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Featured Events | May 11, 2017 |

Gabelli School dives into data at sustainability conference

Because collecting sustainability data is a relatively new priority for businesses, it can appear to be an open field, lacking rules of the game.

At the Corporate Sustainability Movement: The Flood of Data conference held by the Gabelli School of Business and Fordham Law School, industry leaders across a wide range of functions, from accounting to legal to research, gathered to discuss this issue.

During the “Steelcage Wrestling” segment, panelists and attendees energetically debated the pros and cons of various ways to standardize.

The moderator was Ken Henderson, partner at Bryan Cave LLP, and the panelists were:

  • Marisa Buchanan, executive director of sustainable finance, J.P. Morgan
  • Olga Emelianova, executive director of MSCI, ESG Research
  • Beth Haddock, founder, Warburton Advisors
  • Tom Riesenberg, director of legal policy and outreach, Sustainability Accounting Standards Board
  • Kristen Sullivan, partner, Deloitte & Touche LLP, United States, Americas Region Sustainability Services

One basic question the panelists addressed was: Why have reports in the first place?

Panelists pointed out that transparency offers advantages: If firms aren’t highlighting their sustainability approaches through clear reporting, investors and advisors don’t have a way of knowing if these practices are taking place.

Riesenberg also expressed the prospect that sustainability reporting could simply become a matter of practice: that “once some companies start doing it, others will.” For example, JetBlue added the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board’s airline standards to its sustainability report. Other companies might see this behavior and be inspired to act.

But even if many did, what would a gold standard in sustainability reporting look like? Right now, individual companies are responsible for deciding what needs to be disclosed and how the information is presented. This leads to wide variation across the board.

Panelists offered various ideas for how to standardize, though it was clear this would remain a difficult open question. Keynote speaker Bob Herz, former chair of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, at least offered a general principle that might guide future discussions: “We must try to measure and report on what matters.”

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