External assurance for sustainability reports is a growing trend in the US, and the number of US companies publishing externally assured sustainability reports rose from 10 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2013, according to a research report by Global Reporting Initiative North America.
On a global scale, the number of companies publishing an externally assured GRI report rose from 38 percent in 2011 to 45 percent in 2013. Although the number of externally assured GRI reports published by US companies was lower than those published globally, the number of externally assured GRI reports published by US companies has more than tripled between 2008 and 2013.
Although sustainability reporting and third party external assurance is not required in the US, the rise in the number of companies choosing to disclose sustainability performance and that are seeking external assurance reinforces the mounting interest of key stakeholders in more and better disclosure, according to the report.
GRI research also found the following:
- The number of companies seeking external assurance on their GRI reports is consistently rising. In 2012, 17 reporters declared a “+” level – indicating they had met certain GRI guidelines – for the first time, and 13 of those continued to publish a “+” level GRI report in 2013. An additional nine reporters declared a “+” level in 2013 for the first time.
- In 2011 and in 2013, the majority of US companies publishing a GRI report with a “+” application level were publicly listed companies.
- Some companies obtain multiple assurance engagements on different aspects of their reports. In 2011, 26 US companies published externally assured GRI reports, resulting in 30 external assurance statements. Some of these companies included Bristol Myers Squibb, 3M, UPS and Agilent Technologies.
In addition, an increasing number of companies are seeking external assurance on their entire sustainability report. In 2011, 17 percent of the external assurance engagements covered the entire sustainability report. This number rose to 30 percent of the external assurance engagements in 2013.
Many companies are disclosing an overwhelming — and often irrelevant — amount of data in their sustainability reports, according to Governance & Accountability Institute’s latest research published in June.