09.02.2015 | Press release

Transparency on Sustainability should become second nature

To mark the adoption of the EU directive on the disclosure of non-financial parameters by large-scale capital-market-oriented companies, the German Council for Sustainable Development held a public discussion yesterday (Wednesday). The Council’s European Soirée provided high-profile political decision-makers and opinion leaders from Germany and Europe a platform to share information and network. The event in Berlin also gave business representatives, non-governmental organizations and investors the opportunity to express their expectations and concerns on future accounting standards.

Starting in 2017, capital-market-oriented companies will be obliged to disclose not just their financial data but also information on their strategies, risks and results in regard to the environment as well as social and employee-related aspects. This will affect some 6,000 European companies that have more than 500 employees and a balance sheet total of over EUR 20 million and/or a net turnover of over EUR 40 million. The new directive aims to increase competitiveness as a whole among European companies and within Europe’s economic area.

The discussion revolved around the question as to what steps are necessary in order to be able to achieve the European Commission’s objective of establishing an effective, credible and comparable system of reporting non-financial information. Another topic of discussion was the role that The Sustainability Code plays in the reporting process. Those attending the Soirée underscored the role of German companies as forerunners in integrating ecological and social aspects into their sustainable corporate activities.

The debaters were in agreement that user expectations absolutely needed to be incorporated into the directive’s implementation and that the reporting should concentrate on a manageable number of company-relevant, control-related parameters. They noted that, ultimately, it was less about the actual report documenting sustainable actions and more about the process leading up to the report. It was emphasized that sustainability will establish itself as a competitive factor and that reporting on it will become second nature in a matter of years. Companies striking a balance between environmental, social and corporate governance issues will eventually be more successful on the market.

The participants were unanimous in their plea not to allow 28 different standards to emerge in Europe and that existing frameworks for a consistent implementation of the directive should be used.

In her welcome speech, Marlehn Thieme, Chairwoman of the German Council for Sustainable Development underlined that, in view of its easy handling and good comparability, the Sustainability Code was a suitable standard for implementing the EU’s reporting obligation. She added that it had already proven itself in the field and could be applied by all companies regardless of their size. The Council, along with its implementation partners, would follow up on calls for a European Sustainability Code, she said.

A draft outlining how the EU directive on the disclosure of non-financial information can be implemented nationally is set to be presented this year. This would be followed by a public consultation process.