We’ve been thinking a lot recently about the role of company sustainability practitioners in the future of sustainability reporting. By holding the pen while reports are written, practitioners occupy a very special position in shaping this future.

Not only do practitioners form the contents of reports, but they also possess unique insights into the successes and shortcomings of sustainability reporting that others in the field simply don’t have.

In theory, sustainability reporting achieves two main objectives: It improves company sustainability performance, and it enables informed decision-making by stakeholders. We’ve reached the conclusion that it is the practitioner who usually knows more than most about how, why, and when sustainability reports achieve these objectives—or don’t.

It is for this reason that BSR is launching a new “Future of Sustainability Reporting” collaborative initiative.

At its most basic, the collaborative initiative will provide a space for practitioners to share learning, insights, and perspectives on how, why, and when sustainability reporting supports improved company performance and informed decision-making.

However, we would like the collaborative initiative to be much more ambitious than that.

Specifically, we believe there is an important and timely opportunity for practitioners to influence the future of sustainability reporting. We would like the collaborative initiative to address important questions, such as:

  • Which sustainability reporting strategies and approaches actually improve sustainability performance at companies—and which do not?
  • What approaches to sustainability reporting allow a diverse range of audiences (investors, civil society, policymakers, etc.) to make informed decisions?
  • How should the various reporting frameworks and standards evolve to better support these desired outcomes in reporting?
  • How can consistency among the various reporting frameworks improve, while still allowing them to fulfill their different objectives?
  • What practical approaches to reporting—such as different report structures, or use of key performance indicators (KPIs) accompanied by key performance narratives (KPNs)—are most effective?

The Future of Sustainability Reporting will initially seek to achieve these objectives in three ways: shared learning among members of the group, dialogue with reporting organizations, and publishing a point of view in the form of a white paper. During 2017, it is our hope that the group will meet monthly by phone and twice in person.

To avoid confusion, it is important to emphasize three further points about the new collaborative initiative.

First, when we say “sustainability reporting,” we’re referring to all company sustainability disclosures, be that in the Form-10K, traditional sustainability reports, or in-depth reports focused on a single topic, such as climate change or human rights.

Second, BSR is frameworks-agnostic. We believe that all the various reporting frameworks (GRI, IIRC, SASB, and all the many issue-specific frameworks) have vital roles to play, but that the consistency among them and their user-friendliness can be substantially improved. 

Third, when we say “practitioner led,” we mean it. We are very interested in evolving the activities and outputs of the group based on what you, the practitioner, would find most valuable.

Late last year, BSR’s Triangles, Numbers, and Narratives paper set out the main features of reporting that we believe improve performance and enable informed decision-making and proposed a conceptual model for the future of sustainability reporting based on a triangular structure and a KPI-KPN table.

While the ideas presented in the paper were an imperfect work in progress, we hoped that they point in a direction that would both simplify the reporting process and increase its impact.

The ideas shared in the report resulted from many informal discussions among practitioners, and the report concluded with a call to action for companies to join BSR in developing these solutions further. We have established the Future of Reporting to do just that—come and join us.