The most valuable currency in financial markets is reliable information. Without it, investors are unable to make informed decisions about where to allocate their capital, which hurts companies’ ability to attract it and puts a drag on economic growth. Transparency is an economic engine.
For decades, investors’ decisions have been aided principally by financial statements. But such information gives an incomplete picture of a company’s health.
Many other factors affect the sustainability of a business, both internal (such as talent recruitment and retention) and external (such as constraints on natural resources). How effectively a company addresses such issues can profoundly affect its prospects. The trouble is, investors and shareholders often do not have ready access to comparable information about these issues.
A 2014 study by the consultants EY found that two-thirds of global investors evaluate non-financial disclosures. However, only half of this group uses a structured process to make their assessments. A way of providing standardised information to investors is required.
Take climate risk, for example, and consider two property development companies, both valued at $1bn. If one owns buildings that are in a coastal flood plain and the other does not, do you – as an investor – want to know?
Of course you do. Such information is not generally disclosed in financial filings. It may be difficult to find, evaluate and compare.
Similarly, investors want to know which automobile companies are making the most progress in developing alternative fuel vehicles; and which insurance companies have identified how much vulnerability their insured assets face as sea levels rise, storms intensify and business is interrupted. For the most part, however, investors do not know the answers to these questions.
In fact, sustainability issues that are not reflected on financial statements arise in every industry. Look at counterfeit drugs. The global market for counterfeits is estimated at $431bn – representing 1 per cent of the US pharmaceutical supply, and 10-15 per cent of the world’s supply – which eats into corporate revenue and carries a deadly toll. Investors rightly want to know how this affects companies. But that information can prove elusive.
The same is true for data security in the consumer finance industry. In 2012 fraud losses for global credit and debit card companies amounted to $11.3bn. Which companies have most effectively combated fraud? The data are not easy to obtain.
Lastly, look at hardware products that depend on minerals such as tantalum and tin, often derived from unstable regions where mining them can fuel conflict. Metals such as tantalum are crucial and scarce. Yet mobile phones containing them are discarded in landfill sites when they could have been recycled.
Although some companies share information on sustainability, reporting is not standardised and is usually geared to advocacy groups rather than those with a financial interest. The time has come to give investors comparable, standardised data on these increasingly significant risks and opportunities. Standardising disclosure of sustainability information could bring significant financial benefits for shareholders and potential investors – and help strengthen the global economy’s long-term health.
To accomplish this, an organisation founded in 2011 – the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, for which we serve respectively as chair and vice-chair – is working with US-listed corporations and investors to create industry-specific measurement and reporting standards on non-financial data. The standards are designed for use in the management discussion and analysis section of Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Together with investors representing $17tn of assets under management and companies representing $8tn of market capital, we are identifying uniform metrics that will help investors compare companies within more than 80 industries in 10 sectors. In addition, the standards will help companies gauge their strengths, weaknesses and position relative to competitors.
To be clear: these standards are not an attempt to change any laws about what businesses must disclose. It remains up to each board to decide what information is material to their investors. Rather, our aim is to make disclosure more cost-effective for companies and more useful to their owners.
Adopting non-financial reporting standards will be an important step forward for transparency in our capital markets. It will help set our companies on a course for long-term growth. In the process, it will also make our economy more resilient and competitive, protecting it against costly risks that – once they are known and properly valued – can be avoided.
Michael Bloomberg is founder of Bloomberg LP. Mary Schapiro is the former chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission
为达成这一目标，可持续性会计准则委员会（Sustainability Accounting Standards Board，简称SASB）正与美国的上市公司及投资者合作，创立各行业专门的非财务数据衡量及报告标准。这些标准旨在用于美国证交会(SEC)备案文件的管理讨论与分析章节。SASB成立于2011年，我们两人分别担任该委员会的主席与副主席。
迈克尔?布隆伯格(Michael Bloomberg)是彭博社(Bloomberg LP)创始人，玛丽?夏皮罗(Mary Schapiro)是美国证交会前主席