ASSURANCE IN THE US
06 August 2014
Assurance in the US

​GRI North America has published a report which takes an in-depth look at external assurance trends in GRI-based sustainability reports prepared by US companies.

The value of robust external assurance engagements to strengthen the quality of a sustainability report has been recognized by GRI since its formal launch in 2002. Over the past 12 years, GRI has witnessed a tremendous and rapid uptake of sustainability reporting, and an increasingly growing trend towards external assurance by organizations worldwide. Forty-five percent of the GRI-based sustainability reports published by organizations worldwide in 2013 were externally assured, compared with 38 percent of those published in 2011.

Similarly, in the US, the number of companies publishing externally assured, GRI-based sustainability reports rose from 10 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2013. This growth is both expected and welcome.

On-going study
This month, GRI North America (formerly GRI Focal Point USA & Canada) published the report Trends in external assurance: update on the US, the second edition in an on-going study on external assurance trends in GRI-based sustainability reports published by US companies.
 
The report showcases how trends from the last edition of this study have evolved, and is based on an analysis of data included in GRI’s Sustainability Disclosure Database, raw data from the Bloomberg Professional Service, trend analysis from The KPMG Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2013, and interviews with representatives of US organizations that published externally assured GRI-based sustainability reports.
 
Governance & Accountability Institute (G&A), GRI’s Data Partner for the US, UK and Ireland, supported the analysis of the data included in GRI’s database; and representatives of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and its Assurance Services Executive Committee Sustainability Assurance and Advisory Task Force provided industry insight and expertise.
 
Different approaches
The report provides an in-depth and up-to-date look at the different approaches to external assurance, the use of different standards as developed by the accountancy profession, and the market share of external assurance performed by different firms – accounting, consulting, and engineering – in the US. It shows that while external assurance is a growing trend in the US, and especially for large, publicly listed companies, the scope and level of the external assurance engagement, type of assurance provider, and use of assurance standards vary. For instance, in line with 2011 trends, multiple players in the US continue to provide external assurance, and small consultancies/ boutique firms are currently carrying out most of the external assurance engagements of GRI reports published by US companies between 2011 and 2013.
 
The interviews included in the report’s research illustrate that the decision-making around which assurance provider to choose is often rooted within the same considerations of reputation, expertise, industry know-how, and the use of assurance standards; and yet, it often leads to different outcomes.

“But no matter who you decide to work with,” Neil Beckingham, Senior Sustainability Manager at the Mosaic Company, a GRI Sector Leader, noted in the report, “the assurance provider has to know your business, it has to know their business, and it has to work with recognized global assurance standards.”
 
Trends in external assurance: update on the US can be read on the GRI North America’s blog page and GRI’s main website.
 
Webinar for discussion
On Wednesday, 30 September 2014, Eric Israel, Director of GRI North America, will take a closer look at the report’s key findings to discuss the value of external assurance with the following special guests: Neil Beckingham, Senior Sustainability Manager, The Mosaic Company (GRI Sector Leader); Desiré Caroll, Senior Technical Manager, IFRS and Sustainability, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA); and Steve Leffin, Director Global Sustainability, United Parcel Service (UPS), a GRI Organizational Stakeholder. Registration for the webinar is now open on Eventbrite, and available at a reduced rate for GRI Organizational Stakeholders.
 
For further information, please contact GRI North America’s team at griusa@globalreporting.org.