To achieve sustainable development, there is an increasing pressure from a wide range group of stakeholders including government regulators, media, consumers, investors, employees, competitors and local communities to require the organizations to disclose their performance against environment, society and economy. To meet the need of the stakeholders, triple bottom line reporting, a new approach to corporate reporting, has been emerged.
However, there is a great challenge for organizations to use it in a regulated and standardized way due to a lot of practical issues. This report written mainly focuses on the mostly challenged one-measurement issue in TBL reporting. This has been carried out through five part of process: background introduction, issue and current development, analysis of the issue, illustration on Shell 2002 TBL report and implications for accountants.
During the process, the issue has been fully described and its development both in Australia and international has been covered. Although key performance indicators haven been introduced for measuring organizations’ performance, there are still a lot of practical problems to standardize it due to a broad impact of factors such as stakeholders, culture difference and geographic region difference etc. This problems haven been further illustrated through an example from Shell 2002 TBL report.
Finally, certain suggestions have been provided for current accountants to reach the goal and also the prospects for the future. In the old economic model, the organisations are mainly responsible for their shareholders and try to gain maximum economic benefits to reach their short-term goals. The other stakeholders’ interest has been ignored. However, with the development of global economy, organisations are having more and more increased impact on environment, society and economy.
They have to be responsible for not only shareholders, but also other stakeholders. As a result, there are an increasing pressure from a broad group of stakeholders such as government, media, consumers, investors and other organizations to require the organisations to disclose their information regarding environmental, social and economic performance to achieve the sustainable development. However, the old business communication tool, financial reporting system, couldn’t meet the requirement due to its limitations.
In this special circumstance, triple bottom line reporting, a new approach to corporate reporting ,has been emerged. It is strongly founded on the basis of sustainable development. Under this new reporting approach, all the company’s stakeholders could obtain a broader perspective on the overall economic impact of the activities of companies against environment, society and economy. In the triple bottom line reporting system, corporations will have to accept their new role in society as value generators for all stakeholders and a much greater degree in corporate transparency( ).
However, it is not enough for corporations to behave responsible. They must be seen and believed to be doing so. Therefore, as required by TBL reporting, all the relevant information in respect to each component of company’s economic, social and environmental performance has to be identified, assessed and reported, and finally an integrated set of accountants incorporating all the components will be disclosed as well( ). Conceptually triple bottom line reporting is extremely appealing.
However, in reality, how the information can be built into communications with all the stakeholders such as customers, consumers and investors under this new reporting approach? In other words, how could the company’s performance against economic, social and environmental activities be measured, then, reported? Since some of organizations’ impacts such as social safety and human rights are intangible and non-financial, how should we measure them? Fortunately, the issues have been considered and some progress has been made both in Australia and international.
In international, under the drive of United Nations, Guideline, framework and toolkit have be developed with the purpose to achieving standardisation and consistency in triple bottom line reporting. GRI (Global Reporting Initiative ) issued his Sustainability Reporting Guidelines on Economic, Environmental and Social Performance and developed Key performance indicators(KPIs) to meet the need of measurement through a process of ongoing consultation and stakeholder engagement, which were launched at the world summit on sustainable development in Johannesburg in 2002 ( ).
Built on the basis of GRI and SA 8000, AA1000 Assurance Standard focuses explicitly on determining what constitute best practice with respect to accountability, performance measurement, and revaluation(). For Australia to be globally competitive and to meet environmental and social performance standards that are sustainable, there is an increasing expectation from the community and investors that organisations are taking into account sustainability when making their business decisions ().
Under the compel of federal government, the issues of triple bottom line reporting are clear on the agenda. A numerous public interest group are working to develop standards for triple bottom line reporting. As a result, The Group of 100, the organisation representing the CFOs of Australia’s leading enterprises, has released a guide which addresses many of the questions including measurement issues in triple bottom line (TBL) reporting ( ).
In the guideline, the key performance indicators have been introduced for organizations to measure their performance. It suggests its members to keep followed with international guidelines such as GRI and AA1000 etc. However, there is a general absence of regulation and standardized format both in Australia and internationally requiring organizations to publicly disclose information about their performance in relation to sustainable development issues.
As a result, Triple bottom line reporting is still voluntary and many of the current reporting metrics, known as indicators are fragmentary (). No standardized metrics exist for measuring an organization’s environmental and social performance. This is probably due to the lack of agreement about the metrics (and therefore the key performance indicators) and the complexity of impacts of organizations’ performance against environment, society.