Credibility is a key factor in sustainability. Attestation of the reporting by an external party really adds reliability to the respect. It is not yet mandatory, but that may soon change for quite a few companies.

As with financial reporting, it is also possible for non-financial reporting to have certain elements attested, i.e. validated by an independent expert. But the newness of this area also presents the inevitable challenges for attestation.

"The audit of financial statements has been done in the same way for decades," says Mike Boonen, Partner at KPMG Bedrijfsrevisoren. "With sustainability reporting, there is no fixed form or content. It rarely expresses things in euro or dollars and addresses a wide group of stakeholders, not just shareholders." 

Readiness assessment

Fortunately, there is a readiness assessment. The company submits its reports to a third party, but without asking for attestation. Mike Boonen: "Your performance indicators are then subjected to a test. The auditor gives you possible points of improvement. The following year you can then go for attestation if you feel ready."

The great need for reliable sustainability information ensures that some three-quarters of large companies globally voluntarily opt for independent attestation of reporting. "In Belgium, it's only about one in four," says Mike Boonen. "So we definitely still have a long way to go in a short time period. After all, from 2023 onwards, attestation will also be mandatory for about a thousand companies in Belgium."

AB InBev chooses to have sustainability reporting attested

Although attestation of sustainability reporting may not be mandatory, AB InBev sees it as its responsibility to have key elements validated by an auditor.

Like many other large companies, AB InBev has a sustainability strategy that includes a focus on the environment, packaging materials and water consumption. The new 2018 strategy also took the attestation process one step further. "We have had our efforts for key topics and indicators attested by an independent party for some time," says Virgina Covo Naranjo Global Director Sustainability Climate Action at AB InBev. "But the new strategy added additional indicators, including external data for the first time. Data from suppliers, for example."

Time-intensive process

An attestation is, of course, a crucial process: in which an external party certifies your figures are reliable. Or not. That risk can be somewhat overcome by calling for a readiness assessment beforehand. "I can really recommend it," Virgina Covo Naranjo points out. "It's a stress test for your reporting system and processes. Are you ready to be attested? When it comes to certifying a specific KPI, a readiness assessment makes management systems even more robust.

Attestation is time-consuming, according to Virgina Covo Naranjo. "Think of it as a journey," she says. "If you need two readiness assessments for a certain KPI, so be it: as long as you're making progress and continuing to learn. Choosing a good auditor, who is involved quickly in the process, is also crucial."


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