Published on 02 Sep 2022

The best sustainability reports: winning features

What makes a sustainability report that’s actually worth reading? BY KELVIN LAW AND RONY LIM

SUSTAINABILITY reporting was once a new and innovative way for listed companies to showcase their environmental commitment and social responsibility.


Today, it has become mainstream, with most large companies releasing sustainability reports every year. However, sustainability reporting has also become increasingly complex and dense, making it difficult for the average person to understand what companies are actually doing in their sustainability efforts.

What makes a sustainability report that is worth reading?

Recently we had the opportunity to delve into the sustainability reports of listed companies in Singapore as part of a judging panel for the Best Annual Report Award (Best ARA).

To give some context: The Singapore Corporate Awards (SCA), jointly organised by Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA), Singapore Institute of Directors (SID) and The Business Times (BT), was launched in 2005 as the umbrella awards for exemplary corporate governance practices for listed entities in Singapore.

One of the awards, the Best ARA, is managed by ISCA and aims to promote excellent corporate reporting and a more extensive scope of disclosure in line with demands of investors and other stakeholders such as employees, creditors, and the general public.

Listed companies’ sustainability reports – whether issued separately or included in annual reports–are part of what we judge to award the Best ARA. The winners of the Gold Awards of the Best ARA 2022 are:

  • Keppel Corporation (among companies listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) with market capitalisation of S$1billion and above);
  • Tuan Sing Holdings (among SGX-listed firms with market cap of S$300 million to less than S$1 billion);
  • Qian Hu Corporation (among SGX-listed with market cap of less than S$300 million); and
  • CapitaLand Integrated Commercial Trust (Reits and business trusts).

Keppel Corporation (among companies listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX) with market capitalisation of S$1 billion and above); Tuan Sing Holdings(among SGX-listed firms with market cap of S$300 million to less than S$1billion); Qian Hu Corporation (among SGX-listed with market cap of less than S$300 million); and CapitaLand Integrated Commercial Trust (Reits and business trusts).

So, what key takeaways can we learn from the winners and the other companies in terms of writing an exemplary sustainability report?


Data-driven and actionable

The best sustainability report contains quantitative data on key performance indicators that are accurate, timely, and relevant to a company’s strategy. The data should help the reader understand what the company is doing in sustainability, how the company is performing, and where the company can improve. In addition, the data should be presented in a way that is easy to understand and, most importantly, actionable.

For example, CapitaLand Integrated Commercial Trust (CICT) clearly articulates how it identifies its key performance indicators in its sustainability report. Besides producing a long-term strategic plan to align with the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, CICT also highlights its progress made in meeting the sustainability targets.

Companies that do not disclose their sustainability plans and targets risk being perceived as not having a clear sustainability strategy. Performance should be reviewed against targets to demonstrate whether a company made progress in achieving these targets.


Data disclosure without sustainability targets makes it difficult for the readers to gauge whether the company is making progress. A sustainability report should not just be a document that is filed away and forgotten. It should include concrete plans for how a company will improve its sustainability performance in the future.

It has emerged that companies engage in greenwashing, creating the impression of being environmentally friendly while masking their actual eco-green efforts. Volkswagen, for example, claimed for many years that its diesel cars were “clean”, when in fact, they emitted far higher levels of pollutants than advertised.


Readers often question data that is not verified because it is difficult to determine if the company is being truthful about its claims. SGX will require internal auditors to review all sustainability reports beginning in 2022, after receiving strong backing following a public consultation to enhance the credibility of sustainability reports. Although external audits on the reports are not mandatory right now, SGX is still keeping an eye on the situation.

Companies should verify their sustainability data with an independent third party to ensure the sustainability report is accurate and credible. Verifiability also extends to auditing the promises made in the report. When a company obtains independent assurance over its sustainability report, the opinion should set out the scope of assurance
and its limitations.


For example, Keppel Corp’s sustainability report clearly described the roles of its internal auditfunction and external assurance providers in its governance processes and how they upheld the credibility of its reporting.

Besides having independent assurance, companies should also provide details on the methodology used to compile the sustainability data. This ensures readers understand how the data is collected and processed and facilitates comparability between companies.


We are glad to note that more and more listed companies have sought external assurance for their sustainability reports. The externally assured reports were common in the big cap winners – something that other companies can emulate.

The independent assurance reports appended in these sustainabilityreports allowed investors and other stakeholders to better understand how data had been verified and make a more informed judgment on the information contained in the sustainability report.

Companies are also encouraged to allocate resources that uphold assurance of sustainability disclosure because of increased expectations of reliability.

Comprehensive and balanced
A good sustainability report provides clear and well-rounded coverage on the company’s sustainability impacts on stakeholders, covering both good and bad news. Such reports generally rise above typical boilerplate statements, with specific instances of sustainability achievements. Besides highlighting achievements, a good report should avoid ignoring negative sustainability consequences as well as missed targets.


Yoma Strategic Holdings’ sustainability report was thoughtful – it was transparent in disclosing and reviewing employee relations and local community engagement targets. In addition, the report contained a comprehensive assessment of the social, environmental and economic value contributed by various sustainability programmes.

A company’s management should ultimately be accountable for the sustainability report. Award winning reports foster accountability by explaining how environmental and social policies are formulated.


Besides explaining how the sustainability governance system is set up to oversee these policies, a good sustainability report identifies senior management responsible for sustainability issues and explains how management ensures these policies are working.

An excellent sustainability report will focus on the topics that are material and most important to the company and its stakeholders. Reporting on material sustainability issues helps investors and other stakeholders understand how the company manages risks and opportunities that could affect its long-term success.


For example, Qian Hu Corp clearly outlines its sustainability governance structure and identifies who in its senior management ranks oversees sustainability.

Besides focusing on issues with the biggest impact on the business, such as water usage and energy intensity, the company provided details of stakeholder engagement in the materiality process, including community and employee engagement practices.


Another good example is Tuan Sing Holdings’ sustainability report. It contains a board statement that discloses the board’s oversight of sustainability issues and the process of identifying material sustainability issues. Besides highlighting corporate commitment towards sustainability concerns, such a move fosters corporate accountability towards stakeholders.

Sustainability reporting has undoubtedly come a long way in Singapore. However, more work should be done to match the standards of topnotch reports produced in other developed markets.

Moreover, with sustainability reporting being a journey and not a destination, continuous improvement is expected if companies aspire to produce reports that are worth reading.

The writers are fromNanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Business School. Kelvin Law is an associate professor; Rony Lim is a lecturer, and a member of the Best Annual Report Award judging panel for the Singapore Corporate Awards.

Source: The Business Times