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CSRD Event: Navigating Challenges and Opportunities in Sustainability Reporting

17-05-2024

Companies and organizations are increasingly monitored by stakeholders such as media, customers, NGOs, investors, and politicians for their handling of climate, environment, human rights, and social inequality. The attention does not stop there. Starting in 2024, large multinationals are required to report on their sustainability and human rights performances according to the European “Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive” (CSRD). Many companies are now in the initial phases of this reporting, which brings its own set of challenges. Thus, on May 15th, representatives from business, politics, and the public sector gathered at an event organized by Public Matters in collaboration with sustainable business network MVO Nederland. The objective: to look ahead and transform sustainability reporting from merely a compliance requirement into an opportunity for organizations to demonstrate leadership on sustainable, political, and social levels.

Led by moderator Thomas van Zijl (BNR Nieuwsradio), MEP Lara Wolters (PvdA/S&D) and Laura Jungmann (Director of Sustainability at supermarket Albert Heijn) shared their valuable insights on the creation of the legislation and its practical application. A lively panel discussion followed with Claire Martens-America (Member of Parliament, Conservative Liberals – VVD), Sacha Göddeke-Mulder (Director of Sustainable Business, NS – the Dutch Railways), Sebastiaan Nijhuis (Sustainability Transformation Leader, PwC), and Christian Penning (Manager of Large Business Network and CSRD, MVO Nederland).

The creation and practical application of the CSRD

“The CSRD has three goals: to increase the amount of available information, improve the quality of this information, and then make it more comparable through reporting formats.” With these words, MEP Lara Wolters (PvdA/S&D) opened the event. As shadow rapporteur for the CSRD and main rapporteur for the subsequent Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD), Wolters highlighted the purpose, creation, and importance of leadership in companies for effective implementation and the connection with CSDDD legislation. She stated that: “in the creation of the laws there was leadership from politics and now leadership from companies is needed,” adding: “it is the role of the business world to point out what is not right, politics must provide direction where to go.” She predicted an intensive dialogue in the coming years over the practical execution of this legislation.

Laura Jungmann, Director of Sustainability at Albert Heijn, underlined this triple objective with her very insightful and extensive explanation of the supermarket chain’s sustainability reports and the path to them. Where reporting used to be purely about recording data, it now plays a crucial role in setting ambitious goals for the company. Jungmann emphasized: “Sustainability and corporate social responsibility are moving from a peripheral topic to a core topic,” which is a good example of how the CSRD can have a positive impact on business operations.

Opportunities and Challenges

During the subsequent panel discussion, the opportunities and challenges of the CSRD legislation were discussed. One of the key points was that the CSRD forms a valuable tool for progress, as shown by Albert Heijn, but there is a significant need for outreach from both politics and large companies to get everyone on board and ensure a broad understanding of what the legislation entails and aims to achieve. VVD MP Claire Martens-America emphasized that the success of the CSRD depends on an effective interaction between politics and business, listening to where acceleration is needed, but also when to slow down. Martens-America brought up that the business world also craves peace and clarity: “I don’t want to ask something of companies now that will change a few years later. We need to build in peace now and evaluate how it goes in a few years.”

Also, Sacha Göddeke-Mulder from NS indicated that reporting can actually lead to innovation by providing insights into where profits can be made within the chain. This can help companies significantly accelerate once the figures are clear. However, as Göddeke-Mulder outlined, this takes time and even for frontrunners, there is still much work to be done: “Sometimes we have to slow down in order to speed up.” Christian Penning from MVO Nederland used a fitting metaphor to describe the CSRD, comparable to cleaning a house: “The longer you wait, the more work it takes.”

Support for all links in the chain

Both Claire Martens-America and Sebastiaan Nijhuis (PwC) emphasized that all players in the chain need support to not be overwhelmed by the regulatory pressure of the CSRD legislation. This law requires not only that large corporations report on their own impact, but also that they do so for their entire supply chain. This places particularly high demands on most of the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), who often have limited knowledge of this legislation and are struggling with a shortage of manpower. The panel was unanimous in the opinion that large companies play a crucial role in supporting smaller companies to make their processes transparent. Martens suggested offering real small businesses exemption or additional support. She added: “We need to bridge the gap between politics and citizens. After all, it involves their finances; we need to make clear that the CSRD ultimately leads to profit.”

“We can grow into it”

The common denominator of all speakers was that the implementation of the CSRD should not be seen as a battle between winners and losers. A sustainable future requires collaboration between politics, business, and civil society, supported by clear ambitions. Continuing an open dialogue between these parties is essential, as is mutual outreach between companies. Although it remains a complex task for many, it is important that politics listen to signals from the field and that leading companies involve their chain partners in this transition process. The first reports show that there are significant opportunities for acceleration, improvement, and innovation in sustainability. Both Albert Heijn and NS expressed it hopefully: “There is time. We can grow into it.”

"The implementation of the CSRD should not be seen as a battle between winners and losers but requires cooperation between politics, business and civil society, supported by open dialogue and clear ambitions."

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