Today 100% of U.S. public companies provide accounting information publicly. It’s a requirement and an accepted practice. At the same time, over 80% of those companies are also disclosing some kind of sustainability data. This latter kind of disclosure is not yet a requirement in the U.S. and standards are still in development. But as the data show, the practice is already well underway.
These two kinds of presentations have traditionally been made in different reports offered on different sections of their websites with differing messages.
Now, however, the financial markets are awakening to the importance of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues as a source of risk and a driver of innovation and value. They are looking to connect the dots between these different messages. This creates a dilemma for companies. They have a business rationale for both their financial and their sustainability reporting. But they are not accustomed to telling a unified value creation story.
The International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) is leading the charge in creating a model that unites these differing perspectives (read an introduction here). Its Framework provides a way forward to creating holistic presentations that explain the multiple forms of capital that support a company’s value creation ecosystem. The IIRC model draws on the traditional accounting/financial reporting perspective, the sustainability/ESG movement and a third, less understood field of study, broadly referred to as intellectual or intangible capital (IC).
The IC field has been focusing for several decades on the rise of the knowledge economy. While IC practice is not as advanced as accounting and sustainability reporting, there is already significant research that suggests the size and importance of this class of capital to the success of companies in today’s economy.
Combining all three perspectives is powerful but challenging. Few people are trained in all three of the root disciplines. So we have to work together and learn from each other. But it's the right goal to support the kind of integrated thinking that empowers financially-sound decisions today that still preserve and build value for the future.