The value of sustainability report assurance

by Gabriel Chong  gabriel@helikonia.com.my

We have just completed a very busy period of writing sustainability reports. For a few companies, we worked with them on having their reports assured by an independent assurance provider. Here are some reflections on the value a robust assurance process can add to a sustainability report and a company.

It’s not necessary for everyone - We have had companies about to do their first report tell us they want to do an assurance. When probed on why they want it to be assured, they found it difficult to answer. Often it is because they have seen other companies have their reports assured. For companies undergoing their first report, an assurance is not always necessary. A first time report should focus on getting the process right and on principles of defining report content and quality of a sustainability report.

It’s all about the data - As the scope of a sustainability report expands to include more operating units, data management can become overwhelming. Sustainability is also increasingly becoming more sophisticated, with companies moving to real time data dashboards, and more complex, including sophisticated as data sets needed to generate greenhouse gas emissions information. Having a good assurance provider can help check the data to ensure data trends are correct and credible.

It’s ok to correct the data - For a few clients, the data assurance process discovered errors in some of their calculations. Although this may cause clients to worry or be concerned about reporting to management, it also confirms the value of a good assurance provider. Discovering data discrepancies should lead to improvements in internal data collection, and a more robust data process to avoid errors in the future. Good assurers will also advise on that data management process.

Understand who needs assuring - Traditional data assurance is not the only form of assurance that a company can undertake. We always ask clients who want to undertake assurance, “Who needs assuring? Who would find it difficult to believe your report?” This allows us to help determine which assurance process would help validate their report.

There are other forms of assurance which add value to a sustainability report:

  • Critical or key stakeholder commentary – A qualitative commentary on the material issues by a key or critical stakeholder.
  • Expert stakeholder panel – A panel of experts in the areas of materiality who can provide commentary on impact and direction of sustainability initiatives.
  • Reader’s poll – Using an interactive platform, readers of sustainability report can provide feedback on the level of satisfaction in reporting of material issues in the sustainability report.

The assurance process can be challenging and time consuming, especially if it is the first time a company embarks on it. However, when conducted in an independent and robust manner which understands areas of stakeholder skepticism, an assurance can add value.

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