As the global sustainability agenda is rapidly changing, companies shape their communication activities accordingly. In this context, one can come across significant changes in the contents of sustainability and integrated reports in short periods.
A multinational consulting firm has been reviewing the trends of sustainability reports of companies operating in North America and Europe under two different studies. In addition to reviewing the connection between the companies' actions on sustainability and their financial accomplishments, the studies also address the leading sectors in non-financial data reporting, the use of new technologies in sustainability practices, the guidelines frequently used for reporting, and the methods that are not applied due to high costs.
A growing interest in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the common outcome of studies conducted for North America and Europe. The number of companies that pledge to contributing to the SDGs with their activities in North America has increased by 124% compared to 2017. Additionally, the business world in Europe has been engaged in a rapid process of adopting the SDGs. It is observed that various companies included within the scope of the studies in Europe address the SDGs in their sustainability reports. It is expected that the number of companies that incorporate the SDGs in their strategies and practices will increase in the next five years.
Furthermore, as a common trend, it is seen that interest in independent assurance statements obtained to verify the data used in the reports has been decreasing in North America and Europe. Due to high costs, approximately 76% of companies in both regions cannot ensure that the data used in reports is independently audited, hence, the data shared cannot be sufficiently reliable.
The research reviewing 642 sustainability reports issued in North America shows that the leading sectors in sustainability reporting in 2016-2017 are health and personal hygiene products, food and beverage, energy, financial services, and mining. It is seen that the ratio of companies operating in these sectors that publish sustainability reports is over 80%. According to the research, while most of the companies that publish sustainability reports are multinationals, regardless of sector, sustainability reporting is also becoming popular among small and mid-size companies. It is seen that North American companies increasingly benefit from the latest technologies every year to access new sustainability solutions.
The research conducted in Europe reviews 475 sustainability reports. According to this research, companies operating in Europe tend to establish specific targets such as climate change, energy efficiency, sustainable business activities or sustainable supply chain; and work focused on specific targets. Social impact targets of the companies include widening sustainability strategies to involve all stakeholders, reducing their negative effects on the society, and providing responsible products and services. The research indicates that the companies are unable to achieve such targets fully and recommends them to use tools such as socio-economic impact assessments more extensively to achieve their goals.
Another notable trend in reporting processes is an increasing demand for transparency by all stakeholders. The utilization of guidelines in sustainability reports stands out as a factor increasing the integrity, reliability and transparency of the reports. It is seen that the guideline widely used both in North America and in Europe is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards. GRI continues to update the Standards by considering the sustainability agenda and the increasing demand for transparency. One of the latest Standards added focuses on taxes. A technical committee consisting of experts works to meet the demand for transparency on taxes paid by companies. The goal is to reduce tax evasion and to support the reliability of tax systems by encouraging disclosure on taxes and thus, supporting transparency in this matter.