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The New European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS)

Updated: Apr 2

The European Union (EU) has been a forerunner in advocating for more robust and transparent sustainability reporting practices in the dynamic landscape of corporate governance and environmental stewardship. This commitment is part of the EU's broader strategy to integrate sustainable development into its financial policy framework, aiming to balance economic growth with environmental protection and social equity.


The pinnacle of these efforts is the recent adoption of the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), a groundbreaking initiative set to redefine the paradigm of corporate sustainability reporting.


Graphic with the EU flag and text highlighting the alignment of European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) with global frameworks.

The Genesis and Evolution of the European Sustainability Reporting Standards - ESRS


The journey toward the establishment of the ESRS has been both evolutionary and revolutionary. It commenced with the EU's growing recognition of the critical role that corporations play in the sustainability agenda. This recognition led to the development of various directives and policies, culminating in the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), an amendment to the existing Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD). The CSRD, a legislative act, mandates more detailed and rigorous sustainability reporting from companies, aligning with the EU's Green Deal and sustainable finance objectives.


 


 


The Role of the ESRS in the EU's Sustainability Framework

The ESRS is integral to the EU's strategy to foster a sustainable and inclusive economy. They aim to standardize and elevate the quality of sustainability reporting across EU member states, ensuring that companies provide stakeholders with meaningful, comparable, and reliable information on their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) activities and impacts. These standards reflect a shift from voluntary ESG reporting to a more formalized and accountable framework, emphasizing the importance of transparency in corporate sustainability practices.


The Implications for Businesses Operating in the EU

The adoption of the ESRS is more than a regulatory development; it's a reflection of the changing expectations of investors, consumers, and society at large regarding corporate responsibility. For businesses operating within the EU, the ESRS represents both a challenge and an opportunity.


The challenge lies in adapting to these new reporting requirements, which demand a deeper level of scrutiny and disclosure than previously required. However, it also presents an opportunity for businesses to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability, enhance their brand reputation, and attract socially responsible investments.



Alignment with Global Standards and Frameworks

The ESRS is aligned with several global standards and frameworks, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), OECD Guidelines, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation (SFDR), and the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol). This alignment ensures a harmonized approach to sustainability reporting, making the ESRS globally relevant and applicable.



ESRS in Detail

The European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), as an integral part of the EU's Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), set forth a comprehensive framework for sustainability reporting for relevant EU entities, including EU subsidiaries of non-EU companies.


These standards are characterized by several key features:


  • General Reporting Principles: ESRS outlines foundational principles for sustainability reporting, ensuring uniformity and clarity in how companies disclose their sustainability practices.


  • Mandatory Disclosure Requirements: The standards stipulate essential disclosures that EU companies must make regarding the identification and management of sustainability issues, promoting transparency and governance in this area.


  • ESG Topic Disclosures Based on Double Materiality: The ESRS mandates disclosures on ten specific Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) topics, guided by the principle of double materiality. This principle requires companies to report on information that is significant both financially and in terms of its impact on people and the environment.


Future expansions of the ESRS are anticipated, which will cater to specific industry sectors, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), and non-EU parent companies.



 


 


In alignment with the CSRD and ESRS, companies are obligated to:


  • Conduct materiality assessments for each sustainability topic using the double materiality perspective. This approach necessitates reporting on sustainability information that is material either from a financial point of view or due to its impact on societal and environmental aspects.


  • Report on the material impacts, risks, and opportunities (IROs) in their operations, including those within their group and across their upstream and downstream value chain.


  • Provide specific metrics and set targets for material sustainability topics, integrating these into their financial reporting.


  • Subject their sustainability reports to an independent third-party audit before filing them with the appropriate authorities.


This comprehensive approach is designed to enhance the depth and reliability of corporate sustainability reporting, aligning it more closely with broader environmental and social goals. It reflects an increasing global emphasis on corporate responsibility and transparency in the face of pressing environmental and social challenges.


By integrating these rigorous standards into their operations, companies are not only complying with regulatory requirements but also contributing to a sustainable future. This shift towards more detailed and accountable reporting is expected to foster a culture of sustainability within the corporate sector, encouraging businesses to adopt more responsible practices.


In the following detailed analysis of the ESRS, we delve into the specific requirements and areas covered by these standards. This includes a breakdown of the General Requirements (ESRS 1) that lay the foundational principles for sustainability reporting, the General Disclosures (ESRS 2) that focus on core company practices, and the specific Environmental, Social, and Governance Standards (E1-E5, S1-S4, and G1). Each of these sections will provide insights into the particular aspects companies must address, illustrating the ESRS's role in shaping a more sustainable corporate landscape.



General Requirements (ESRS 1)


ESRS 1: The Foundation

ESRS 1 lays the groundwork for the general reporting requirements under the ESRS. It sets the basic principles and standards that companies need to adhere to when preparing their sustainability reports. This includes guidelines on how to structure the report, the level of detail required, and the overarching principles that should guide the reporting process.



General Disclosures (ESRS 2)


ESRS 2: Core Disclosures

ESRS 2 focuses on the general disclosures that companies are required to make. This encompasses the organization's governance structure, business model, strategy, and approach to managing sustainability issues. It also includes disclosures on stakeholder engagement processes, risk management strategies related to sustainability, and the company's overall sustainability goals and targets.



Environmental Standards (E1-E5)


E1 Climate Change

Under E1, companies are required to disclose their impact on climate change, including their greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, and efforts towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.


E2 Pollution

E2 mandates disclosures on pollution, covering aspects like air, water, and soil pollution, and the use of hazardous substances.


E3 Water and Marine Resources

This standard requires companies to report on their water consumption, withdrawal, and impact on marine resources.


E4 Biodiversity and Ecosystems

E4 focuses on disclosures related to biodiversity and ecosystem impacts, including measures taken to protect and restore natural habitats.


E5 Resource Use and Circular Economy

E5 covers disclosures on resource optimization, waste management, and the company's transition to a circular economy model.



Social Standards (S1-S4)


S1 Own Workforce

S1 addresses disclosures related to the company's workforce, including labor practices, employee rights, and working conditions.


S2 Workers in the Value Chain

This standard expands the reporting to include workers in the company's value chain, ensuring transparency in labor practices beyond the company's immediate operations.


S3 Affected Communities

S3 requires companies to report on their impact on local communities, covering aspects like community engagement and social rights.


S4 Consumers and End-users

Under S4, companies need to disclose how their products and services affect consumers, focusing on issues like consumer rights and product safety.



Governance Standard (G1)


G1 Business Conduct

G1 involves disclosures on the company's governance practices, including anti-corruption measures, ethical conduct, and the management of business relationships.


Table depicting the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) framework, showing Cross-Cutting Standards, and sector-specific standards under development.

Sector-Specific and SME Sustainability Reporting Standards

Progress and Phases of Sector-Specific Standards


The European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG) is actively working on the development of sector-specific sustainability standards as part of the broader ESRS framework. While the current focus is on the implementation of the general, sector-agnostic ESRS, EFRAG is also progressing with sector-specific standards. These standards are being developed for various industries, each at different stages of development:


  • Oil and Gas: Currently in the early draft phase, with an SRB (Sustainability Reporting Board) discussion yet to be scheduled.

  • Coal, Quarries, and Mining: Also in the early draft phase, awaiting SRB discussion.

  • Road Transport: In the early draft phase, moving towards validation.

  • Agriculture, Farming, and Fisheries: The drafting phase is underway.

  • Motor Vehicles: Research phase in progress.

  • Energy Production and Utilities: Currently in the research phase.

  • Food and Beverages: In the research phase.

  • Textiles, Accessories, Footwear, and Jewellery: Also in the early research phase.


The timeline for the next phases in these sectors is yet to be determined, with specific dates for SRB discussions and further development steps still pending.


Development of SME Standards


Tailoring Standards for SMEs


In addition to sector-specific standards, EFRAG is also focusing on developing sustainability reporting standards tailored for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). Recognizing the unique challenges and resource limitations that SMEs face, these standards are expected to provide a simplified and more accessible approach to sustainability reporting.


The aim is to ensure that SMEs can engage in meaningful sustainability reporting without the burden of overly complex requirements. This initiative reflects an understanding of the diverse business landscape and the need for varied approaches to sustainability reporting that are both inclusive and practical for businesses of all sizes.


Developing these SME-specific standards is a crucial step in encouraging broader participation in sustainability practices across the business spectrum, ensuring that companies, regardless of their size, can contribute to and benefit from a sustainable economy.


For more information and updates on the progress of these initiatives, you can visit EFRAG's website.



Implementation and Challenges


The implementation of the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) presents a range of challenges and complexities for businesses. These standards require companies to conduct extensive materiality assessments across various sustainability topics. Additionally, businesses must establish comprehensive systems for data collection and verification, ensuring the accuracy and reliability of their reports. This process may necessitate significant modifications to existing reporting practices and internal procedures.


A cost-benefit analysis performed by CEPS and Milieu highlights the expected impact of these standards. The analysis reveals varying costs for compliance, depending on factors like company size, sector, and the specific requirements of the ESRS. While the costs are more visible and quantifiable, the benefits, often intangible and long-term, are harder to measure but are considered substantial in promoting transparency, accountability, and sustainable practices.


The analysis anticipates behavioral changes within organizations and across value chains, contributing to societal and environmental improvements. This report underscores the importance of balancing the immediate costs against the long-term benefits of enhanced sustainability reporting.


Navigating the Future with ESRS

As the corporate world advances towards a sustainable future, the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) stand as a cornerstone in this evolution. These standards, rooted in the EU's commitment to integrating sustainable development into its financial policy framework, are not just regulatory measures but catalysts for change.


They challenge businesses to elevate their reporting practices and embrace transparency, leading to a more accountable and environmentally conscious corporate environment. While the implementation of ESRS poses challenges, particularly for SMEs and various industry sectors, it also opens doors to long-term benefits such as enhanced stakeholder trust and alignment with global sustainability goals. As we move forward, the ESRS will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping a sustainable, transparent, and inclusive corporate landscape.



 

As we navigate the complexities of ESG, it’s clear that the journey is one best undertaken together.


We invite you to join our vibrant ESG community, a collective force driving positive change. This is your opportunity to be part of a dynamic network where knowledge, best practices, and innovative ideas are shared freely, empowering you to make impactful decisions.


Together, we can amplify our efforts to shape a sustainable future.


Join us and become a catalyst in the global movement towards a more equitable, environmentally responsible, and socially conscious business landscape.





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