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Our Insights 28 Aug 2014

See Change: How Transparency Drives Performance Survey

By Margo Mosher

Sustainability reporting is stalled. That is, reporting is simply not driving as much impact as it could.

This is not to say that reporting has not evolved since its early days or led to important and useful information and action. It certainly has. Companies that have been monitoring and reporting on an array of social and environmental issues spanning many years have created numerous baselines, data sets, subject-matter expertise and collaborative relationships upon which to build.

Impact-wise, reporting has enabled efficiency gains, informed stakeholders about key issues, enhanced corporate reputations, and started to inform some investor decisions.

However, at this stage in the global sustainability reporting journey, when we have access to a plethora of data, technology, and story-telling expertise, it is time for reporting to drive even more impact. Our latest GlobeScan/SustainAbility survey^ explores how transparency can be better leveraged to drive such changes.

One notable finding from the survey is the importance of valuing externalities. Survey respondents indicated that valuing and reporting on externalities, above many other possible transparency efforts, guides decision-making that leads to sustainable change within companies. This supports growing interest among many companies to better understand their material impacts, including relevant externalities, to mange their impacts on society and the environment.

The survey further highlights that sustainability experts believe transparency and sustainability reporting can bring more value to companies than it currently does: 79% of survey respondents indicate that corporate transparency positively impacts a company’s sustainability performance. Respondents also suggest two top barriers to transparency driving more change—poor data accuracy and lack of focus on material issues. These experts pointed to mandatory non-financial reporting requirements and increased investor demand for integrated reporting as potential solutions to drive greater value from reporting.

These survey results will inform our research on the role that transparency plays in driving performance. We look forward to releasing the full report, including greater context about the value of transparency and practical guidance, later in 2014.

^ 491 qualified sustainability experts completed the online questionnaire from June 24 to July 18, 2014. Respondents were drawn from: corporate, government, non-governmental, academic/research, service/media, and other organizations. Experts surveyed span 69 countries in Asia, Africa / Middle East, Europe, North America, Latin America / Caribbean, Australia / New Zealand, and comprise a highly-experienced respondent pool, with 73% having more than ten years of experience working on sustainability issues.

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