ESG reporting has evolved amid rising stakeholder expectations, says Berry Global VP of Sustainability
Berry Global, a Fortune 500 global manufacturer and marketer of plastic packaging products based in Evansville, Indiana, had no metrics in its first report on sustainability, published in 2014.
But the company’s 2021 ESG report, published on March 1, is “night and day” from earlier efforts, Robert Flores, VP of sustainability, told Insider. It includes dozens of key metrics as well as reporting to several common voluntary ESG disclosure frameworks, including the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), and, new this year, the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD).
ESG reporting, he pointed out, is no longer a nice-to-have — it is table-stakes. “ESG is now an expectation with high visibility for a broad range of internal and external stakeholders, going beyond a niche effort that companies did to go above and beyond,” he said. “Everyone’s looking at these reports, looking for key metrics — we benchmark our peers to see where they’re at and I’ve had peers tell me that they benchmarked us to help determine their own reporting.”
Earlier sustainability reporting efforts were targeted, for the most part, to employees, Flores said. Now, the company speaks to a wide, diverse audience of investors and customers, groups that each have long lists of ESG-related questions that require a lengthier, more detailed report. “This is a monster report,” he said. “I don’t think anyone’s going to sit down and read it cover to cover, but it is an opportunity to get all of the latest numbers out there and really helps us throughout the year because we can just point back to that single document.”
That is particularly true when it comes to the social and governance aspects of ESG, with more and more questions arising around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). “People want to know what we are doing when it comes to employee engagement and community involvement,” he said. “I’m glad to shine a light on that.”
Still, as a manufacturer, it’s not surprising that Berry Global fields the most questions on environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions. “And as a plastic company, we also get a lot of questions about what percentage of our packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable,” he said. “We have the goal to have 100% reusable, recycled, or compostable packaging by 2025, as well as an average of 10% recycled content across our packaging.” According to Berry’s 2021 ESG report, 86% of the company’s packaging is currently reusable, recycled, or compostable, while it has 6.1% recycled content across its total business.
However, as more reporting frameworks emerge, the more challenging ESG becomes, Flores admitted. Berry’s early reports only included GRI, while SASB soon emerged with some differences “but mainly overlap,” he said. In 2021, the company added TCFD for the first time. “We also quite frankly erred on the side of transparency this year,” he explained. “Instead of doing GRI Core, we did GRI Comprehensive.” That decision was made not only to appeal to stakeholders, but ESG ratings agencies and web crawlers that seek out specific metrics, he added.
See related article: Westrock Coffee Company Releases 2020-2021 Sustainability Report
Overall, though, Flores emphasized that Berry’s ESG reporting is meant to be an insightful “good read.” “If you look at any given section, I would like to think that it is a complete story in itself that grabs the reader, with key metrics for that topic, our management approach and what we’re doing,” he said.
And by staying on the forefront of voluntary disclosure frameworks, Berry stays ahead of formal requirements by default. “I’m not worried about being caught by surprise when it comes to potential regulatory requirements,” he explained. “We follow industry trends so we’ll always be ahead of what is required.”
Still, Flores emphasized that he does not spend most of the year thinking about ESG reporting. “Most of the time I’m thinking about how we’re going to be better,” he said. “Then, at the end of the year, it’s just about reporting that.”
Source: Business Insider