Businesses worldwide are failing to produce enough sustainability reports, while governments are doing little to encourage such reporting – which would have a direct benefit for business and the environment, a global survey by ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and CorporateRegister.com has found.
The publication, Towards Transparency: progress on global sustainability reporting 2004, looks at the status of sustainability reporting around the world and identifies a number of trends – with marked improvements in coverage, standards and credibility needed in the next few years. It is split into four regional chapters – Europe, The Americas, Africa and the Middle East and Asia and Australasia.
The publication shows that North America and Western Europe are the most active reporting regions. In contrast, non-financial reporting is practically unknown in the Middle East and most of Latin America. In the Asia Pacific region there is little reporting outside Australasia and Japan – and across Africa only South Africa is showing significant reporting activity.
The publication shows that:
* There are marked differences in the approach taken to external assurance in reports, both between regions and within regions. This needs to be addressed in the interest of reporting credibility – greater external assurance of reports is needed.
* There are marked differences in levels of support shown by governments through the production of voluntary guidance or through mandatory reporting requirements.
* Improvements in quantity and quality of reports could be achieved through the use of globally applicable guidelines such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). A globally common framework would enable meaningful comparisons to be made more easily.
* While there are major achievements in each region, there are still only 1,500 to 2,000 companies producing reports worldwide. The majority of companies still have to recognise the business case for reporting and starting to engage their stakeholders.
In its European chapter, the publication shows that the region has led the way in non-financial reporting, accounting for just over half of all reports produced globally. In Europe, a fifth of reports are produced in Scandinavia, and over three quarters come from the rest of Western Europe. Central and Eastern Europe reporters account for only around 2% of reports. Almost two thirds of reports have an environmental focus, with a fifth representing fuller sustainability and corporate responsibility reports. Of the reports produced in Europe in 2003, just under half had external assurance.
The publication shows that Africa and the Middle East are relatively new to sustainability reporting. South Africa dominates reporting in the region and accounts for over two thirds of all reports published between 1993 and 2003. The rest of Africa produces just under a quarter of all reports. Encouragingly , over 40% of reports are full sustainability or corporate responsibility reports.
In its chapter on The Americas, the publication shows that reporting has reached a plateau in recent years, following steep growth between 1990 and 1995. The proportion of reports with external assurance has doubled since 1995 , although the figure is low in comparison with the rest of the world. Between 2001 and 2003 almost two thirds of reports from the Americas were published in the US with a third published in Canada. Reports from South America account for only 6% of the total published reports.
In the section on Asia and Australasia, the publication shows that three countries, Australia, Japan and New Zealand are responsible for growth in reporting, which doubled every year between 1996 and 2000. Over half the reports produced in the region were produced in East and South East Asia , Australasia accounted for 43% and South Asia just 1%.
The report ends with a list of sources for futher information but isn’t complete: the famous and core-site in the field of corporate environmental and sustainability reporting is missing (www.enviroreporting.com).