SASB standards are designed to support independent, third-party verification and an increasing number of companies are electing to have their SASB data assured. Assurance signals to markets that the information is reliable, but the assurance process can also have internal benefits. “External assurance can be helpful in increasing the robustness of internal reporting so that the leadership can rely on it for performance management” says Roger Seabrook, Vice President of Finance, Marketing & Sustainability at Unilever. “It ensures that the fundamentals are in place–clear definitions, good data quality, and reporting discipline.”
Vornado Realty Trust, which undertook an examination engagement to obtain reasonable assurance over its SASB data, found the process helpful in ensuring it had its own collection, validation, and reporting procedures nailed down. Senior Vice President of Energy & Sustainability Daniel Egan says it “really was a deep dive into not just the data itself but also the processes by which we obtain it and the quality control protocols we have in place for each data set.”
Similarly, at Kinder Morgan, Director of Corporate Compliance Kristin Peterson welcomed the opportunity for an independent third party to “get in the weeds” of the company’s sustainability data. “It’s so nice to have someone else come in and look for issues and trace the data from point A to point B,” she says. The company’s assurance partner “gave us great feedback that helped confirm our disclosure is consistent year-over-year.”
Laurel Peacock, Sustainability Director at NRG Energy, agrees that the assurance process can be helpful. The company’s electric generation portfolio includes a mix of legacy and M&A assets and “every plant could be doing things a bit differently,” Peacock says. “To be able to streamline the process, reduce human error, and provide positive support to our plants was very beneficial.”
“Putting new eyes on the data and challenging it raises the bar,” Seabrook says. Assurance professionals “don’t just come along and sniff at the numbers—they do proper testing.” When issues arise, they prompt “quite complicated conversations, but that’s where the value comes,” he says.
Of course, high-quality sustainability data doesn’t happen overnight. “It’s OK if it takes a while to make sure you have the right controls in place and get the right people involved,” Peterson says. Indeed, Egan believes the time investment will pay dividends. “What we really primed ourselves for was not just what happened in year one, but also getting everything down and documented so that it’s easier next year,” he says. “If markets gradually migrate toward integrated reporting, we’ll be there already.”