Sustainability and Carbon Reporting Standards:
Driving Accountability and Innovation
By Julia Renner, Programs Fellow
Many of the world’s largest companies have recently begun publishing sustainability reports. These reports, which detail businesses’ economic, environmental, and social impacts, empower them to become more sustainable and responsible.
Transparency and accountability
Customers and stakeholders are increasingly interested in seeing businesses committed to sustainability, and environmental reporting is a concrete and meaningful way for businesses to demonstrate their commitment. Having a shared language and common standards for reporting sustainability metrics avoids confusion and facilitates understanding. For these reasons, many businesses report their sustainability and carbon footprint data according to standards used by companies worldwide.
Benefits to your business
If your business isn’t already participating in a voluntary carbon and environmental metric reporting program, you may wonder what the benefits are of making such a substantial commitment. The benefits include:
- Demonstrating to customers, who recently value sustainability more and more, that your business is committed to measuring and managing your environmental impact
- Providing an example to other local businesses
- Providing you with an understanding of where improvements in your business can be made, and giving you an incentive to do so
- Future-proof your business for long-term profitability by preparing to comply with future regulations like carbon caps and pricing
Resources and options
Two of the more popular resources for businesses interested in reporting their environmental metrics are the Global Reporting Institute (GRI) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Other options include getting certified as a B Corporation or by the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board.
The Global Reporting Institute operates the most-used sustainability reporting standards worldwide, comprising 36 different metrics spanning the various environmental, economic, and social impacts that businesses have on the local and global community. These comprehensive standards give businesses, customers, and stakeholders the information they need to make informed decisions and positive changes.
The Carbon Disclosure Project aims to help businesses quantify and understand their carbon impact so that they can work innovatively and ambitiously to reduce it. Their disclosure system includes the largest collection of self-reported environmental data in the world. The CDP takes raw data from companies and completes an analysis themselves, identifying carbon impacts and opportunities for improvement. This makes working with CDP an ideal option for businesses who want to understand and reduce their carbon impact but don’t have the time, resources, or expertise to perform their own analysis.
Becoming a B Corps certified company gives for-profit businesses a structure of standards for for being socially and environmentally responsible, accountable, and transparent. B Corps aims to redefine ‘success’ to include businesses becoming a force for social and environmental good. Member businesses complete a B Impact assessment that measures their social and environmental impact. They then sign the B Corps Declaration, documenting their commitment to the B Corps mission.
The Sustainable Accounting Standards Board provides a set of sustainable accounting guidelines that empowers businesses to provide their investors with concrete data on their sustainability metrics. SASB prides itself on its guidelines being evidence-based, industry-specific, and market-informed, enabling businesses to thrive in a competitive market while still being sustainable.
Recent changes: more options, more innovation
Recent changes to both the GRI and CDP systems are making it simpler and easier than ever for businesses, especially small businesses, to report their sustainability metrics and carbon footprint.
New standards for the Global Reporting Institute were introduced in October 2016. The new guidelines are more straightforward, making them easier to use for new participants, and distinguish between requirements, recommendations, and guidelines, so that businesses can clearly tell what metrics they need to report and how they can best accomplish this. Businesses now have more options for how to report their metrics: they can report according to the simpler Core or the more complex Comprehensive options, or can simply report the individual metrics that they feel are most relevant to their sustainability goals.
The Carbon Disclosure Project recently put out its 2016 Climate Change Report, which sets the baseline for carbon emission decrease goals for the year. This report includes the Comprehensive Climate Roadmap, a resource to help businesses make their disclosure statements more comprehensive and useful. With this Roadmap, businesses can report on their low-carbon initiatives and their production or consumption of renewable energy. It asks more comprehensive questions about sustainability at every point in the supply chain. These new opportunities represent a renewed invitation for businesses to turn their interest in sustainability into concrete action and change.
All of these changes have made carbon and environmental metric reporting simpler, more comprehensive, and more easily tailored to small business’s needs.
How to get started
The first step to becoming more sustainable is to measure and report your metrics, providing you with a springboard for innovation and improvement that will benefit your company, the environment, and your community. To learn more about how to report your metrics, contact GRI, CDP, B Corps, SASB, or CABA to get started.
About the author: Julia is a senior at Northeastern University, majoring in environmental science with concentrations in marine and conservation science and a minor in English. She has previously worked as a Commonwealth Wind Fellow at Massachusetts Clean Ene
rgy Center and conducted ecological research at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center and the Martin Ryan Marine Science Institute in Galway, Ireland. Julia is interested in climate policy, carbon pricing, and climate adaptation and resilience. In her free time she can be found outside running, biking, scuba diving, and spending time on the seashores around Boston.