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1. Don't miss the opportunities to let assurance support your strategy

Performed well, external assurance will help build awareness and support for your sustainability strategy and help demonstrate genuine commitment from your organisation.

So, in addition to assessing whether your reporting is balanced or the reported data accurate, the assurance provider should also look for evidence that policy ambitions are widely understood and being lived out on the ground.  To achieve this, they should seek access to a cross section of senior executives in forming their opinion, not just focusing on the technical data owners.

Your assurance provider should also insist on undertaking well targeted site visits to understand operational impacts.  Dialogue about your strategy between the assurer and your senior executives will yield useful insights into the full breadth of issues and impacts faced by your organisation.

Our assurance for a global telecommunications and media company includes site visits so we can assess what’s being planned at Corporate level is actually happening at a local level.

Reporting Assurance 1200 x800

2. Don’t commission assurance too late

A common problem we encounter, particularly with companies seeking assurance for the first time, is timing.  But assurance shouldn’t be regarded as a final “bolt-on” linked last minute to report preparation

To really understand how well what’s reported reflects the reality of your sustainability impacts, an assurance provider needs to look at more than just data quality.   Mature reporters involve their assurance providers throughout the whole reporting year.  

As some companies move towards more dynamic reporting, closer to real time, this approach is becoming ever more important.  Even where some data is compiled annually after the year end, we can gain useful insight by looking at data systems and partial returns before the end of the reporting period.

We worked with a big retailer to spread their assurance throughout the year. Assuring data separately for the first 9 months and final 3 months helped reduce the assurance burden during the busy reporting season. Plus, our findings were more meaningful, as they could be implemented during the reporting period.

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3. Don't let the assurance objectives get too far ahead of your accounting and reporting processes

It’s really important to work together with your assurance provider to define the objectives of the assurance process.  Sometimes this is described as your assurance appetite.

For early reporters, it might be better to focus on whether your approach to sustainability is working.  For more mature reporters, you might want us to look more closely at specific aspects – or even very particular data sets.  These decisions about the emphasis of the assurance work should be agreed and reflected in the assurance objectives and it’s important to get the balance right.

At the end of the day, the accounting, auditing and reporting effort is most impactful where it has a real influence on what stakeholders believe about your sustainability impacts and reporting.  It is worth taking some time to work out the best way of achieving that goal.  This in turn, will help determine the objectives of assurance.

For a major beverages company our assurance approach has evolved as their reporting has matured. By extending our assurance of key issues, we help focus on emerging trends that had the biggest impact and hence value for the company.

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4. Don't take too narrow a view of what assurance should achieve

Over the years there has been a lot of debate, and often confusion, over what assurance is all about.  Assurance may add more value to your organisation than you might first think.

In some markets, people understand assurance as a rather technical process focused on data checking.  This is more properly described as verification.  Although verification is a very useful tool in understanding the quality of information that an organisation uses in managing its activities, it is only part of the story.
We believe it is just as important to understand the context for the reported data.   That’s why our assurance approach asks “Are you reporting the right things?” as well as “Are the things your reporting right?”

For one of our clients in the construction sector this helped us identify gaps in their reporting that were crucial for their stakeholders. Including external stakeholder engagement and peer reviews in our assurance approach helps us understand the wider context.

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5. Don't forget that reporting and assurance should build trust with your stakeholders – so stakeholder interests should be part of the assurance objectives

If your sustainability strategy is to be effective, your reporting should make clear how your decisions respond to the feedback you are hearing from the stakeholders you are talking to.

By following an assurance approach that includes sustainability principles will look at how stakeholder views have been included in determining priorities and identifying what’s most material.

If building stakeholder trust is one of the desired outcomes of the assurance process, it’s really important to think through how this can be achieved.

By speaking directly to key stakeholders of a large energy supplier we looked at the processes used to engage with stakeholders and respond to their feedback.  Our findings helped refine the process to become more responsive to customer needs.

What makes us different?

Building trust, increasing transparency

Sustainability Report Assurance

We can offer a spectrum of report assurance services