Wim Bartels has been global head of KPMG’s Sustainability Services Network since October 2007. He studied business economics and accountancy at Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit before qualifying as a chartered accountant in 1993. He has worked as an auditor and forensic accountant. In 2001 he became a KPMG partner, taking overall responsibility for the group’s sustainability services, including the provision of sustainability assurance services to multinational businesses such as BASF, DSM, Heineken, KLM, Philips and Rabobank. Wim is closely involved with initiatives including the UN’s Global Reporting Initiative and AccountAbility. In his spare time Wim sings and plays trumpet in a band that performs cover versions of 1970s and 1980s hits, for charitable causes. He is also involved in a foundation that supports children in Tanzania.
Social and environmental reporting has come a long way in the past decade. However it still has a long way to go.
Back in the 1990s, when sustainability reporting was still in its infancy, it was often seen to be used by corporates as a form of window-dressing or “greenwash.”
Responsibility for corporate social responsibility reporting was often handed to the communications department. In many cases, corporates were perceived to embark on the journey for largely cosmetic reasons—whereas their intentions may already have been different. In the wake of reputational disasters like the Brent Spar, the production of glossy corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports was seen as the perfect antidote to interfering non-government organizations (NGOs) and socio-environmental campaigners.
Today, all that has changed. Companies have now widely recognized that, in order to give themselves a long-term future, they are going to have to become more serious, accountable and transparent where sustainability is concerned.
This implies first of all a different way of structuring it and a proper approach to embedding it within the corporate management systems. Businesses are also recognizing that they will need a properly thought-out strategy to address pressing global issues such as global warming, resource depletion and demographic change—and find ways to accurately reflect such a strategy in their reporting.
For their part, investors are demanding greater access to transparent, accountable, robust, reliable, and comparable data from companies about their “nonfinancial” performance. And this is not just out of altruism or personal ethical curiosity; it is because asset managers increasingly believe that having such knowledge will enable them to make better investment decisions and achieve superior returns for their own clients. This means that the nonfinancial information has effectively become as important as financial information.
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