The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has held two webinars to engage stakeholders at all levels with the collaborative elements of the Reporting Exchange launched in September.

The webinars took place on 16 and 20 November respectively in collaboration with the Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB) highlighting how environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have changed expectations of corporate performance and transparency in recent years, in particular the rising global trends in sustainability reporting developments.

The webinars presented the WBCSD’s global knowledge platform, The Reporting Exchange, which is designed to help businesses understand the complex and often fragmented landscape of reporting requirements on ESG issues and is meant to be a first step towards the integration and harmonisation of non-financial reporting at a national, regional and international level.

The lack of a standardised reporting system is the main reason ESG analysis is time consuming and expensive, according to a statement from the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, and in its absence there are different reporting standards being used. WBCSD founding director and CDSB director Lois Guthrie said the Reporting Exchange responds to the explosion in mandatory and voluntary reporting provisions documented by many organisations.

CDSB senior technical officer Gemma Clements added that despite this explosion, there are examples where harmonisation has worked, in reference to the G20, the TCFD, and the OECD’s efforts. “Most corporate governance codes share similarities, regardless of jurisdiction. However, we do see a gap in the sustainable development goals (SDGs) 1, 2, and 4, and so we suggest that further guidance be put into place to help companies report,” Clements said.

The Reporting Exchange platform currently hosts 1,780 reporting provisions covering 70 sectors in 60 countries and plans to expand in the short-medium term. Information from stock exchanges, UN bodies, and non-governmental organisations are categorised by the WBCSD “but as they are from different sources it is quite hard to see how they relate to each other,” Guthrie explained.

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The webinars presented case studies of corporate reporting approaches used in Canada and Hong Kong in order to compare.

Hong Kong takes a leap forward

Independent non-profit organisation Business Environment Council (BEC) Hong Kong has been working with members to drive Hong Kong towards a low carbon economy through different approaches including environmental protection and conserving resources, and to improve corporate sustainability reporting.

BEC Hong Kong‘s senior manager, Nadira Lamrad explained that the Council had previously identified the need for its members to have updated information regarding ESG requirements internationally.

“We started our own register, initially limited to the Asia Pacific region. However, it was out of date within a month from publication and had to be continuously updated. Maintaining it was a real challenge for the team, and there was no way we could keep up with all major changes in the region,” Lamrad stressed.

The organisation joined the Reporting Exchange as they already had members operating in other jurisdictions, or had members in the process of expansion. Working with the WBCSD has helped the BEC to increase global connections as a step forward for Hong Kong, Lamrad added.

The Canadian perspective

Non-profit organisation Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR) executive director Leor Rotchild explained the importance of business values for decision making and external disclosure. In particular, Rotchild outlined the efforts of some of its members to be a “force for good” as well as the core Canadian business values of being purpose driven, eco conscious, globally minded, ethical and collaborative.

The Works Design (member of CBSR) sustainability manager Shu Yi Chu added that sustainability reporting trends have been increasing both in Canada and on a global level. Chu also outlined some of the research undertaken into ESG reporting and the GRI core reporting accordance. The research also covered the topics of integrated reporting, standardisation, materiality, stakeholder engagement, supply chain, impact and value creation, and performance and targets. The results of the research, collated from different sources, found that 65% of companies report to the SDGs, but that also the percentage of companies sharing sustainability updates on social media has drastically increased to above 71%.