Here’s the Details on USA Corporate ESG Reporting Trends

December 1, 2022

by Hank Boerner – Chair and Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

In the early issues of our company’s newsletter (G&A Institute’s Sustainability Updates) more than a decade back, we had a feature that seems quaint today: we published the list of U.S. corporate ESG reports that we had found in manual searching for that issue.

The reports we “captured” required considerable time and effort to find.

You see, most companies would publish their “corporate social responsibility”, “corporate environmental”, and (a few) “sustainability” reports with no fanfare, no announcement, no call to readers to come look at the report.

And so we had to look here, there and everywhere to find a new corporate report to share with our newsletter readers.

The percentage of reports published compared to the total universe of large caps that could have published reports was tiny – very tiny, indeed.

But we noticed in our constant monitoring that the number of such reports published by U.S. headquartered companies while small was steadily increasing.

We wondered then, what was happening in the universe of S&P 500 Index© firms, representing a huge part of the available equity investments on stock exchanges.  The S&P benchmark represented more than 80 percent of large-cap publicly=traded companies (to invite in). 

In those early days of what is now ESG reporting the European peers of U.S. companies published many more reports – so when a US company published a report, that was news we wanted to share!

We began a thorough examination of U.S. corporate ESG disclosure, looking at calendar year 2010 reporting to share in our first trends reports that we published in 2011. We found that just under 20% of U.S. firms included in the S&P 500 Index had published a report. That was encouraging, right?  A good sign for the future!

The following year (for our trends report of 2012, for 2011 corporate reporting) we were quite surprised to find that now more than half of the S&P 500 firms were publishing reports. And that volume rapidly increased to almost three-quarters of the firms by the next trends report (in 2013 for 2012 reporting).

And soon enough we were at nine-out-ten of the index companies were publishing ESG reports (far too many to list in the newsletter!).

Many readers of the annual trends report began to regularly ask us about the reporting activities of the next batch of publicly-traded companies large caps – those companies included in the Russell 1000 Index®.

We expanded the S&P 500 research four years ago to all of the R-1000 companies. Over the years we’ve seen U.S. corporate ESG/sustainability reporting become more sophisticated, more in-depth, and the content more valuable to stakeholders seeking ESG data sets and other information.

Today we devote many months of the year to in-depth research and analysis on corporate ESG reporting for these trends reports. This has become our signature research effort.

A talented team of G&A team members work with a highly-qualified team of analyst-interns (most of them participating in Master’s degree studies in sustainability topics) who scour corporate reports for details that we share in the trends report. You’ll see their names and backgrounds in the trends report.

From the beginning of this exercise in 2010 we have invited the best-of-the best of advanced sustainability academicians to be part of the journey. (We started with two outstanding analyst-interns that year for the first trends report – Dr. Michelle Thompson and Natalia Valencia).

Over the following years we’ve had an outstanding team each year to develop the contents of the trend report – and they’ve gone on from G&A internships to great careers in various sectors, we’re proud to say.

We always made the trends report available to all (at no cost) in the belief that the more information and intelligence on corporate ESG reporting that is available the more that stakeholders will use the information — and pass on their expectations to companies to provide more details in their periodic ESG disclosures.

That has worked, we’re told by a number of experts, to help encourage still more ESG disclosures by U.S. companies and to encourage asset owners and managers to look closely at the data and narratives disclosed by publicly-traded enterprises.

Over time, the content examined and data/narrative captured has become a powerful resource for the G&A team as they assist publicly-traded and privately managed firms with their ESG disclosure and reporting.

We have more to say about the trends report project in the 2022 edition.for 2021 reporting).  Here’s the link to the Trends report if you have not read it yet: https://www.ga-institute.com/research/ga-research-directory/sustainability-reporting-trends/2022-sustainability-reporting-in-focus.html

Our Honor Roll of present and past analyst-interns is here: https://www.ga-institute.com/about/careers/internship-honor-roll.html

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