Surprising Trends in Sustainability Reporting in North America

Source: , 7 September 2017

The Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) announces its second annual research of Sustainability Reporting Trends in North America 2017. This report presents 2015-2016 trends from 551 companies from the United States and Canada, many from the Fortune Global 500.  The report is intended for stakeholders including investors, business leaders, company boards, CSR and sustainability professionals, NGOs and customers.  New this year, research includes a comparative analysis of companies that publish sustainability reports with the highest scores in CSRHub, a global sustainability ratings agency.

The report examines company and organization sectors, size and ownership.  It reviews reporting practices, external assurance practices, the presence of carbon footprint metrics and financial performance. The report describes over 20 trends specific to North America, broken down between the USA and Canada.

Key Take-Away

The most significant finding of Sustainability Reporting Trends in North America 2017 is that companies with the highest rankings on CSRHub had better financial performance than companies with lower rankings during the period 2014-2016.  These companies have recognized the importance of a comprehensive sustainability reporting strategy that includes goals and externally assuring performance information and data.

Other key trends

The sectors with the highest reporting presence are Energy and Energy Utilities, Financial Services, Food & Beverage, and Mining.  As noted in CSE’s 2016 report on Silicon Valley, tech firms are surprisingly under-represented.

Most of the companies publishing a sustainability report for 2015-2016 were public companies (79.2% in the U.S. and 79.0% in Canada).  The global presence of Large and Multinational Enterprise operations makes reporting sustainability performance a necessity to keep their social and environmental license to operate.  Small-Medium Enterprises represent only 5.1% from the U.S. and 8.0% from Canada.

The use of specific guidelines for reporting is growing, adding value, integrity, transparency, and reliability to reports. Of the many guidelines available, 65% of companies use the Reporting Guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).

In North America, the majority of reports following reporting guidelines have not sought external assurance, compared to 50% of global reporting companies and organizations.  The percentage of North America companies seeking assurance has not grown since 2014.

Adoption of the UN Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) has proceeded slowly in North America. However, 41% of businesses are expected to embed SDGs into their strategy and business practices within five years, and 71% of businesses say they are already planning how they will incorporate the SDGs.

Carbon footprint reduction has become a priority among companies with the highest Sustainability Ranking.  Most of the companies have well-stated and measured goals and targets found in their reports and websites.

Report findings will be presented at CSE’s Sustainability Practitioner Program (Advanced Edition 2017) in Toronto and San Diego.  CSE research informs the continuous updates of the online specialized courses offered by the Sustainability Academy.