Assurance does pay off
It has sometimes been argued that corporate responsibility communications are a form of 'green laundering'. As an assurance officer, I'm in a position to object by saying that statements not supported by evidence have been removed from at least those corporate responsibility reports which are assured by an independent third party.
What, then, do our customers tell us assurance officers, why does assurance pay off? Some say that otherwise analysts don't trust the figures. Others say that it has given the whole reporting process a backbone. Part of the feedback emphasizes the development aspect: an assurance officer not only assures the accuracy of the figures, but also pinpoints detailed development needs.
Typical development areas found in dozens of assurance processes over the years include a lack of group-level reporting guidelines and/or their documentation, incomplete implementation of guidelines in the organisation as a whole, scarcity of controls in the information management chain, deficiencies in the consolidation of information, as well as ensuring that the changes are made in all draft versions at the final stage of the reporting process.
A company including an assurance statement in their corporate responsibility report shows a serious attitude to the management and the quality of corporate responsibility information. The work of an assurance officer ensures that the report indicators are illustrative of the right things and that the disclosure of success is correct and accurate.
Assurance is not free of charge. Many companies consider whether the assurance generates value for money. On the other hand, they are aware that the management must have accurate and reliable information of the level of corporate responsibility performance. It cannot be managed, if it cannot be measured and monitored in the achievement of objectives.
So, if you see that a corporate responsibility report is provided with an assurance statement by an outside party, you can pretty much rely on the contents. And if there isn't any, you can ask why.
Sirpa Juutinen is a Senior Manager for Advisory Services, Sustainability, at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She assists companies in the development of corporate responsibility, in reporting, audits and report assurance.