Research & Thought Leadership
OUR MOST RECENT RESEARCH REPORT (March 2022)
2022 Update on ESG/Sustainability Assurance in South Africa
A review of the 55 assurance engagements conducted by a total of 13 ESG/Sustainability Assurance Providers currently providing assurance over the reporting of JSE listed companies. The primary purposes of the research is to provide guidance to both assurance providers and their clients over what IRAS believes should be expected from an assurance engagement. This 40-page report may not make all mentioned parties happy, but the goal was never to try to please everyone, but to be fair in our assessment. Rather, the report has been structured to help guide and direct not only our own assurance services, but hopefully those of our peers, competitors and potential new entrants to the assurance market in SA.
ABOUT OUR RESEARCH & THOUGHT LEADERSHIP EFFORTS
Being a small boutique/niche consultancy with a primary focus on the provision of ESG/Sustainability Advisory and Assurance services, our primary competitors tend to be the large, global, deep pocketed accountancy firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PWC, etc.) placing IRAS at an automatic disadvantage in terms of brand recognition and perceptions of lesser experience. To combat this, IRAS heavily invests in not only remaining current in our understanding of trends and anomalies in integrated reporting, ESG analytics and assurance, but in completing research at a level significantly disproportionate to the size of our team. The most significant example of this is our Sustainability Data Transparency Index (SDTI) research.
From 2009 to 2013, IRAS reviewed the level of application of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Guidelines among the more than 300 companies listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange (JSE). As our research progressed, and as we awarded top companies for their "GRI Compliance", we noted that companies appeared to be interested in being recognised for their efforts, and thereby enhancing the GRI-based reporting. The problem, as we repeatedly stated, was that our research suggested that adherence to the GRI Guidelines did not necessarily lead to improved reporting. Rather, the so-called "quality" of GRI-based reporting seemed to be directly linked to a report author's ability to wordsmith assertions of social and environmental responsibility regardless of whether their assertions could be supported by evidence. What the GRI lacked, in our opinion, was a consistent expectation of quantitative comparable data (i.e., "numbers").
In 2013, IRAS shifted from focussing our research efforts on GRI compliance to what we termed the "Sustainability Data Transparency Index", or "SDTI". Our goal was to determine the extent to which JSE-listed companies were providing stakeholders with performance information on key sustainability matters such as energy use, carbon emissions, water consumption, health & safety, human resource development, CSI, etc. We identified over 80 indicators that required "the numbers", and the poured over the annual reports of every single company until we were satisfied that we'd found everything we could find.
This research has proven to be extremely useful not only in supporting our assurance work through benchmarking performance prior to our clients publishing their annual reports, but also in pushing the ESG agenda within many companies.
Due to the excessive cost of the research - roughly R1.2 million (against an annual IRAS income of roughly R3.0 million), we pulled back from the research after reviewing FY2016 reporting.
Click on image to download our 2022 Update on ESG/Sustainability Assurance in SA research report.
Click on image to download our 2021 Review of ESG Data Transparency in SA research report.
In early 2020, a JSE-listed mining company sent IRAS a message to inform us that when they asked 14 highly respected ESG Analysts, in companies such as Allan Gray, Investec, Old Mutual and the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) our SDTI ranked 6th out of 9 ESG Analytic reports, behind the likes of Bloomberg ESG, Dow Jones, FTSE Russel, and MSCI, but ahead of the likes of Oekom and Vigeo. This, as we were quick to note, was over four years after our last SDTI report had been published. As a result, IRAS resurrected the SDTI, ultimately launching our 2021 Update on ESG Data Transparency in South Africa report in June 2021 (after nearly 18 months of research).
As of March 2022, our ESG/Sustainability Data Transparency Index (SDTI) now consists of 203 indicators, of which 102 are "scored", and used to calculate the SDTI Score for each of the 281 JSE listed companies in our current population sample.
The SDTI is not our only research.
In March 2020, IRAS published our first annul Update on SDG Reporting in South Africa, in response to growing local interest in what companies have taken the lead on linking the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to their business practices and/or social responsibility programmes. In the end, we identified 90 JSE-listed companies (of 320) that at least mentioned the SDGs in their annual reporting. Of these 68 made some form of specific mention of what they intend to do to address one or more of the SDGs, while 59 of these provided specific targets and progress against prior year targets. (Click on the pdf icon to the left of the report to download the document).
In September 2020, IRAS published our first annul Update on Climate Change Reporting in South Africa, in response to growing local interest in what JSE listed companies are disclosing in terms of their ability to identify, prioritize and mitigate predicted climate change impacts.
As of March 2022, IRAS is in the process of updating both of the above-mentioned research reports, and we have also published a 2022 Update on ESG/Sustainability Assurance in South Africa (23 March 2022).
It is our intention to also produce at least one additional (unidentified as of yet) thought leadership article every second month. In doing this research, and sharing it with our network of stakeholders in SA and abroad, it is our hope that IRAS will be viewed as an important source of ESG and Integrated Reporting guidance materials.
NOTE: All of our research working papers are available upon request via firstname.lastname@example.org.