Better discipline for mainstream environmental reporting: the CDSB Framework

One of the big shifts taking place in business reporting is the movement away from separate CSR or sustainability reports towards integrated mainstream reports. The discipline of incorporating environmental and social data into mainstream reports helps to sift out material information from PR spin.  This should mean more material information for stakeholders and investors. The new CDSB framework, launched yesterday, is another step forward, and useful addition to environmental reporting guidance.

Customers, investors, NGOs and other stakeholders are demanding more and better information on environmental matters as well as other ESG (environmental, social & governance) data.  The Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) was formed at the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in 2007 with the aim of developing the global corporate reporting model so that it takes account of the environmental impacts of corporate activity.

The first CDSB Framework, released in 2010, focused on the risks and opportunities that climate change presents to an organization’s strategy, financial performance and condition. The CDSB Framework has now been updated to provide guidance on reporting broader environmental and natural capital information. Anders Borg, former Minister of Finance, Sweden, and chair of WEF’s Global Financial System Initiative, and Michael Izza, CEO, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales, were among the speakers at yesterday’s launch.

The CDSB Framework’s guiding principles are designed to ensure that environmental information in mainstream reports is useful to investors, including relevance and materiality, consistency and comparability. The requirements are designed to encourage standardized disclosure of environmental information that complements and supplements other information in the reports. See www.cdsb.net/framework.

How does it fit in with other reporting guidance?

It is a crowded field.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) produce international, voluntary frameworks for reporting to a broader range of stakeholders. The GRI takes a mainly list-based approach with a range of indicators, selected after a materiality assessment. The IIRC guidelines inform the development of an integrated annual report covering human, social and natural capital as well as financial.

The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) provides industry sector guides for Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) compliant reporting in the United States.  The SASB’s standards focus on the minimum set of disclosure topics likely to constitute material information for companies in the industry and are designed for disclosure in mandatory filings.

The CDSB framework sets out its stall as providing a framework for mainstream environmental and natural capital reporting.  It provides guidance on what you should report rather than how you measure it.  Specific measurement guidance is covered under existing international protocols such as the GHG Protocol, and the forthcoming Natural Capital Protocol.

The CDSB framework is a good staging post. Its strength is that it is designed to dovetail with existing financial reporting boundaries.  I think the way ahead is a greater emphasis on reporting the value creation, and capital dependencies, across product lifecycles, supply chains, and communities. That’s usually where corporate activities make the biggest impact.