The KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting (the Survey) is one of the most comprehensive pieces of global research in the sustainability arena. First published in 1993, the Survey is produced every two years. In this article, we summarize some interesting findings from the 2022 report, titled “Big shifts, small steps.”
The 2022 Survey analyzes Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and sustainability reports, financial information, and websites from 5,800 companies in 58 countries, territories, and jurisdictions. KPMG says this is its most extensive survey to date; five new countries participated this time (Estonia, the Philippines, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam), and both Chile and Israel returned after not reporting in 2020.
The 2022 Survey results show that sustainability reporting is growing. Of the world’s top 250 companies (the G250), almost all (96 percent) provide some type of sustainability reporting. The only G250 companies that do not report on sustainability are in China; however, KPMG states that it expects this to change. The Chinese government is promoting its commitment to carbon neutrality and recently introduced reporting regulations stating that listed Chinese companies must now disclose environmental and social information.
Sustainability reporting from the top 100 companies in each country or jurisdiction that KPMG analyzed (the N100) has steadily increased. Ten years ago, around two-thirds of companies in the N100 provided sustainability reports; in 2022, that rose to 79 percent. It may (or may not) surprise people to learn that the Asia Pacific region leads in sustainability reporting—89 percent of N100 companies in the region report on sustainability. Setting a high standard, over 90 percent of N100 companies in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, and Pakistan provide sustainability reports.
Europe ranks second on a regional basis, with 82 percent of its N100 companies reporting on sustainability. The Americas declined three percentage points from KPMG’s 2020 report, to 74 percent, due to a steady decline in Latin America’s reporting rate. Before we wring our hands and level harsh criticisms, it is worth noting that the decline is driven largely by the inclusion of new countries with lower reporting rates. North America remains the strongest in the region with reporting rates among companies at 97 percent. There was a small decline in reporting from the Middle East & Africa, from 59 percent in 2020 to 56 percent in 2022.
From a “best-in-progress” perspective, kudos to Iceland, the UAE, and South Korea, whose reporting rates increased by 39 percent, 22 percent, and 22 percent, respectively, compared to 2020. Moving in the wrong direction, declines of 16 percent were seen in both Mexico and Argentina, and 12 percent in Turkey. We hope that this type of negative publicity pressures more reputation-conscious companies in more countries to step up.
Key trends in sustainability reporting
The report identifies five major emerging trends in sustainability reporting. While they provide some encouraging progress, they also highlight the amount of work that remains:
- Sustainability reporting and materiality assessments are increasing – Not only are more companies reporting with more detail, there has been greater uptake of standardized reporting. Roughly 75 percent of both the N100 and G250 use materiality assessments; this is particularly significant as this Survey was the first to take a look at this issue. Among competing standards, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) remains the dominant method of reporting, followed by the use of Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) standards. SASB is the most prevalent system chosen in the U.S. and Canada, but is growing elsewhere, including 35 percent of Europe’s N100. A good number of the N100 and G250 use their domestic stock exchange guidelines or standards.
A note on materiality: Materiality assesses the impact that a given ESG-related topic will have on a company, its stakeholders, and broader society. KPMG states that 39 percent of companies in the G250 are reporting on these three impacts, but less than one-third in the N100 do so. OWL expects the use of materiality assessments to increase around the world going forward.
- Increased reporting on climate-related risks and carbon reduction targets – Nearly three-quarters of companies report a carbon target, although 20 percent do not disclose any external target (e.g., a 1.5˚C scenario). The number of companies reporting based on the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) has almost doubled.
- Growing awareness of biodiversity risk. – Despite an increased awareness, fewer than half of the companies surveyed recognize loss of biodiversity as a risk to their business (read our article on why they all should). In high and medium risk sectors, reporting on biodiversity has increased across both the N100 and G250 since 2020. Perhaps not surprisingly, Latin America continues to dominate in biodiversity reporting. The region includes some of the most biodiverse areas on earth and is suffering a massive loss of biodiversity due to extractive industries, land use changes, and deforestation.
- Reporting on the UN SDGs: checking the box? – The majority of companies report on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with 10 percent of companies reporting against all 17 SDGs.
- Climate risk reporting leads – Almost two-thirds of those surveyed acknowledge climate change as a risk to their business. However, less than half report on social and governance risks, and KPMG says these discussions are “overwhelmingly narrative-driven” and fail to quantify the financial impact of these risks.
Climate continues to dominate “E”, while “S” and “G” still lag
Expanding on the fifth of the five trends noted above, the Survey shows that businesses increasingly recognize that they have a role in helping to achieve climate targets; 71 percent of the N100 and 80 percent of the G250 set carbon reduction targets. More good news: most companies recognize that they must actually reduce emissions to achieve their carbon targets rather than rely solely on carbon credits. It is a bit puzzling to us that only 64 percent of the G250 formally acknowledge that climate change is a risk to their business. No one is immune, whether it be the direct impacts from changing weather patterns and severe weather events, regulatory impacts, stranded carbon assets, or any of the other myriad knock-on effects of anthropogenic climate change.
There is also some good news on a sector basis. Under pressure from stakeholders, resource-intensive sectors are now leaders in disclosing climate targets. Seven of the top 10 positions in the N100 in 2022 are held by these sectors, and the leaders include the automotive and mining industries. Also encouraging is the marked growth of target disclosures in the technology, media, and telecommunications sectors. While there were some gains noted, the Survey found that the healthcare and financial services sectors continue to show room for improvement.
- fewer than half of the companies surveyed report on “social” components (e.g., diversity, modern slavery, community engagement, and so on),
- less than half disclosed their governance risks (e.g., bribery and anti-corruption, anti-competitive behavior or political contributions). In all fairness, governance includes more than these things – such as board diversity and independence. And how realistic is it to expect companies to say “we are at risk for bribery, corruption, and illegal political contributions”?!
- only one-third of N100 companies have a dedicated member of their leadership team responsible for sustainability
There is much more of interest in KPMG’s 78-page report and we encourage everyone to dig into the details when you have time. To close, the importance of ESG disclosures and understanding the risks and benefits sustainability issues represent is perfectly summed up by this quote from the Head of Global ESG KPMG International, a Partner at KPMG in the UK:
“Those with vision and an unyielding focus on the future will likely seek and embrace business opportunities for long-term value creation in a purpose-led, sustainable, low-carbon economy. We have tools. We have knowledge and awareness. We have responsibility. Let’s commit.”
OWL ESG provides the kind of raw data that underly the sustainability reports KPMG references in this survey. Learn how you can leverage what we do to collect this data and compile the most comprehensive and up-to-date source of ESG data in the industry.