All of the top 100 U.S. companies provide Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) disclosures, according to Big shifts, small steps, KPMG’s 2022 global Survey of Sustainability Reporting.
The report found that sustainability reporting has grown steadily. Of the world’s top 250 companies, 96% are providing some form of sustainability reporting.
However, there are many smaller companies still in the early stages of their ESG journey and many others that have not yet begun to assure their ESG metrics.
Companies that embed ESG into their long-term business strategies will unlock value. In fact, 70% of U.S. CEOs believe their ESG programs improve their financial performance, according to the KPMG 2022 CEO Outlook survey. For example, climate engagement is not just about meeting reporting requirements but also about making the underlying business more resilient, reducing carbon emissions to thrive in a low carbon economy and meeting stakeholders’ – including investors, customers, employees and business partners – expectations. Assuring ESG data enhances reporting credibility, and the 2022 survey found that only 41% of U.S. companies include a formal assurance statement as part of their sustainability report in the annual financial report.
While there is still a need for global consistency in ESG reporting, companies are increasingly aligning on more common standards that bring consistent, comparable and decision-useful information to investors. Existing standards have increased in use. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) remains the most dominant standard used around the world, though some regions have a clear preference for Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) or local stock exchange guidelines.
Following the market’s lead, mandatory sustainability reporting is also on the horizon. The SEC’s proposed climate disclosures would require nearly all publicly listed companies in the United States to include climate-related information in the Form 10-K.
According to the survey, 78% of the top 250 global companies are using the GRI. SASB is popular as well, with roughly one-third of N100 companies (a worldwide sample of the top 100 companies by revenue in 58 countries) and nearly half of the G250 (the world’s 250 largest companies by revenue based on the 2021 Fortune 500 ranking) reporting against it. In the U.S., that number is even greater with 75% of N100 companies using SASB.
There is increased reporting on climate-related risks and carbon reduction targets: Nearly three-quarters of companies report their carbon targets, while the number of companies reporting against Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has nearly doubled. This is in line with findings from the TCFD’s 2022 Status Report that states more than 3,900 companies, spanning 101 countries, covering nearly all sectors of the economy, with a combined market capitalization of $26 trillion, have pledged their support for the TCFD.
Perspectives about ESG reporting are shifting as well. Historically sustainability reporting has focused on the business’ impact on the environment. With the advent of ESG reporting, the focus is expanding to look at the risks and opportunities of environmental issues to the business. For example, some 39% of U.S. companies surveyed recognize the loss of biodiversity as a risk to the business.
For years, the “E” of ESG has been the star of the show. While that continues to be the case, the report also found that social considerations in ESG reporting are on the rise. Almost half of the top 250 companies globally acknowledge social elements as a risk to their business.
For U.S. companies, the report also reveals:
ESG disclosure is more than just reporting. Many companies want to improve the substance of their ESG strategy. Beyond enhancing trust, more and more CEOs see financial value in engaging in ESG. Businesses that invest in ESG can lead the way with greater transparency, resilience and sustainability and realize transformative growth.
Although concerns about economic downturn are causing CEOs to rethink their ESG investment – the KPMG 2022 CEO Outlook survey found that to prepare for an anticipated recession, 59% of CEOs indicated they’d pause or reconsider their organization’s ESG efforts in the next six months – it’s also an opportunity to assess strategy and determine how ESG can be used to create value.
Companies that haven't started on their ESG reporting journey should start now. This process begins at the board and management level. The report found that only 23% of the top 100 U.S. companies have sustainability representation at the leadership level. Globally, one-third of companies in the N100 have a dedicated member of their board or leadership team responsible for sustainability matters.
Many companies are re-imagining their governance structures over ESG, creating steering committees composed of executive leadership and making strategic decisions about commitments, actions and disclosures.
Companies are also beginning to appoint board members that have relevant climate expertise in areas like climate science and operationalizing net-zero commitments. In fact, 57% of financial reporting executives surveyed cited resources and expertise as their biggest concern, according to KPMG’s ESG journey to assurance report.
With increasing stakeholder demands for transparency and with mandatory ESG reporting regulation soon becoming a reality, it is essential that companies orient themselves to the evolving sustainability reporting landscape. Here are some tangible ways to get started: