This piece appears on the UK’s Digital Catapult website:

https://www.digitalcatapultcentre.org.uk/sustainability-data-lakes/

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) and Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) continue to make an important contribution to the debate on the future of sustainability reporting. The newly published document ‘Mapping the sustainability reporting landscape: Lost in the right direction’, assesses the state of play and offers ideas on ‘bringing order to sustainability reporting’.

A key recommendation is the need to identify the shared objectives of the various standards and requirements bodies. Currently companies are supplying the same information to different bodies, but presented in a slightly different way. This is inefficient and unnecessary. This is compounded by ‘acute misalignments and asymmetries within and between corporate and government frameworks used to monitor and report’ (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2016).

A key challenge also remains reporting of the key ‘material’ issues, i.e. those that are most important and relevant to the business and its stakeholders within the reporting period. There is a lack of clarity on what constitutes materiality and no standard approach to identification.

Reports also have different audiences with different expectations. Therefore the model of a single, static document is not an ideal one. The ‘new order’ of corporate reporting as identified in the ACCA/CDSB document is one where the process is ‘technology enabled’. In my view, while technology is not a silver bullet, it can offer many benefits in relation to reporting challenges:

It provides a means for stakeholders to access data and generate insights on a rolling basis, rather than through the annual cycle.
It can ease the burden of data management and disclosure for the reporting company.
It can provide links to other relevant data and context – not readily done in a static, manual format.
It can be interrogated remotely for assurance purposes.
It can help visualise and contextualise the data for different audiences – making reports more engaging and interactive.