Last week I joined more than 1000 representatives from companies, civil society groups, and government agencies in Amsterdam for the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) biannual conference, “Rethink. Rebuild. Report.”
Urgency was a constant refrain throughout the conference, as BSR’s President and CEO Aron Cramer noted, in order “to prevent further planetary overshoot”—that is to say, reduce our consumption so we can live within our planetary means and ensure the world can regenerate appropriately.
Part of the “Rethink” was covered in a plenary session moderated by Aron, which brought together stakeholders (investors, media, NGOs) on one side with company practitioners on the other. This session called into question the value of ESG reporting up to now, suggesting that ESG reporting has not yet resulted in the kind of systems-rethinking or accountability reframing required to change business as usual. As Oliver Greenfield from WWF noted, “Fifteen years of voluntary ESG reporting has not worked…and so-called good ESG reports are not necessarily an indicator of good performance.”
Other sessions I attended covered reporting trends among small- and medium-sized enterprises and reporting by companies in less-developed markets. Both sessions again underscored the need for consistency in approaches to reporting ESG performance to ensure comparability of data across industries and geographies. A common question by attendees was, “What’s next for reporting?” The experts’ answer: “Integrated reporting.”
Chatting with my fellow conference participants, most people noted that that the shape and form of ESG reporting will continue to evolve as companies and their interlocutors continue to wrestle with the best way to account for and communicate ESG performance. Indeed, most agreed that, when we meet again in two years, the reporting landscape is likely to still be in flux.