Why 'Boring' is Important to Sustainability

By Brian Macnamara
Aug 10, 2017 1:30 PM ET


Let’s talk about why sustainability needs to be boring.

Most of us have retirement plans that are invested in stocks and bonds. The companies who issue those securities must report on an annual basis to various regulatory bodies about their operating performance. These annual reports are then compared, analyzed, and made public so that you and I can make informed decisions about where to invest our hard earned dollars. This information is available because these companies are required by law to follow standard and acceptable accounting practices. Thousands of lawyers, finance professionals and government regulators (collectively, the “enforcers”) make their living by litigating, auditing and, if necessary, forcing companies to comply and fairly report their results.

So how does this relate to sustainability?  Major organizations whose missions are to promote sustainability reporting are defined by a blend of acronyms such as GRI, IIRC, CRD, CDSB, CDP and a variety of other industry specific organizations. One important organization is the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board. SASB’s mission is to establish industry-specific standards for corporate sustainability disclosure, with a view towards ensuring that disclosure is material, comparable, and decision-useful for investors (my emphasis). This mission statement was crafted so that in a world focused on corporate responsibility and liability reported amounts and methods can be relied upon. Their board leadership reflects the serious nature of this mission and is populated with individuals with long professional histories in the financial reporting world. It includes two former chairpersons of the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), a former chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, as well as CEOs and treasurers. Clearly they believe in the importance of sustainability reporting and the necessity of it being able to withstand the scrutiny of the enforcers.

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