From decarbonization to workforce diversity to sourcing products through ethical supply chains, organizations are under pressure from a range of stakeholders to disclose how they’re tackling—and are affected by—crucial environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues facing the planet and the communities in which they operate.
Rigorous and transparent ESG reporting can be a source of long-term value that builds trust between companies and their stakeholders. But for many organizations in Canada and around the world, it remains an overlooked opportunity.
Take access to capital, for example. In a September 2021 global survey of investors, nearly 80% of respondents said ESG was an important factor when making investment decisions. Nearly half said they’re willing to divest from companies that aren’t taking sufficient action on ESG issues. But at the same time, only about one-third of investors, on average, believe the quality of the ESG reporting they’re seeing is adequate.
It’s not just investors who have rising expectations. Employees, lenders, customers, regulators and other stakeholders are also using ESG information to inform their decisions. That’s putting pressure on companies to provide information that’s relevant, reliable, complete, comparable and of the same calibre as investment-grade financial reporting.
Against this backdrop, we undertook a first-of-its-kind analysis exploring the quality of ESG reporting among Canada’s top 150 public companies, based on a combination of revenues and market capitalization. Relying exclusively on publicly available information, we applied our internally developed Building Public Trust Insights framework that uses more than 80 questions based on leading international standards to assess elements such as strategy, materiality, metrics, assurance and other key components of ESG reporting.
The data above is based on a September 2021 analysis of publicly available ESG reporting information released by Canada’s top 150 publicly traded companies, based on a combination of revenues and market capitalization.
There are excellent examples of high-quality disclosures from some organizations. But they are not the norm. The ESG reporting of the country’s top companies is, on the whole, falling short of the requirements demanded by capital markets and stakeholders. That’s leaving organizations susceptible to perceptions of greenwashing and at risk of missing opportunities for long-term value creation.
We’re seeing positive signs and developments across the ESG reporting landscape. The creation of the International Sustainability Standards Board announced at the November 2021 COP26 climate change conference will create a global baseline for ESG reporting. The ultimate goal is a set of globally recognized sustainability standards. This will result in more consistency and comparability between the reports of individual companies, giving investors additional confidence and trust in what they’re reading. And, here in Canada, it’s encouraging that so many companies are reporting, to various degrees, on their ESG performance.
But there’s still room for improvement. The lack of material disclosures, targets, metrics, assurance and strategy integration discussions limits trust in ESG reporting.
Many companies tell a good story, but not necessarily the full story. And while companies are identifying some ESG-related threats, they’re often overlooking opportunities.
As you explore this year’s findings, we encourage you to reflect on your organization’s ESG reporting strategy and ambitions. To discuss how you rank against your peers, assess your level of ESG reporting maturity or identify gaps, reach out to start a conversation and to stay current with the evolving sustainability reporting landscape.
“Shareholders and other stakeholders need trustworthy information upon which to evaluate business performance against this broader conception of value. They can only reward value creation if they can meaningfully identify it.”
The value of high-quality ESG reporting goes beyond compliance. Investors, lenders, employees, suppliers and customers can only gravitate to sustainable businesses if they can confidently identify those companies. This means that many top Canadian organizations are at risk of ceding ground to their peers in the global battle for capital, talent and market share.
This same threat is also an opportunity. As stakeholders look for leadership on climate change, social justice and other pressing challenges, Canadian companies that demonstrate how they’re creating value for shareholders and society alike will gain an edge on several fronts:
A note on terminology: Throughout these pages, we’ve used the terms “ESG reporting” and “sustainability reporting” interchangeably to reflect the language used by the broader business community. “ESG” is technically a subset of sustainability referring to factors relevant for enterprise value. “Sustainability” tends to encompass information relevant to all stakeholders.
Partner, Risk Assurance Services, PwC Canada Board Chair, ESG Practice and Net Zero Leader, PwC Canada
Tel: +1 604 806 7711
National ESG Markets Leader and Canadian Platforms Leader, PwC Canada
Tel: +1 250 298 5272