Almost eight out of 10 leading global companies have improved their sustainability reporting over the last three years, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has found.

In its eighth annual Reporting Matters review, the WBCSD revealed that, out of 158 global firms studied, 78% have improved their overall scores since the baseline year of 2017, while 26% have improved their materiality score.

The analysis of corporate reports – published in partnership with consultancy firm Radley Yeldar (RY) – also found that 41% combine financial and non-financial information, up from 35% in 2017.

Moreover, 96% of reports reviewed acknowledge the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in some way, with 93% prioritising specific goals and presenting some evidence of alignment and contribution. During the 2019 review cycle, the SDG with most companies aligned with were SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, and SDG 13: Climate Action.

“Every year I am encouraged by the improvement in companies’ reporting and 2020 is no exception,” said Louise Ayling, director of sustainability strategy at RY.

“COVID-19 has certainly placed more weight on its importance coupled with the momentum we’ve seen towards sustainability action as we enter this new decade and the revitalisation of companies’ sustainability strategies.”

This year’s findings also show that 84% of corporate reports reviewed reference the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), 78% of which claim to be in accordance with the core or comprehensive levels.

In addition, 28% of reports integrate the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) into the materiality assessment process, or produce a separate SASB index, up from 7% in 2017, and 15% provide a digital-first experience.

Peter Bakker, CEO of the WBCSD, said: “COVID-19 has shown how fragile our systems are. It is up to all of us to build forward better as we navigate the next phase of the global pandemic, without losing sight of systemic issues lingering beneath the surface.”

“To get this done, we need to truly align our markets with the natural, social and economic systems on which they depend. It is about building long-term resilience, driving equitable and sustainable growth, creating the enabling conditions and raising the collective business voice for policies for a sustainable financial system, and reinventing capitalism.”

“Transformation should be supported by a sustainable financial system, and for that we need robust, comparable and transparent reporting on relevant environmental, social and governance (ESG) aspects so the financial system can reward the most sustainable companies and scale sustainable solutions.”

“What’s clear is that business must be able to communicate sustainability information in a decision-useful way to a range of audiences.”