Sustainability reporting: it’s not rocket science

Source: Accountancy Age, 15 January 2008

The launch of the report of the Prince of Wales’ Accounting for Sustainability Project just before Christmas was hugely important.

For the first time, business and the public sector now has a simple and clear framework on which to base their sustainability reporting efforts. The process of embedding sustainability deep in an organisation and making sure that sustainability issues are reported alongside and connected with more conventional financial information is now recognised to be of enormous importance.
As a matter of course, companies are now saying that they have to do this. For them it has become a business imperative. The effects of climate change are a board-level issue. It’s not something that companies do in the belief it makes them seem somehow nicer. The benefits are both financial and reputational. But those benefits will not be properly felt if a company’s sustainability efforts are not reported accurately and clearly.

The key thing to do now is to get a structure in place. The report provides this in the form of a complete guide to the embedding process. It shows how sustainability reporting can be connected with the rest of the reporting structure.

The new website, set up under the aegis of the project, enables best practice to be identified and learned from. As a result companies can see what other companies have done and compare their efforts.

The fact that companies like BT, EDF Energy, Sainsbury’s, Aviva and HSBC are already using elements of the reporting framework will give other companies confidence.

This does not have to be rocket science. All companies can do this and embed it into the way they are doing things.

The project highlights the five environmental indicators that all organisations should consider reporting on: polluting emissions, energy use, water use, waste,
and significant use of other finite resources.

These need to be reported on, with benchmarks and targets, and clearly linked to an overall strategy; it needs to be part of the day to day operations of a business.
Clear reporting brings issues into focus. If a company comes to measure and state its use of resources, this could play a significant role in helping it to reassess its usage and its needs.

Reporting could yet become a catalyst to help companies change their behaviours. That is one of the goals ­ and a challenge which organisations of all kinds need urgently to engage with.

Richard Reid is vice chairman of KPMG and a board member of Accounting for Sustainability