NON-FINANCIAL REPORTING: HOW TO TURN AN OBLIGATION INTO AN OPPORTUNITY?
Sustainable development and topics related to CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) or ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) criteria have become key growth drivers and catalysts of confidence for all players in the economy. Beyond their financial performance and their ability to innovate, companies are now assessed according to their impact on the planet and people. Like all companies listed on the stock market, Mersen, a global expert in electrical power and advanced materials, is subject to the obligation to publish an Extra-Financial Performance Declaration each year, describing the company's social responsibility performance. This need created an opportunity for Mersen to share a clear vision of its strategy and improving performance with its stakeholders.
CSR IN MERSEN'S DNA
Decision makers face the challenge of building trust with all of their stakeholders: shareholders, boards of directors, employees, customers and society as a whole. CSR is a key issue today. Mersen has a global approach taking employees, markets, sites, products, and the way it conducts business into consideration. However, before the appearance of the French required non-financial declaration or regulated sustainability report (DPEF for its initials in French - Declaration of Extra Financial Performance), the Group had no way to truly assess the impact of its CSR policy.
“Mersen has always had a very pragmatic approach to CSR: if the Group gave guidelines, each site translated them into actions according to their own specific context. Today, carrying out our non-financial reporting for DPEF means we have had to establish clearly defined KPIs for our challenges which are common across all sites, to formalize the collection of data... This has given us an integrated vision of our performance" summarizes Laurence Lamy, Group Communications Manager.
A LONG DATA COLLECTION challenge, NOW BEARING FRUIT
Mersen is required to present extra-financial information every year which is verified by an accredited assurance provider (Third-Party Organization / OTI for its initials in French). Supporting documentary evidence, like energy bills are used to check the data – but consistency checks are also done: i.e.: is this energy consumption in proportion with that expected for this kind of site? Have all the meters been included? Some data is centralized and immediately accessible, such as HR data managed within a single HR IT system: it is easy to consolidate the figures relating to the workforce, gender diversity, absenteeism, hiring or the number of training hours. Other information results from reporting carried out by the sites (consumption of raw materials, greenhouse gas emissions, waste produced, etc.). The auditors then check the data collected by the site HSE managers. After consolidating the information, the opinion submitted by the assurance provider is included in the published sustainability report and includes observations about which Lamy notes: “For us, these are all areas for improvement”.
"ON THE GROUND” CHECKS
When the DPEF was set up, Mersen’s CSR data assurance was done by the company's financial auditors. But for the last 3 years, the company has been calling on Bureau Veritas. "The first assurance provider helped us to structure our data collection, to build a repository... But, to further challenge us, we called on Bureau Veritas, with its deep industry experience to take a fresh look at our facts and figures. The Bureau Veritas assurance practitioner goes into the field and challenges our teams, in their own technical language, about their operations and equipment” , explains Laurence Lamy.
On the practical side, the assurance visits are organized well in advance: from July each year Mersen and Bureau Veritas agree the sampling for the assurance engagement, identifying which sites will be audited, in France and abroad. The assurance team is formed from those geographically close to the sites and with the right experience to correspond with the activity being audited. Site audits are planned for the last quarter, and the assurance of the consolidated data is carried out in February.
MAKE ASSURANCE AN OPPORTUNITY
The fact that the DPEF regulation does not specify a specific reporting methodology demands third party assurance. The assurance team assesses the data to certify that the reporting is:
- Relevant (corresponds to Mersen’s material sustainability issues);
- Reliable (is based on accepted standards guaranteeing the quality and comparability of information);
- Integrated (is presented combined with the accounting and financial information).
“This verification obligation makes it possible to certify legal compliance and also assures against the suspicion of “green washing”. The regulation requires the prioritization of CSR risks in line with our material challenges. The audits carried out at those sites which are sampled each year makes it possible to highlight good practices and involve the local teams,” explains Laurence Lamy. If the company moves beyond a compliance mindset to a continuous improvement approach, the regulation works as a tool for strategic management. “The assurance of sustainability data answers the company's stakeholders’ and partners’ strong expectations, in particular its investors, but also helps the company to challenge itself and to progress. Many companies which are not legally required to publish CSR data, ask for our assurance services in order to improve their performance,” says Bénédicte Pasquette, CSR Projects and Products Manager at Bureau Veritas.
As a “Business to Business to Society” services company, Bureau Veritas is committed to meeting the priority global challenges of all sectors of the economy: resources & production; consumption & traceability; buildings & infrastructure; new mobility; Social, Ethics and Governance. These are all topics that the non-financial performance declaration documents should help to improve. With Bureau Veritas, companies can measurably demonstrate the impact of their sustainability and ESG initiatives by making them traceable, visible and reliable.
NON-COMPLIANCE: WHAT’S THE RISK?
Listed companies and those whose balance sheet is greater than or equal to €100 million, or with a turnover greater than or equal to €100 million, and whose number of permanent employees is greater than or equal to 500, must publish a sustainability report.
There are no sanctions specified for companies failing to publish their report, but the risk in terms of company image is real: ratings agencies, dedicated organizations which examine the reports assigning them a score, are increasingly being used by investors, potential customers or partners. Sustainability reporting is therefore not only a way of displaying its societal commitment: it is also about being transparent and give stakeholders confidence.