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Big 4 corporate accounting firms announce mainstream ESG reporting metrics

The four big accounting firms and the World Economic Forum are asking corporations to include certain environmental, social and governance metrics in their mainstream disclosures such as annual reports and proxy statements as a way to standardize such reporting.

The firms — Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., KPMG International Cooperative, Ernst & Young LLP and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP — and the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum developed the 21 core and 34 expanded ESG metrics over the past year in consultation with more than 160 companies and investors. The move comes amid a number of other initiatives by groups and European governmental organizations to create uniform ESG standards and reporting metrics, which the firms and the International Business Council said their report should complement.

Major companies have grappled for years with how to appease the growing ESG disclosure appetite of investors, ratings agencies and other entities, while critics of the movement contend the lack of definition around those terms leaves room for green-washing. The firms' recommended disclosure metrics are meant to make it easier for investors and others to compare companies' ESG practices across sectors and countries.

"By reporting on these recommended metrics in its mainstream report — and integrating them into governance, business strategy and performance management — a company demonstrates to its shareholders and stakeholders alike that it diligently weighs all pertinent risks and opportunities in running its business," the white paper said. Furthermore, "corporations that align their goals to the long-term goals of society ... are the most likely to create long-term sustainable value, while driving positive outcomes for business, the economy, society and the planet."

The firms said the 21 core metrics are primarily qualitative data that many companies are already reporting, albeit often in different formats, and largely focus on activities within an organization's own boundaries. The expanded 34 metrics focus more on the wider value chain "or convey impact in a more sophisticated or tangible way, such as monetary terms," the white paper said. The firms suggested that if companies decide to not disclose any metrics, they should outline in their reports which ones they left out and why.

Some environmental details the firms ask companies to disclose include greenhouse gas emissions, status on implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, and amounts of water consumption and withdrawals in water-stressed areas. On social issues, the metrics include a company's racial, age and gender diversity statistics, pay equality and wage ratios as compared to local minimum wage, and an explanation of any operations or suppliers considered to be high risk for having child labor or forced labor. Companies should also disclose worker injury, fatalities and safety details as well as training statistics.

Companies would also describe total costs related to research and development of better products and services. The expanded metrics include water pollution, solid waste such as single-use plastics and disposal practices, discrimination and harassment incidents, collective bargaining rights and resource availability.