The SASB is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that issues the SASB Standards, one of the leading standards for ESG reporting at the moment.
Some other commonly used ESG standards are the ISO 26000, GRI, and CDP.
ESG reporting standards are a specific category of guidance that provides specific, replicable, and detailed information on best practices for disclosing sustainability information.
Standards are key for sustainability reporting because they provide metrics and regularity to the field, thus creating a common blueprint for making frameworks actionable.
Companies will typically announce the standard that they are using for their reports, but there is currently no universal external verification for whether the standard has been applied well.
The SASB was formed in 2011 by Jean Rogers, and its initial purpose was to help businesses and investors develop standards and a common language about the financial impacts of sustainability.
The timeline below shows some of the most notable developments in the SASB’s history.
The SASB implemented this change to establish a more formal separation between oversight, administration, and finances—overseen by the SASB Foundation—and technical standard-setting work, which was conducted by the Standards Board.
These requirements are being developed by the Technical Readiness Working Group (TRWG), with contributions from CDSB, IASB, TCFD, VRF, and World Economic Forum representatives.
The SASB Standards are recognized especially for financial disclosures, as 1) the VRF is set up in a structure similar to that of other financial standard-setting bodies, and 2) the Standards focus on providing detailed data for financially material sustainability factors.
This approach has been recognized by independent firms, such as BlackRock, in Larry Fink's 2020 letter to CEOs, and the State Street Global Advisors (SSGA). Notably, SSGA utilizes the SASB materiality framework to determine scores for their R-Factor™ system, which generates unique ESG scores for public companies.
The Bloomberg SASB ESG Index Family also builds upon SASB Standards and SSGA's scoring system to create ESG policy benchmarks.
As with the GRI Standards, the SASB Standards are widely recognized in the sustainability field, and using the SASB Standards as a guideline may contribute to higher sustainability ratings with independent rating organizations such as Ecovadis or the CDP’s A List (note that the SASB, now VRF, does not issue ratings).
The SASB’s biggest limitation is its focus on financial materiality.
The SASB Standards purposefully do not take stakeholder impact into account, which gives the Standards a narrow scope.
However, this is not necessarily a weakness—the SASB does recommend that companies utilize other sets of standards, such as the GRI Standards, that are complementary to the SASB Standards and help create a more holistic view of a company’s sustainability prospects.
The VRF states that the SASB Standards are “a practical tool for implementing principles-based frameworks” (such as those provided by the TCFD, IIRC, and GRI).
As of 2021, more than 600 companies among S&P Global 1200 have disclosed SASB metrics in public company communications, and that number will likely continue to grow in the future.
SASB’s 2021 merger with the IIRC to form the VRF was intended to “create a more harmonious reporting landscape for issuers,” thus easing the process of sustainability reporting and hopefully encouraging more widespread adoption.
Worldwide, the SASB Standards are most popular in the US, with 65% of the S&P 500, 58% of S&P LATAM 40 companies, and 48% of the S&P Euro 350 using the Standards.
Overall, the numbers of SASB users were trending up even in the years before the formation of the VRF—the 2019-2020 time period saw a 375% increase in companies utilizing the SASB Standards—and with forth-coming sustainability regulations (ex. US SEC rule-making on climate disclosures; EU’s CSRD), the SASB Standards seem poised to gain even more traction.
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