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Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum continues push toward sustainability reporting

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Jun 21, 2012

An executive summary has been released from the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, held from 15 to 18 June 2012, immediately ahead of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). Included in its many laudable goals is a commitment to sustainability reporting and individual actions.

The Corporate Sustainability Forum was designed to provide a launching ground for greater private sector and investor involvement in sustainable development, and to call on governments to take steps that would support corporate sustainability globally. The forum involved nearly 3,000 participants, approximately half from the business and investor community and half from civil society, academia, cities, government, and the United Nations.

Some goals relevant to sustainability reporting and related topics included:

  • Demonstrating the critical influence of other stakeholders — including investors, stock exchanges, business schools and universities, and cities — in stimulating corporate sustainability.
  • Motivating a rising number of companies to commit to universal sustainability principles and report on performance.

At the forum, the following sustainability reporting initiatives were announced:

  • A commitment by five stock exchanges — NASDAQ OMX, BM&FBOVESPA, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the Istanbul Stock Exchange (ISE), and The Egyptian Exchange (EGX) — collectively listing over 4,600 companies — to promote sustainable investment. This is considered a first step towards a larger global call by stock exchanges for sustainability disclosure and performance by listed companies as part of the Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative (link to the press release).*
  • Chief executives of 37 banks, investment funds, and insurance companies submitted a Natural Capital Declaration (NCD) aimed toward integrating natural capital considerations into their products and services — including a call for "requiring companies to disclose the nature of their dependence and impact on Natural Capital through transparent qualitative and quantitative reporting" (click for details (link to the NCD Web site)).
  • The release of a Declaration for Higher Education Institutions, endorsed by over 60 major business schools and universities around the world committed to incorporating sustainability issues into teaching, research, and their own management and organizational activities (click for details (link to initiative-specific Web site)).

*Separately, the United Kingdom deputy prime minister announced at the Rio+20 conference that all businesses listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange will have to report their levels of greenhouse gas emissions from the start of the next financial year (April 2013). The UK is the first country to make it compulsory for companies to include emissions data for their entire organization in their annual reports (see our separate story).

Various individual organizations also pledged specific actions.

The executive summary also notes a call by investors for integration of sustainability issues within annual reports of all listed and large private companies. To this end, the final draft text of the outcome document from the main Rio+20 conference (link to Rio+20 Web site) contains the following updated text:

We acknowledge the importance of corporate sustainability reporting and encourage companies, where appropriate, especially publicly listed and large companies, to consider integrating sustainability information into their reporting cycle. We encourage industry, interested governments as well as relevant stakeholders with the support of the UN system, as appropriate, to develop models for best practice and facilitate action for the integration of sustainability reporting, taking into account the experiences of already existing frameworks, and paying particular attention to the needs of developing countries, including for capacity building.

This is substantially changed from the "zero draft" version that referred to a "global policy framework" effectively requiring sustainability reporting.

The final version of the Rio+20 outcome document will be issued at the completion of the conference being held on June 20–22, 2012.

Click for Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum executive summary (link to the U.N. Global Compact Web site).

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