New Developments in ESG Standards: A Comparison between ISSB and ESRS

A closer look at the main distinctions and similarities between these two new sustainability standards.
New Developments in ESG Standards: A Comparison between ISSB and ESRS
Publ. date 20 Jul 2023
As the sustainability reporting landscape has recently seen a fundamental change due to the introduction of high-quality and more comprehensive standards like ISSB and ESRS, companies are often unprepared. Therefore, the need to understand these new standards is crucial not only to increase transparency and trust with stakeholders, but also to enhance the corporateā€™s ESG performance. Following my last article comparing ESRS with GRI, in this article the focus is on the similarities and differences between the new ISSB and ESRS standards. By choosing the right standards to comply with, companies can leverage the outcomes of their materiality analysis and therefore unlock the strategic value from what seems just like a reporting process.

In June 2023, the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) published new reporting standards enabling a new era of sustainability-related disclosures in capital markets worldwide. These standards, namely IFRS S1 and IFRS S2, were issued to harmonize the reporting standards at global level and to meet investors’ demands for consistent and comparable sustainability disclosures.

More specifically, IFRS S1 provides a set of disclosure requirements designed to enable companies to communicate to investors about sustainability-related risks and opportunities they face over the short, medium and long term. IFRS S2, on the other hand, sets out specific climate-related disclosures. Both fully incorporate the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).

Similarly, the ESRS - European Sustainability Reporting Standards – was adopted in July in order to enhance the credibility and comparability of ESG data among the EU companies.

With this new panorama of reporting standards, it is important to discover the unique characteristics that both standards will introduce.

Key distinctions between ISSB and ESRS:

  • Applicability: the ISSB standards were developed by an international organization that has no regulatory power, therefore, these new standards will be voluntary for jurisdictions, regulators and companies. In contrast, ESRS were introduced to support the implementation of the mandatory sustainability disclosures required under the CSRD, meaning that they are enforceable - for large companies operating in EU starting from 2024.
     
  • Materiality approach and assessment: the ISSB standards are restricted to a financial materiality approach while the ESRS are based on a double materiality approach. This represents a key difference. In fact, double materiality goes beyond financial materiality to also push organizations to look at the impact of the company on sustainability topics. This perspective gives the possibility to gain strategic benefits if well deployed. Moreover, the scope of the materiality assessment is also a source of difference between the two standards. IFRS S1 and S2 disclosures are dependent on the outcome of the materiality assessment, while ESRS requires a list of mandatory data, to always be applied, no matter the outcome of the materiality assessment.
     
  • Target audience: while the ISSB standards are more investment-oriented standards, they are intended to answer the needs of creditors, lenders, and investors. On the other hand, the ESRS are expected to answer to the needs of a broader group of stakeholders such as investors, customers, suppliers, employees, local communities, and regulators.
     
  • Climate-related Disclosure: all the climate-disclosure requirements from IFRS S2 can be found in ESRS E1 Climate Change. Besides that, ESRS E1 requires more detailed information in all four reporting areas (governance, strategy, impact risk and opportunities, metrics and targets). Notably, ISSB standards already provides industry-specific requirements on climate, which are expected to be developed starting from 2024 for ESRS.

In the attached download of this article, a comprehensive table is included that provides detailed information and highlights of the key distinctions between ISSB and ESRS.

Despite their differences, both sets of standards use the TCFD framework structure. Moreover, the connection and interaction with the GRI standards is well present in both standards. They also align on some key concepts like value chain information requirements.

Which set of standards should you choose?

The decision between applying one set of standards or another might be difficult especially because a full interoperability between ISSB and ESRS standards seems unlikely. In fact, as seen before, they differ a lot especially when looking at the inclusiveness of the stakeholders, the enforceability and the approach to the Materiality analysis.

Even if sometimes organizations are forced to follow ESRS requirements due to the size or the location of the business, the elements specific to ESRS previously described - such as the number of stakeholders involved or the approach used for the assessment of material topics - go further than those of ISSB and therefore can help better understand the company’s impact and therefore shape the ESG performance of the company.

In this regard, the Double-materiality analysis approach goes beyond simple reporting. It is a crucial tool to identify opportunities and leverage organizations’ sustainability strategies while strengthening stakeholder relationships, mitigating risks and ultimately leading business growth. Indeed, a good interpretation of the results of the double materiality assessment helps companies also work on their outreach to various groups of stakeholders, their reputation and talent attraction potential.

Finally, ISSB standards provide more freedom regarding the location of information disclosures whereas the CSRD – therefore ESRS – prescribes a specific structure within companies’ management reports.

To conclude, the recently introduced ESRS seem to be more practical and beneficial from a company’s strategic point of view, in comparison with the ISSB standards. In fact, due to its reporting structure, the double-materiality approach and the involvement of a broader group of stakeholders, ESRS can be used as an opportunity to go beyond reporting and accelerate your sustainability strategy.

Eager to unlock the potential of Double-materiality?

If you are looking for personal guidance about the double-materiality assessment process, please contact Johana Schlotter at Johana@finchandbeak.com or call +31 6 28 02 18 80 to discuss how Finch & Beak can help you improve your ESG performance.

Photo by Edho Fitrah on Unsplash

About Gabriele Vicario

Young and positive thinker with passion and involvement in Sustainability and Climate Change, trying to find suitable solutions for everyday business activities. | gabriele@finchandbeak.com

 

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