Sustainability accounting reflects the management of a corporation’s environmental and social impacts arising from production of goods and services, as well as its management of the environmental and social capitals necessary to create long-term value. It also includes the impacts that sustainability challenges have on innovation, business models, and corporate governance and vice versa. Therefore, SASB’s sustainability topics are organized under five broad sustainability dimensions:
- Environment. This dimension includes environmental impacts, either through the use of nonrenewable, natural resources as inputs to the factors of production or through harmful releases into the environment that may result in impacts to the company’s financial condition or operating performance.
- Social Capital. This dimension relates to the expectation that a business will contribute to society in return for a social license to operate. It addresses the management of relationships with key outside parties, such as customers, local communities, the public, and the government. It includes issues related to human rights, protection of vulnerable groups, local economic development, access to and quality of products and services, affordability, responsible business practices in marketing, and customer privacy.
- Human Capital. This dimension addresses the management of a company’s human resources (employees and individual contractors) as key assets to delivering long-term value. It includes issues that affect the productivity of employees, management of labor relations, and management of the health and safety of employees and the ability to create a safety culture.
- Business Model and Innovation. This dimension addresses the integration of environmental, human, and social issues in a company’s value-creation process, including resource recovery and other innovations in the production process; as well as in product innovation, including efficiency and responsibility in the design, use phase, and disposal of products.
- Leadership and Governance. This dimension involves the management of issues that are inherent to the business model or common practice in the industry and that are in potential conflict with the interest of broader stakeholder groups, and therefore create a potential liability or a limitation or removal of a license to operate. This includes regulatory compliance, risk management, safety management, supply-chain and materials sourcing, conflicts of interest, anticompetitive behavior, and corruption and bribery.
In developing its Provisional Standards, the SASB identified sustainability topics from an initial set of 30 broadly relevant sustainability issues organized under these five sustainability dimensions.
Although the “universe” of sustainability issues served as a starting point for the SASB’s Provisional Standards setting, this extensive list was refined through a series of steps designed to identify those issues reasonably likely to have material impacts on companies in an industry. Because each of these issues tends to have a different impact or consequence depending on the context in which it arises, sustainable corporate activities will vary from one industry to another, meaning each industry has its own unique sustainability profile. The disclosure topics included in SASB’s industry-specific Provisional Standards are therefore a sub-set of this universe of sustainability issues, tailored to the industry’s specific context.