US Companies Help Drive Non-Financial Reporting to New Heights

Risk & Opportunity: Best Practice in Non-Financial Reporting, a new publication from SustainAbility, the United Nations Environment Programme and Standard & Poor's, finds a significant improvement in corporate efforts to build trust with shareholders, consumers and other stakeholders through voluntary disclosure of non-financial performance.

The survey is SustainAbility and UNEP's sixth international review of corporate environmental and sustainability reports, and their first with S&P. Over 350 reports were submitted and 50 were selected by an international independent expert committee for a full analysis. The top three overall are Cooperative Financial Services (UK), Novo Nordisk (Denmark) and BP (UK). The top three US companies in the ranking are HP, Ford Motor Company and Bristol-Myers Squibb. General Motors, Chiquita, Baxter, Starbucks Coffee Company, and GAP also placed in the Top 50. The dynamism of the field is shown by the fact that 52% of the Top 50 reporters are new entrants.

Partially in response to the accounting scandals of recent years, most companies have corporate governance at the center of their reporting agenda. The best companies use their reports to fully explore their total social, economic, and environmental (or ‘triple bottom line') impact. The authors say the trend to more comprehensive disclosure is evidence of increasing interest in understanding all triple bottom line factors influencing the risks and opportunities facing companies.

The research reveals that financial analysts, ratings agencies and insurance companies who rely on corporate data to establish credit ratings and to evaluate the more qualitative aspects of company performance still find it difficult to separate feel-good reporting from reliable data. In particular, Risk and Opportunity finds that companies still need to do more to explain how non-financial performance impacts the financial bottom line.

"Corporate governance is the hottest topic" says SustainAbility Chairman John Elkington, "but recent scandals mean most boards are focused on financial integrity issues - to the detriment of the bigger picture of non-financial risks and opportunities. The good news is that the overall quality of non-financial reporting has improved dramatically since our first benchmark survey in 1994. Now the challenge is to ensure that leading companies integrate their financial and non-financial accounting and reporting in ways that help analysts and rating agencies do their job properly."

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