ESG Reporting: Navigating ESG frameworks & requirements
Learn all about ESG reporting standards to promote transparency, impress your stakeholders, and boost your brand.
ESG reporting comes in many forms: Corporate sustainability reports, mandatory disclosure requirements, measuring and reporting ESG standards and frameworks. The why of ESG reporting is crucial. Beyond taking accountability for your organization’s environmental impact, investors consider sustainability information business-critical. Moreover, consumers are becoming more and more invested in a company’s sustainable initiatives and pay it back with brand loyalty. The how of ESG reporting is much less obvious. How can a food company choose the right ESG framework and produce compliant ESG reports? In this guide, you will find answers to this question and more.
- What Does ESG Reporting Mean?
- Why Is ESG Reporting Important For Companies?
- Mandatory ESG Reporting Frameworks
- Voluntary ESG Frameworks & Standards
- What are the ESG Reporting Requirements?
- ESG Reporting Best Practices (With examples!)
- Why Is ESG Software Important?
- How to master ESG reporting in 7 steps
- ESG Reporting Examples
- Our Best Tips For Effective ESG Reporting
What Does ESG Reporting Mean?
ESG reporting is a form of sharing the impact of a company on sustainability. ESG stands for E-Environment, S-Social, G-Governance, and a complete ESG report measures and outlines the sustainable practices of a company throughout time.
ESG reporting can be voluntary or mandatory and focus on specific areas, scopes, or practices within sustainability. For example,
- The EU Commission’s Corporate Reporting Sustainability Directive CSRD is mandatory for companies over a certain size and requires reporting on all 3 aspects of ESG.
- SBTi targets are a popular voluntary ESG framework that focuses on climate change only and validates corporate emissions reduction targets.
Now that we have covered what ESG reporting means, let’s explore why you should jump on board and how an ESG report can benefit your business.
Why Is ESG Reporting Important For Companies?
An ESG impact report for a company is a matter of corporate transparency and accountability. However, it is also an opportunity. ESG reporting has many diverse benefits for your company:
One of the main purposes of ESG reporting is for the company to identify sustainability risks, make informed decisions, allocate the right resources, and effectively manage them. This way, your company future-proofs its operations and reputation.
Stakeholder engagement & trust
An ESG report that showcases your strategy is a growth and stability indicator for investors and can boost capital inflow. Many investors factor ESG into their decision-making and a standardized ESG report supports retaining investors and attracting new ones.
The market is becoming increasingly sensitive to ESG issues and consumers are voting for sustainable products with their wallets. Transparent ESG communication can give your products and your brand overall a competitive edge in a rapidly growing market.
ESG reporting holds your company accountable and as a result, keeps you on top of ESG risks. Transparent ESG reporting can help you increase efficiencies, find improvement opportunities, optimize for present costs and save your company future larger costs.
And of course, these arguments fly out of the window for the markets where ESG reporting is mandatory! Let’s jump straight ahead…
Mandatory ESG Reporting Requirements
Not all ESG reporting is made equal. While with voluntary ESG reporting, a company can choose which framework to use, when it comes to market-mandated or government-mandated ESG reporting, the ESG reporting framework is not always an option.
Starting in 2023, 35 nations and regions representing 56% of the global GDP are rolling out mandatory ESG reporting. Companies in these markets will have to accompany their annual financial disclosures with ESG reports, signaling that corporate sustainability is deemed on par with financial action.
As of this year, these markets are mandating ESG Reporting:
🇧🇷 Brazil – GRSAC Report on Social, Environmental and Climate-related Risks and Opportunities
Financial institutions and banks must provide a report that aligns with TCFD, an ESG framework for reporting on climate change. In Brazil’s case the TCFD-aligned report is not limited to climate change, covering ESG governance, strategy, risk management, and as of 2022, include emissions metrics and targets.
🇨🇦 Canada – Disclosure of Climate-related risks
From 2024, federally regulated institutions in Canada will be required to submit TCFD-aligned reports on climate risks. The disclosure will expand to other areas of the economy in time.
🇭🇰 Hong Kong – HKEX climate-related disclosures
Starting in 2025, financial institutions and companies listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange will have to include a TCFD-aligned report on the financial impact of climate change on their business in their ESG reports.
🇪🇺 EU – Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive(CSRD)
CSRD applies to companies operating within the European Union and mandates ESG reporting on all sustainability categories. CSRD reporting does not fully align with TCFD as the EU is developing its own set of ESG reporting standards with ESRS EFRAG. The EFRAG reporting standards are mostly aligned with the ISSB framework. The ESG categories included in a CSRD report are:
|Climate change||Own workforce||Business conduct|
|Pollution||Workers in the value chain|
|Resource use and circular economy||Affected communities|
|Biodiversity and ecosystems||Consumers and end-users|
The roll-out of CSRD starts in 2025 for FY 2024 and concludes in 2028 for FY 2027.
🇳🇿 New Zealand – Mandatory climate-related disclosures
Around 200 entities in New Zealand are required to produce TCFD-aligned climate-related disclosures gradually, beginning with the financial year 2023.
🇸🇬 Singapore – SGX sustainability reporting
Listed companies within Finance, Energy, and Food, agriculture and forest products must produce a TCFD-aligned report on climate change, starting with FY 2023.
🇨🇭 Switzerland – Ordinance on mandatory climate disclosures
The Swiss climate disclosures apply to large or publicly listed companies and require the submission of a TCFD-aligned report on climate change as of 2024 for FY 2023.
🇬🇧 UK – Mandatory climate-related financial disclosures
Publicly listed and the largest companies in the UK must create a TCFD-aligned report on climate change already in 2023 for FY 2022. The mandate will roll out across the economy by 2025.
🇺🇸 USA – SEC climate disclosures
Depending on the size and filing classification of a company, American companies will have to submit a TCFD-aligned report to the Securities and Exchange Commission between 2024-2026 and onward.
👉 Interested in mandatory climate disclosure requirements? Check out our Complete Guide To The Mandatory Climate-Related Financial Disclosures.
Voluntary ESG Reporting Frameworks
How can a company approach its own ESG reporting? When the ESG report is voluntary, follow an ESG reporting framework and ensure that your data is abiding by a credible standard. Let’s walk through them.
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
What is GRI?
GRI is a comprehensive ESG reporting framework developed for companies to report and communicate their environmental, social, and financial impact. GRI is central to the ESG reporting framework landscape, aligning with bodies such as the European Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG), The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) foundation to minimize discrepancies among ESG reporting frameworks.
GRI believes that sustainability and financial reporting should be done together and on an equal footing. That’s why GRI’s standards cover a range of both ESG and economic aspects, from emissions and supplier ESG assessment to anti-corruption and economic performance.
How to use the GRI standards
- Start with the three universal GRI standards (GRI 1, 2, 3)
- Select your sector standard (GRI 11-13). For example, food companies should use the Sector Standard for organizations in the agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing sectors.
- From the selected Sector Standard, you can select the Topic Standards that your company deems material (GRI 201-418).
- GRI 1: Foundation
- GRI 2: General Disclosures
- GRI 3: Material Topics 2021
- GRI 11: Oil and Gas Sector
- GRI 12: Coal Sector
- GRI 13: Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fishing Sectors
|GRI 201: Economic Performance||GRI 301: Materials||GRI 401: Employment|
|GRI 202: Market Presence||GRI 302: Energy||GRI 402: Labor/Management Relations|
|GRI 203: Indirect Economic Impacts||GRI 303: Water and Effluents||GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety|
|GRI 204: Procurement Practices||GRI 304: Biodiversity||GRI 404: Training and Education|
|GRI 205: Anti-corruption||GRI 305: Emissions||GRI GRI 405: Diversity and Equal Opportunity|
|GRI 207: Tax||GRI 306: Effluents and Waste||GRI 406: Non-discrimination|
|GRI 308: Supplier Environmental Assessment||GRI 407: Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining|
|GRI 207: Tax||GRI 306: Effluents and Waste||GRI 406: Non-discrimination|
|GRI 408: Child Labor|
|GRI 409: Forced or Compulsory Labor|
|GRI 410: Security Practices|
|GRI 411: Rights of Indigenous Peoples|
|GRI 413: Local Communities|
|GRI 414: Supplier Social Assessment|
|GRI 415: Public Policy|
|GRI 416: Customer Health and Safety|
|GRI 417: Marketing and Labeling|
|GRI 418: Customer Privacy|
The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)
What is SASB?
SASB develops industry-specific standards for reporting on ESG-related risks and opportunities. SASB’s framework highlights risks and opportunities within sustainability that may impact a company’s finances in the short, medium, and long term. SASB also covers the full range of ESG categories, ranging from emissions and land use to fair labor practices and supply chains. The intended audience of a SASB-conforming report is investors in the 77 industries to which SASB standards apply.
Since 2022, SASB has been under the guidance of the IFRS of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB). Moreover, these bodies are in an alignment of their own with GRI, ensuring conformity between the two frameworks. This means that the SASB standards will merge with the IFRS standards and align with GRI. Two less acronym alignments to worry about!
Who can use the SASB standards?
The SASB framework uses industry-specific standards, which make it ideal for companies operating mostly within a single industry. For example, within Food & Beverage, the specific sector standards are:
- Agricultural Products
- Alcoholic Beverages
- Food Retailers & Distributors
- Meat, Poultry & Dairy
- Non-Alcoholic Beverages
- Processed foods
How to use the SASB standards
To report within the SASB framework, locate the sector that represents your company and download the relevant standard. The SASB framework is metric-driven in a quantitative way. On average, each sector standard has six disclosure topics that relate to 13 metrics. It is then up to the company to perform a gap analysis on its current sustainable practices and disclosures and include the material topics and metrics in the report. A SASB-conforming report has a narrative structure based on the selected material topics.
Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)
What is TCFD?
TCFD is one of the most straightforward and widely used ESG reporting frameworks, focusing on climate change and emissions reporting. It is adopted by most mandatory climate disclosures and the top voluntary emissions-reporting body CDP. The 11 TCFD Recommendations are now the go-to reporting standard for companies reporting on their climate change strategy and metrics. The TCFD recommendations cover the entire vertical of a company’s work with climate change – from top to bottom. The four areas your TCFD-aligned report needs to include are:
- Risk Management
- Metrics & Targets
Who can use the TCFD framework?
Any company reporting on corporate emissions and climate strategy can benefit from the bottom-up outline of TCFD. Moreover, companies reporting to the CDP require the same information as a TCFD-aligned report. Finally, the TCFD standard may not be optional for some companies, as it is the requested reporting standard for mandatory climate disclosures in the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand, and other countries and markets.
How to use the TCFD framework
Create a TCFD-aligned report by starting from the center: Gathering your emissions data. From the picture of your emissions data, set reduction targets in key areas. From a strategic perspective and consulting your data, identify the risks and opportunities and how your company manages them. Finally, outline how top management is involved in this process. The TCFD-align report itself is a narrative structure that presents this information starting with Governance and concluding with targets and metrics.
What is CDP?
CDP is a voluntary survey-based disclosure framework focusing on climate change, water use, and forests. CDP issues its questionnaire annually and based on the company’s responses, provides a score. CDP is by far the most popular corporate ESG reporting framework for emissions disclosures, with over 13,000 companies worth over 64% of global market capitalization using it. CDP aims to expand its scope to cover disclosures on all ESG categories. CDP aligns its survey and generated reports with the SASB and TCFD reporting frameworks and standards.
Who can use the CDP framework?
Any company committed to SBTi is encouraged to report annually to CDP. The largest companies are already submitting their CDP questionnaire annually and a lot of them invite their suppliers to disclose with CDP as well. CDP is an excellent choice to report with for companies that want to demonstrate ESG leadership and enhance their transparency.
How to use the CDP framework
Submitting the CDP questionnaire is a straightforward process with a sharp deadline, usually in July of every year. Create your company’s CDP account and answer the questions CDP will present you with. Your responses to these questions help CDP tailor the questionnaire for your company. Once your questionnaire is activated, complete it with your answers and submit your response. If your sustainability report is TCFD-aligned, your company already has most of the answers to the CDP questionnaire.
Science-based Targets Initiative (SBTi)
What is SBTi?
SBTi is an organization that validates corporate emissions reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5°. This means that SBTi is focusing only on the E (environment) of ESG, and most specifically climate change. SBTi’s popularity is growing exponentially, doubling the number of companies with committed and approved targets every year since 2018. As of 2022, companies representing 34% of the global economy by market capitalization had set or committed to science-based targets. Most of the corporate net-zero targets from large corporations are SBTi-approved targets.
Who can use SBTi?
Financial institutions and companies of any size can submit their targets to SBTi. Suppliers to companies with SBTi targets may also be invited by their clients to submit targets for their company to SBTi.
How to set targets with SBTi
SBTi has a matrix of targets for larger companies to choose from. SBTi targets can be:
- Any combination of Scope 1, 2, and 3
- Long-term or short-term,
- Cross-sector or sector-specific,
- Absolute or in terms of intensity.
As of 2022, all newly committed targets must be aligned with the 1.5ºC pathway.
Companies setting science-based targets may choose to set absolute targets, intensity targets, renewable electricity targets, engagement targets, or any combination of the above.
SBTi FLAG targets required for retailers, grocers, wholesalers, and food & beverage producers
Companies within the food system are now required to also submit sector-specific targets for Forest, Land, and Agriculture according to SBTi’s guidance, FLAG. This applies to companies with committed or approved targets, with 2024 as a deadline or companies committing to SBTi from 2023 onwards.
Now that we have gotten to know the ESG frameworks and how you can use them, let’s take a look at what the compliance requirements are.
What are the ESG reporting requirements?
Broadly speaking, ESG reporting has two sets of requirements:
– The reporting requirements imposed by the ESG framework
These requirements usually apply to the content, scope, and structure of your ESG report, e.g. the 11 recommendations for TCFD, the SASB index with the sector disclosure topics.
– ESG data: KPIs & Metrics
ESG data reporting requirements dictate which ESG standard a company should use to calculate the metrics included in their ESG report. ESG data usually have their own set of calculating standards to ensure the accuracy and comparability of ESG reports.
While an ESG report has a narrative structure, the narrative is built upon key sustainability metrics. The metrics included in a company’s ESG report showcase the performance of the company in different ESG areas. The most commonly used ESG metrics are:
- CO2e emissions in kg
- Water usage metric tons
- % of sustainably sourced products
- Land use
- % of recycled material in packaging
- Energy used in KWh per source
- % of waste and by-products
- Own workforce diversity distribution
- Living wages
- Taxes paid
- Health and safety metrics in own operations
- Ethical business conduct
Ultimately, the choice of ESG metrics depends on the company and the framework, but they are always presented alongside financial metrics on a corporate and portfolio level.
ESG reporting standard: Emissions - GHG Protocol
The most widely accepted standard used in climate change metrics comes from the GHG Protocol. GHG Protocol has helpful guidance on how to calculate your corporate footprint, your energy footprint, the footprint of your supply chain, and your individual products. Emissions metrics categorized and calculated per the GHG Protocol standards are a requirement by all of the voluntary and mandatory ESG frameworks above.
ESG Reporting Best Practices
ESG reporting looks different for every company and every sector. However, there are some universal steps that can set your reporting up for success and streamline the process.
1. Find your baseline
A baseline of your ESG metrics, even in a crude form, will give you a snapshot of the present which you can use for an informed materiality assessment.
2. Perform a materiality assessment
Understand your environmental and social impact and highlight the biggest risks for and from your company. These highlights will serve as priorities for your sustainability roadmap and will be the content guide for your ESG report.
3. Define your objective and scope
Outlining the scope and objective of your ESG report gives your reader a clear understanding of your ESG initiatives. Present what your company is aiming to achieve with the ESG report. Define the scope by stating:
- The reporting period
- geographical boundaries
- Activity boundaries
- Inclusion and exclusion criteria
- The sustainability areas in focus
4. Align with an ESG framework
For voluntary ESG reports, select a globally recognized framework that will streamline your ESG report and enable you to compare performance throughout time. Many companies use a mix of different frameworks that best inform their presentation and decisions.
5. Present sustainability targets and KPIs
Including ESG targets in your report informs your reader about your objectives and cements that your company is working with sustainability in a systematic way. The sustainability KPIs showcase your commitment to progress against your company’s targets.
6. Outline the data collection process and methodology
Your data collection process ensures the consistency and accuracy of your ESG report. For ESG data, always note the source, quality, and how frequently you update it. Outline the methodology you use to collect and calculate your data to ensure transparency and accuracy. Finally, consider a third-party verification for your ESG data and confidently present robust, comparable, and high-quality results.
Every ESG best practice is informed by strategic intent. In turn, every strategic intent is informed by robust ESG data. That’s why ESG software is critical to scale reporting and eliminate unnecessary manual work.
Why is ESG reporting software important?
As you can see, a lot of things go into an ESG report:
- Compliance knowledge
- Knowledge of natural sciences
The good news is that any business can have a robust ESG strategy and report without an additional 2-year education or resources. This is because sustainability, and particularly climate change management can and should be fully data-driven. Moreover, calculating and updating ESG metrics, the core of your report and strategy, can and should be fully automated. You can leverage both of these opportunities with ESG software. Here’s how you can benefit from it:
There may be many ESG frameworks and standards, but the most prominent ones are hard to escape. A leading ESG reporting platform embeds the reporting and calculation requirements of the most prominent ESG frameworks in its results. For example, CarbonCloud’s climate footprint calculations are by default compliant with GHG Protocol and can be used as Scope 3 and intensity metrics in ESG reports aligning with all of the frameworks above.
Simplified data collection
39% of ESG practitioners in a recent survey  cited compiling ESG data from multiple sources as one of the biggest challenges in ESG reporting. Thankfully, 90% of them also cite the importance of software in solving this problem. Automating your ESG data collection process with the right software will save your company from tens of emails, spreadsheets, and coordination time.
Automated supplier engagement
The supply chain is a crucial part of any company’s ESG strategy, as usually the majority of emissions come from the supply chain. Therefore, any ESG report without some supplier engagement is one-legged. Nevertheless, an ESG platform such as CarbonCloud with robust supplier engagement automation can save you loads of time and level up your ESG strategy.
Automatic data harmonization
Different ESG standards request different metrics for every sustainability category – and this isn’t a random choice. Sustainability categories are measured with different units. But what happens when you get different results for the same unit? This issue is quite common especially in climate change as the scope and boundaries of manual studies are diverse. CarbonCloud can harmonize the results as it will factor and calculate your data input in a streamlined, automatic way.
Up-to-date, comparable results over time
The right ESG software has the unparalleled advantage of producing streamlined results – and keeping them updated. This eliminates the need to cross-reference data from other sources for harmonization and manually updating your ESG performance in spreadsheets. Instead, you can just command the software to show you your progress against your targets!
Save time & money from manual calculations
To this day, too many companies manage their ESG data with internal and external emails to collect data, input it in a spreadsheet to calculate the ESG metrics and do the process all over again to update their metrics. Equally many companies pay a hefty fee to consultants to drive this process. ESG software eradicates and automates this process altogether, saving months, and expensive project costs, and eliminating the need for sustainability expertise within your company.
Export metrics for the report
Ready to write your report? Without an ESG platform like CarbonCloud, you would have to start the final metric collection all over again from the different parts of your organization. With an ESG platform, you eliminate all manual dependencies and you can simply export your metrics and paste them into your ESG report.
How to master ESG Reporting in 7 Steps
Putting your newfound ESG strategic knowledge and best practices into action is simple. Your ESG report will write itself once you have translated a robust strategy into company action. Here is the complete walkthrough of how to produce a solid, compliant ESG report in 7 actionable steps.
- Get ESG software
With state-of-the-art ESG software like CarbonCloud, you can easily monitor the most important sustainability issues in your company. As companies mature in their ESG strategy, they will require different kinds of software for different issues. However, when starting out, it is important to prioritize automating and monitoring the most business-critical sustainability issues.
- Calculate your baseline
Streamline all the ESG data you already have in your software to calculate your baseline. Your baseline will show you where you stand today and it will be the reference point of your company’s progress in sustainability for years to come. For this reason, make sure that it is calculated with a future-proof calculation standard, like the GHG protocol.
- Find hotspots & risks
Assess your baseline and pinpoint where the problem areas are. Where does your company have a significant impact that can be minimized? Which of these problem areas are a risk factor for your business considering the changing environment? Answering these questions will help you prioritize.
- Set ESG targets
Once you have listed and prioritized your company’s sustainability risks, set relevant short- and long-term ESG targets. ESG targets will be the guiding star of your sustainability initiatives in the future and will help you translate your strategy into prioritized action points.
- Set annual & quarterly KPIs on the relevant ESG metrics
Your annual and quarterly KPIs on sustainability will help you monitor your progress towards your near- and long-term targets. Monitoring your performance against these KPIs frequently will guide your company in adjusting or intensifying your sustainability efforts. ESG data quality makes a difference here: The higher the quality of your ESG data at this point, the clearer the picture of your progress and future actions is.
- When voluntary, select a relevant (or safe!) framework
Now it’s time to select one of the established ESG frameworks that does justice to your sustainability work. All voluntary and mandatory standards require some version of the steps above so you should be on the safe side with any ESG framework.
- Produce a report that narrates the above
Lastly, even in the most rigid ESG reporting frameworks, there is a lot of freedom to present your work in a compelling way. When your metrics are robust, you can showcase your company’s durability to consumers and investors by outlining your ESG targets, priorities, initiatives, and progress. All audiences of an ESG report expect sustainability efforts to be a continuous work in progress so there is no pressure to show that you have made it already – but there is pressure to show that you are taking accountability and data-driven steps forward.
ESG reporting examples
So, how does a compliant, robust ESG report actually look like? We have gathered a gallery of ESG example reports, that you can use as a reference. These showcase not only compliance with a specific ESG standard but also exemplary ESG strategies and execution.
DelMonte - GRI index report
DelMonte’s ESG report is the company’s mandatory climate disclosure to SGX and as such is structured according to the GRI requirement. Take a look at page 37 and onward, where DelMonte includes reporting tables as required by GRI and SASB.
Hershey - SASB index report
Nestlé - TCFD report
Unilever & Sainsbury’s - CDP report
Oatly - Goal tracking & metrics
For an all-around exemplary ESG report, check out Oatly’s sustainability report. Oatly is demonstrating high levels of sophistication in their presentation of absolute and intensity targets, initiatives, and progress as well as ESG data management. The report includes the results of their ESG data audit, cementing the company’s transparency and commitment.
UK - Mandatory climate-disclosure
As the largest companies in the UK are producing their mandatory TCFD-aligned reports, our example comes from the issuing body of the mandate itself, which was the first one to publish its own mandatory climate disclosure in the UK.
Level up your ESG reporting: CarbonCloud’s best tips for navigating ESG standards
Turns out ESG reporting standards have more in common than just acronymic names. Studying the different ESG reporting frameworks, we found similarities that transcend best practices and bring you to the top of the class. Here’s what ESG standards have in common and how to use the similarities to your advantage.
🎯 Define corporate ESG objectives
The goal of all ESG reporting standards is to increase corporate accountability and to some extent facilitate comparable results. If your company is approaching ESG reporting with the same objectives, you have the foundation of a robust ESG report.
⛓ Measure the supply chain impact
Supply chain transparency is central to all ESG standards. The impact of a company’s supply chain is acknowledged and advised by the most prolific ESG reporting frameworks. However, the complexity of the ESG impact on the supply chain is acknowledged equally. As long as your company has scoped some supplier engagement initiatives, you are at a huge advantage.
🪢 Interoperable ESG data
Corporations cannot own their share of accountability without a data-driven picture of their operations and supply chain. For robust ESG data, start bottom-up – from your products. ESG data on the product level will unveil a long-lived ESG strategy.
🏅 ESG data quality
Sustainability data quality is a challenge ESG standards universally acknowledge. However, most standards are not prescriptive about the data quality – they don’t request the highest possible data quality but they do request an ESG data quality assessment. This is where data verification comes in handy.
📉 Establish a solid baseline
A staple across ESG standards is a baseline. An ESG baseline is the snapshot of your ESG metrics when you set your targets. This is particularly true for climate reporting where an emissions baseline for Scopes 1, 2, and 3 is a must in all reporting standards. When you have a solid baseline, you have a confident way ahead.
Ready to take your ESG reporting to the next level?
Get onboard with CarbonCloud and save hours from producing compliant documents!