EMAN Conference: From sustainability reporting to sustainability management control edition:17 location:Rotterdam date:27-28 March 2014
Over the last decade, there has been an upsurge in sustainability reporting worldwide. Nevertheless, there is still a large gap between the reporting rates of different countries and sectors around the world. This paper analyses how Belgian organizations report the economic and environmental performance indicators in their sustainability reports, with the aim to evaluate the quality and completeness of this information. As the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) are considered to provide the most detailed, competent, and prescriptive set of indicators for sustainability reporting, this framework was used for the research.
The study finds that the economic aspects are generally reported through disclosure of a larger number of indicators, as compared to environmental aspects, most likely because of financial reporting obligations. Nevertheless, huge differences exist between organizations with respect to the amount and quality of information that is provided on these economic indicators in the GRI reports. In general, private and governmental organizations put more emphasis on disclosing economic indicators in their reports compared to non-profit organizations. With respect to environmental aspects, companies in Belgium that could cause a nuisance or pose a threat to human or environmental health need an environmental permit or an environmental impact assessment is required, but there is no obligation of public reporting. Consequently, environmental performance indicators are often only reported on a basic level, but in a more consistent way, with limited differences between organizations. One exception are the companies with a longer tradition in environmental reporting, mainly driven by serious image problems. This experience with environmental reporting, often in combination with very advanced environmental management systems, is still visible in the GRI reports.
Besides a detailed content analysis of sustainability reports of Belgian organizations, set up according to the GRI guidelines, some suggestions and recommendations for more coherent and comprehensive reporting are given, and synergies with new developments, such as the GRI G4 guidelines and integrated reporting are sought.