Victoria Shoaf , Eva K. Jermakowicz , Barry Jay Epstein
St. John's University
January 01, 2018
In recent years, sustainability reporting has increasingly become common practice by large corporations. The Governance and Accountability Institute reported that 75% (375) of the companies of the S&P 500 Index prepared sustainability reports in 2014 (GAI, 2014). This voluntary reporting responds to the demands made by various stakeholder groups—investors, employees, consumers, communities, and regulators—and a growing recognition that sustainability-related issues can materially affect a company’s long-term performance (Eccles, Ioannou, and Serafeim, 2014). Sustainability reporting is often characterized broadly as that addressing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns (SEC, 2016). Recent developments may result in a further rise in the prominence of sustainability reporting. Included in the April 2016 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Concept Release on disclosure reform are 12 pages (pp. 204–215) of discussion about sustainability disclosure, including a historical analysis of the items on which it seeks comment, and eight questions posed to elicit feedback (with a 90-day period of public comment that was open until July 21, 2016). We study the letters sent in response to the Concept Release, as well as the global context in which it was made, including various accepted sustainability reporting frameworks currently in use and worldwide calls for sustainability reporting, such as the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030 (UN, 2015), and the European Parliament’s Directive 2014/95/EU requiring disclosure of information on policies, risks, and outcomes on environmental matters, social and employee-related aspects, respect for human rights, anti-corruption and bribery issues, and diversity on boards of directors. Global harmonization of sustainability reporting is already often suggested, and we investigate potential frameworks for achieving it.