Assuring reliability

Nigel Leehane explains how a new standard could improve the reliability of information in corporate environmental reports

More organisations are publishing annual reports of environmental performance. Whether these are standalone environmental audits, corporate responsibility reports addressing broader elements of sustainability, or are published within the annual financial statements, their audience needs to have faith in their content – which is far from a given.

Although many organisations claim conformance to the reporting principles enshrined in various standards and protocols, some observers question the reliability of these disclosures and suggest their credibility could be enhanced by reliable external assurance.

The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) has recognised this gap by initiating the development of a new standard (ISO 14016) on the ‘verification and validation of the environmental component of sustainability reports’.

The challenges for assurance

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which has developed perhaps the best-known benchmarks for sustainability reporting, acknowledges that, although assurance standards have started to emerge, they vary in approach and are not adopted universally. To help reporters to understand the concepts and practices in external assurance the GRI published a guide in 2013. The External Assurance of Sustainability Reporting ( acknowledged that, as well as various national standards for assurance, there were two commonly referenced international benchmarks:

The International Standard on Assurance Engagements (...
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