Industrial Sector

The journey to successful sustainability reporting – and beyond

Mandatory sustainability reporting presents significant challenges for companies. However, this requirement can also become a strategic opportunity. This was a key discussion point with leading experts during our Zühlke Industry Talks. Gain valuable insights here.

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How can companies transform the mandatory sustainability reporting imposed by the Corporate Social Responsibility Directive (CSRD) into a strategic opportunity? Furthermore, how can responsible parties  address challenges such as cost and time pressures, data availability and management, and auditability while ensuring continuous value creation?

These central questions were discussed in our Zühlke Industry Talk conducted in collaboration with Industriemagazin and participation from:

Read the key insights and messages from the discussion below, and if you're interested in the original recording in German language, you can watch that back here.

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' We are all wasting time and money for a piece of paper. '
Dr. Francis Froborg
Lead Sustainability Consultant, Zühlke Group

Status quo: Lost in the jungle of sustainability reporting

Dr. Francis Froborg from Zühlke shares her insights from conversations with clients, prospects, and partners: “From all these discussions and experiences, an important hypothesis has crystallised for me: We are all wasting time and money on a piece of paper.” This statement describes the dilemma faced by many companies as they navigate the complexities of data, tools, and regulations.

“Unfortunately, the holy grail of ESG tools has not yet been invented.”
Mathias Nell, Head of Sustainability of SALESIANER Group

Without a clear plan and relying on the hope that one tool will solve all problems, many companies end up with exploding Excel files and convoluted tool landscapes that hinder scalability and fail to create value beyond reporting. Francis Froborg emphasises the importance of following a structured approach and using the right tools to maintain a comprehensive overview.

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External challenges: New regulations and tight deadlines

While resources such as the whitepaper on “How to navigate the ESG IT tool jungle” offer useful direction, companies still face numerous challenges. “In particular, implementing many new regulations and very tight deadlines presents significant challenges for not only small and medium-sized enterprises but also experienced corporations,” says Brigitte Bichler of OMV Group. 

Christoph Gantzer from ClearEdge Business Partners reinforces this perspective. The pressure to correctly and proactively implement the requirements is further intensified as it is important in the long term not only to meet reporting obligations but also to achieve a positive impact and use ESG reporting as a strategic opportunity. For the successful implementation of the requirements and the embedding of sustainability at a strategic level, integrating financial and non-financial data is a core task, says Christoph Gantzer: “Companies must decide whether they view sustainability reporting as a burden or a strategic advantage; this commitment is crucial for success.”

Internal challenges: Data availability and data management

Besides external challenges, issues with data availability and data management are particularly critical. Companies often struggle to find and efficiently manage relevant data within their existing systems. Many start with simple solutions like Excel, but these solutions soon prove inadequate as companies require more robust solutions.  Additionally, manual data collection processes to gather relevant information for internal and external stakeholders are highly time-consuming and resource-intensive.

“Value-adding sustainability reporting requires the right planning, strategy, and processes.”
Brigitte Bichler, Head of Sustainability der OMV Group

"It is less important whether Excel or another tool is used," comments Mathias Nell of SALESIANER Group. Brigitte Bichler emphasises: "What matters is a structured and systematic approach to ensure effective data management. Defining clear processes and responsibilities is essential to ensure data quality and completeness." According to Dr Francis Froborg, the true value of data extends beyond reporting. Data plays a crucial role in value creation by serving as the foundation for insightful reports and informed decision-making. Good data management facilitates the identification of weaknesses and the implementation of targeted improvements, ultimately fostering a competitive advantage in the long run.

From obligation to opportunity: Strategies for continuous value creation

Proper ESG reporting can offer companies direct operational benefits: the insights can contribute to increased energy efficiency, leading to cost reductions and a better environmental footprint, which in turn can positively impact reputation.

“ESG reporting can be much more than a burdensome obligation – it can contribute to continuous value creation,” says Christophe Gantzer. He refers to a McKinsey study indicating that companies with above-average ESG performance achieve greater growth and profitability. Brigitte Bichler adds that transparent and proper sustainability reporting, along with the resulting ESG ratings are driving forces to attract investors.

To truly harness the benefits of reporting and the data collected in the long term, sustainability reporting must be integrated into comprehensive sustainability controlling that continuously improves performance and ensures that sustainability goals are met. “Thorough integration of sustainability criteria into corporate strategy and governance is crucial for enabling successful transformation within the company,” says Mathias Nell.

Optimising the innovation portfolio, occupational safety, and energy efficiency

Concrete examples were also highlighted in the discussion. “For instance, through the EU taxonomy reporting obligation, we were able to better direct our investments into sustainable projects and thus optimise ROI,” illustrates Brigitte Bichler. The reporting obligation has driven alignment of the innovation portfolio with taxonomy criteria to be recognised as a sustainable investment. Mathias Nell reports significant optimisations, particularly in occupational safety and energy consumption: “By collecting and reporting our core metrics, such as water consumption and carbon footprint, on a quarterly basis, we can achieve continuous improvements.”

Outlook: Real value creation through transparency and comparability

The future of sustainability reporting will be shaped by new EU regulations, such as the CSRD. These standards will increasingly integrate ESG reporting into financial reporting, making it an integral part of controlling. Mathias Nell predicts that ESG reports will increasingly resemble financial reports in the future – data-heavy and machine-readable.  

“Just as financial reporting, ESG reporting will become the norm in the future.” 
Christophe Gantzer, Consulting CFO ClearEdge Business Partners 

In conclusion, the discussion participants highlighted the dual impact of increasing regulatory pressure and the importance of industry-specific benchmarks, which promise enhanced transparency and comparability. They also expressed optimism that by increasing transparency and using the right tools, real improvements and value creation through sustainability data can be achieved. 

Navigating sustainability reporting and leveraging collected data present complex challenges, yet they also offer significant opportunities. We are happy to work with you to seize these opportunities. Contact us to discuss how we can support you in optimising your ESG reporting processes. 

Contact person for Switzerland

Dr. Francis Froborg

Lead Project Manager

Francis Froborg is Project Manager and since January 2023 at Zühlke. She has a versatile background in physicist (Ph.D.), and sustainability (MSc.) as well as project management (waterfall and agile, IT and no-IT projects), and systems engineering (non-IT projects). Her passion is supporting businesses in their sustainability journey including development of new business models and (re-)design of products considering Sustainable Development Goals.

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