Gathering your data

28 May 2024 by Mike Tisdall

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Article 5 of 6
Gathering the Sustainability data you need from across your organisation in a timely fashion is a bit like herding cats. It takes time, it’s difficult and there’s bound to be a few scratches. So we recommend a structured approach to ease the data herding.

Data will undoubtedly come from a multitude of sources within your organisation. For example: Modern Slavery will come from Procurement; Gender and Diversity data will come from People; Waste and Climate data from Operations (see Article 1).

But for the data to be relevant, their grasp of the big picture business strategy is critical, as they need to understand how all the data is connected to the final reporting content. This adds to the quality of the content, appreciation of the timelines required and the overall reporting process.

Step by step

1. Establish your reporting strategy a few months before the announcement circus begins

  • This gives you space to think strategically before the clock-ticking forces everybody into tactical mode (See Article 1, 2, 3 and 4)

  • Reporting strategy should align with business strategy and take a medium- to long-term view, so the broad communications strategy can commence before final figures become clear

  • Starting early gives your team time to get their heads around the big picture and the components they need to deliver

  • Hold fast to your reporting and communication strategy: what guides understanding vs what is lower level compliance box-ticking

  • Always start with understanding your various audiences’ needs and retain that focus as guardrails throughout the project (See Article 2)

2. Form a cross-function internal team early on

  • A high-performance, cross-function working group is vital for success

  • The goal of the team is to align data capture and reporting efforts. This ensures alignment when everything finally comes together

  • Get everyone engaged in the big picture requirements. Frame your purpose as trying to ease the burden on all parties

  • Set requirements and timelines for contributions - so there are no late surprises or missed deadlines

  • Put in place the third-party assurance capability you need as soon as possible, as these specialist resources are thin on the ground and likely already fairly committed

3. Give one team or department over-riding responsibility

  • There needs to be a head wrangler where the buck stops

  • Sustainability or Finance are the most common source for leadership, depending on how far the pendulum has swung towards the ESG lens in the company

  • If ESG content is now driving your sustainability reporting, there’s a strong argument for the Finance team to take the lead because most ESG reporting requirements are essentially Financial Disclosures

4. Meet only as often as necessary to keep the plate spinning

  • Meet sparingly early on, to set expectations, agree methodology and responsibilities, and establish timelines

  • More frequently as reporting deadlines loom, to focus people’s minds on the scope of requirements, critical timelines designed to spread the pressure, the detail involved in gathering, validating and interpreting data, the compliance requirements for the likes of GRI, TCFD, Modern Slavery, ESG, ISSB, SASB, Aotearoa New Zealand Climate Standards (NZCS) to ensure all requirements are met.

5. Review your Materiality shortlist

  • Materiality is now well-established in all fields of reporting, and it’s easy to rinse and repeat with minor tweaks from year to year

  • But Double Materiality adds another axis to the matrix: ESG requires a different lens from Sustainability: everything is viewed from the point of view of future financial impact, investment risk and regulatory requirements. Refresh your materiality assessment so both sustainability and regulations and longer term financial considerations are fully considered. Potential financial risks are incredibly material – but seldom appear in Materiality Matrices. This morphing of Sustainability to ESG has been gradual and the implications on preparers is hard to discern, so looking at the Sustainability/ESG spectrum with a fresh set of eyes is probably a timely tip (See Sustainability vs ESG: what’s in a name?)

Co-ordinating internal data gathering

Pacing internal data gathering

From our experience, this type of working group can contribute greatly to the smooth running of a timely reporting project.

The data gathered through this working group has immense value beyond your immediate reporting requirements. In Article 6, we explore the potential rich communication opportunities to impact more audiences.