Assurance is often misunderstood and I’m concerned that a new study of the market for assurance of sustainability and corporate responsibility reports compounds the problem by painting a skewed picture of where the market is going and even what assurance is.
The report from sustainability analysts Verdantix, called ‘Green Quadrant Analysis on Global Sustainability Assurance Providers’, appears to mix sustainability assurance with some of the tools that might be used underneath an assurance project, such as greenhouse gas verification and social labour conditions auditing.
It also seems to have missed out wider stakeholders, focusing on assuring the board.
The report purports to cover the leading assurance providers. Yet a number of the top providers according to figures from Corporate Register, the world’s largest online directory of CR reports, aren’t covered – including Two Tomorrows. I know I have a vested interest, but it still seems odd that we, as the world’s number one assuror of reports using AA1000AS according to Corporate Register, aren’t covered in the research. The absence from the study of so many leading assurance providers adds to the impression that the authors haven’t been clear about what sustainability assurance is – and isn’t.
In particular, AA1000AS appears not to be seen as a central assurance standard. In my view, it has the strength of being open scope and inclusive of all stakeholders, and focuses on a set of principles. A very important point of AA1000AS is that it requires observations and recommendations to be provided in the statement. This is crucial to providing readers with a good understanding of the company’s strengths and weaknesses. It also requires all significant findings to be disclosed in the assrance statement.
By contrast, the ISAE 3000 standard, which is highlighted in the Verdantix report, is focused only on historic, non-financial information. Its strength is in providing very clear procedural advice. In essence this standard is good for checking things in a report are right but, unlike AA1000AS, not for checking that the right things are in the report.