January 22, 2024

Master Your ESG Reporting with Workiva

ESG Advisory

7

Minutes to read

Building Trust Through Internal Controls and Data Governance

Transparency and accountability aren’t just buzzwords — they’re essential criteria stakeholders demand. As concerns over environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors rise, organizations worldwide find themselves in the spotlight, expected to report on these crucial areas.

But how can one ensure that their ESG reporting isn't just accurate but also reliable and credible?

Enter the Workiva platform — a solution that simplifies and optimizes the ESG reporting process.

Let’s look at ESG as a whole – its intricacies, challenges, and best practices – and then discover how the Workiva platform is revolutionizing how companies approach sustainability reporting.

What is ESG?

ESG stands for environmental, social, and governance – the three dimensions through which a company's commitment to the environment, sustainability, and ethical practices is assessed.

This framework provides insights into how a company manages its ecological footprint, fosters social responsibility, and upholds governance standards. Within responsible investment, ESG offers a comprehensive lens to scrutinize and ensure a company's actions align with global sustainability goals.

Environment

The E of ESG is based on how your organization performs as a steward of nature. This includes how your organization manages waste, uses energy, reduces pollution, views and acts on animal rights, protects land, and uses natural resources.

Here are some specific examples of what your organization could report on particular to the environment:

  • Energy Management: Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions (scopes 1, 2, & 3), % of grid electricity vs. renewable
  • Waste Management: Total weight of waste and % diverted from disposal (i.e., material recycled, composted, and processed as waste energy).
  • Water Management: Total water consumption, including areas with water stress.

Social

The S of ESG is based on how your organization interacts with its employees, customers, suppliers, and the communities in which it operates.

Your organization could report on these specific social aspects:

  • Labor Practices: % of active workforce covered under collective bargaining agreements.
  • Health & Safety: Total recordable incident rate.
  • Employee Diversity & Inclusion: % of gender / racial or ethnic group representation for management and employees.
  • Pay Equity: Ratios of standard entry level wage by gender compared to local minimum wage.

Governance

The G of ESG is based on how your organization is managed and controlled. It includes your organization’s ethics, how it reports its financial statements, and how it ensures no malicious activities are present.

Some governance points your organization could report on are:

  • Cybersecurity: Number of data breaches involving PII, number of users affected.
  • Business Ethics: Amount of net revenue in countries with the twenty lowest rankings in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.
  • Remuneration: Annual total compensation ratio of CEO to median for all employees.

Unstructured Reporting in ESG

In its current state, ESG needs more effective controls and guidelines. This brings forth a series of risks that undermine the integrity of your organization and the analysis of its data.

Lack of Standardization

ESG reporting lacks standardized formats, templates, or guidelines. Currently, organizations are reporting information in a free-form manner without adhering to any specific structures or predefined criteria.

Limited Consistency and Comparability

Without structured ESG reporting formats, the lack of consistency makes it difficult to compare and analyze data across different reports or periods. This hampers the ability to identify trends, patterns, or anomalies reliably.

Increased Subjectivity and Interpretation

Unstructured ESG reporting often leads to a higher degree of subjectivity and interpretation of data. This introduces bias or discrepancies in how information is reported, making it challenging to establish a clear and objective understanding.

It also makes it challenging for investors, business partners, and potential employees to make educated decisions.

Higher Risk of Errors and Inefficiencies

The absence of controls and standardized reporting processes increases the risk of errors, inconsistencies, and inefficiencies. Ensuring data accuracy, completeness, and reliability becomes more challenging, which impacts decision-making and overall data quality.

Limited Auditability and Accountability

Unstructured ESG reporting makes it difficult to trace the source and validity of reported information, hindering the ability to conduct audits and establish accountability.

Internal Controls Over Sustainability Reporting

In 2023, the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations (COSO) developed the concept of Internal Control over Sustainability Reporting (ICSR). As part of this, COSO provides supplemental guidance that explains and interprets how each principle applies.

The guidance lays out 17 main principles, which guide organizations in their internal controls over sustainability reporting. A few examples include:

  • Control Environment: Establish and implement meaningful ways to support human resources and, at the same time, monitor performance.
  • Risk Assessment: Consider the risk that actors will engage in activities – such as intentional misstatements or misappropriation.
  • Control Activities: Design control activities to respond to risks to achieve sustainable business objectives and consider the extent to which they rely on technology.
  • Information & Communication: Accrue quality data that informs whether processes are facilitating its ability to meet sustainable objectives.
  • Monitoring Activities: Revisit oversight structures and processes to ensure that they’re effective in facilitating the ability to meet objectives around sustainable business.

ESG Best Practices

Based on the current state of reporting and new guidance, companies must establish an effective control environment.

Controls are designed to provide reasonable assurance that sustainability data is collected, recorded, and reported consistently and transparently. This enhances the credibility of sustainability reporting, facilitates informed decision-making, and meets stakeholder expectations.

  • Data Collection Process: Define data collection procedures, set data quality standards, and implement checks and validations to minimize errors or omissions during the data collection process.
  • Governance & Accountability: Delineate roles and responsibilities, segregation of duties, and accountability mechanisms to ensure that individuals responsible are trained, knowledgeable, and adhere to established reporting guidelines and frameworks.
  • Data Verification: Utilize external auditors or third parties to perform periodic assessments, internal audits, or independent assurance to provide confidence to stakeholders that the reported data is free from material misstatements and aligns with recognized standards or frameworks.
  • Documentation of Reporting: Maintain a clear audit trail of data sources, calculations, assumptions, and methodologies used in the reporting process.
  • Continuous Improvement: Monitor and perform periodic assessments to identify areas for improvement – these regular evaluations of controls help address emerging risks, adapt to changing reporting requirements, and ensure the relevance and effectiveness of reporting practices.
  • Integration into Decisions: Use the accuracy and reliability of sustainability data to make informed decisions, set meaningful targets, and effectively measure progress.

Workiva’s ESG Solution

The Basics

Workiva’s ESG Solution is a purpose-built, easy-to-use platform that assists companies with all aspects of the ESG reporting process.

Establishing Data Repository

Defining what data points you gather/report on and all associated information is a daunting and time-consuming task. These points include who provides or approves the data, instructions, units, etc.

The structured approach to establishing your ESG Program in Workiva guides you through this process, ensuring you have a clear plan and focus on the right things at the right time.

Data Collection

Using task assignments and notifications lets you drive data providers into the system to enter values for their assigned metrics.

Data Review & Approval

After data providers have entered data into Workiva, reviewers are prompted to review and approve the value before it is finalized.

Data Staging

ESG teams work with a lot of data, which can be challenging to organize. The factbook within Workiva’s ESG Solution makes it easy to gather all your data – current and historic – perform necessary calculations, and format the data to prepare it for your annual report.

Report Preparation

Gathering and organizing your narrative information and data points into a cohesive report is made more accessible with Workiva’s suite of document editing, collaboration, and review tools.

Internal Controls

Workiva’s ESG Solution makes it much easier to implement internal controls around your ESG process.

Data Accuracy

The Workiva platform will ensure that the data shared between the teams is accurate and up-to-date.

Data Consistency

The Workiva platform will ensure that the data shared between teams and deliverables is consistent to avoid any discrepancies in reporting.

Data Security

The Workiva platform ensures that only authorized individuals can view and edit the shared data to protect the confidentiality and integrity of the data.

Mastering ESG reporting is no longer a choice — it's necessary for businesses striving to stay relevant in this sustainability-driven era.

Ensuring accurate, consistent, and secure reports is paramount to building stakeholder trust. With the challenges posed by a lack of standardization and the risks of unstructured reporting, solutions like Workiva's ESG platform emerge as invaluable assets.

As we've explored, this platform streamlines data collection, review, and report preparation and reinforces internal controls, ensuring impeccable data quality. As the future edges closer, embracing such robust solutions will undoubtedly set organizations on a path of genuine transparency and accountability.

For those committed to transforming their ESG reporting, Clearview Group's ESG Advisory stands ready to guide you. Get started on your ESG journey.

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