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SASB Standards Meant to See Beyond Financials

Tammy Whitehouse | May 20, 2014

Investors are starting to demand more information from companies beyond financial details to better understand their ability to sustain success over the long term, emboldening the upstart Sustainability Accounting Standards Board to develop rules that would achieve just that.

The California Public Employees' Retirement System recently published its second report explaining the system's commitment to sustainable investment and operations, and in it called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to get serious about requiring sustainability-like disclosures in public company filings. “CalPERS supports the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and we encourage the SEC to continue its dialogue with SASB as they develop industry-specific sustainability accounting standards for publicly listed companies,” the report says. Douglas Park, director of education for SASB, says it's an example of growing investor demand for a better view into the companies they are capitalizing. “We see traction and interest on the investors side,” he said at Compliance Week 2014. “Investors want this.”

SASB is an independent, non-profit board established in 2011 to develop and disseminate sustainability accounting standards that would guide public companies in disclosing material factors that the SEC requires companies to address in their filings. SASB says its goal is to make more useful information available to investors while also driving corporate performance on the environmental, social, and governance issues that are most likely to impact value.

SASB relies on big donors and its accreditation as a standard setter to conduct research into the issues that most interest investors and how they can be better explained in financial statements. So far, SASB has issued final standards on health care, financials, technology and communications, and is continuing to develop standards for such areas as non-renewable resources, transportation, services, resource transformation, renewable resources, consumption, and infrastructure.

Companies like Caesars Entertainment are getting onboard with sustainability reporting, although Park says there's no data yet on how many companies are beginning to adopt sustainability reporting. Gwen Migita, vice president of sustainability and community affairs for Caesars, says the gaming company is voluntarily embracing sustainability reporting to articulate its commitment to its employees, the communities where it operates, its guests, and the environment.

“It's important for us to tell our story,” said Migita at the conference. “It's often told for us by groups that may have a predisposed position on what is going on.” Caesars often is treated differently than companies in other sectors, she says, subject to different regulation and tax rates, for example. “We want to be treated like every other industry and taxed in the same way as other sectors,” she said.