The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) in September 2021 released the SASB Standards Taxonomy, which translates 77 industry-specific sustainability standards into the digital XBRL format.
The financial reporting space has greatly benefited from requirements for companies to report information in XBRL or eXtensible Business Reporting Language. XBRL converts individual corporate reporting concepts into machine-readable tags or labels that facilitate analysis and comparability of reports containing financially material information – thereby enhancing decision-making by investors and other stakeholders. An XBRL taxonomy is a dictionary of such machine-readable concepts.
The XBRL format has revolutionized regulatory compliance and corporate reporting in various jurisdictions such as the US, UK, EU, and South Africa, and there is no reason why sustainability reporting cannot benefit from a format that facilitates documents that are human- and machine-readable at the same time.
Therefore, the release of the SASB Standards Taxonomy has been eagerly anticipated – even though this is not the first time a set of sustainability standards has been given digital definitions.
Overview Of The SASB Standards
The SASB Standards Taxonomy is designed to facilitate XBRL reporting in accordance with different SASB industry standards. SASB has developed a complete set of 77 Industry Standards which are classified on the basis of 11 sectors.
We have listed the sectors and their standards below…
Understanding SASB Standards XBRL Taxonomy
Based on the classification above, SASB has released an XBRL taxonomy for public use which has close to 4,620 reporting concepts. The taxonomy broadly has the following contents:
A) Generation Information
The SASB Standards XBRL taxonomy has a section named ‘100000 – General Information’ which requires companies to provide some basic information about themselves such as name, country of incorporation, etc.
Given below is an example of how the SASB Standards XBRL taxonomy is structured to gather such information.
The SASB Standards taxonomy also allows companies to report climate-related information and data about governance, strategy, and risk management. These cover the four pillars of the TCFD reporting framework – namely Governance, Strategy, Risk Management, and Metrics & Targets. Given below is a representation of how the SASB Standards Taxonomy is structured for TCFD reporting.
C) Industry And Sector-specific Information
The SASB Standards Taxonomy is structured in such a way that each sector provides a specific section for companies to report information in the digital reporting format. Each section of the SASB Standards Taxonomy has the following structure:
- Disclosure Topic
- Accounting and Activity Metrics
Given below is an example of how a ‘Chemical industry company in the ‘Resource Transformation sector can start familiarizing itself with using the SASB taxonomy.
TR stands for ‘Transportation’ – which is the ‘Sector’ of the company.
AP stands for ‘Auto Parts’ – the ‘Industry’ of the company.
TR-AP 130a.1 stands for the ‘Accounting Metrics’ that indicate energy consumed by the organization.
Similarly, below is an example of the ‘Resource Transformation’ sector and a set of information that companies in the chemical industry need to report in digital reporting format.
Further, to dive deeper into the taxonomy, each link’s role for sector and industry is classified into accounting metrics and activity metrics which are further classified into topics of disclosure such as Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Air Quality, Energy Management, etc. Given below is an example of how the taxonomy is structured:
Guidance on Extensions and Anchoring
The purpose of enabling ESG reporting in a structured format is to assist in the comparison of ESG performance across peer companies within an industry. Comparability is key to ensuring sustainability data is decision-useful for investors.
The SASB Standards XBRL Preparers Guide does not encourage the creation of custom elements (called extensions in the world of XBRL) when there are appropriate concepts available in the taxonomy. However, in some cases, SASB encourages the use of anchoring to achieve comparability of information.
Consolidation – The Future Of Sustainability Standards
Consolidation is the way ahead for sustainability standards such as those of the SASB. That’s because efforts by multiple global organizations at building sustainability frameworks have culminated in what is termed an ‘alphabet soup’ of standards. Companies trying to make sustainability disclosures are faced with the overwhelming challenge of identifying an appropriate standard and many of them end up using a ‘patchwork’ of different frameworks.
The SASB in June 2021 merged with the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) to form the Value Reporting Foundation (VRF). Further consolidation is on the cards.
When the IFRS Foundation November 2021 announced the formation of the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB) to create a “comprehensive global baseline of high-quality sustainability disclosure standards to meet investors’ information needs”, it also announced a consolidation of a few global sustainability organizations.
By June 2022, the Climate Disclosure Standard Board (CDSB) and the Value Reporting Foundation will consolidate with the ISSB. The CDSB is an initiative by the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project).