Responsible investment, integrating the SDGs, corporate reporting and governance by an asset owner: the case of the Construction and Building Industry Superannuation Fund (Cbus)

by Carol A Adams (Durham University Business School) and Rod Masson (Senior Stakeholder Advisor, Investments, Cbus)

Abstract

This case study examines the role of corporate reporting and board governance at Australian based superannuation fund, Construction and Building Industry Superannuation Fund (Cbus). The decision to adopt the Integrated Reporting Framework with a definition of value creation for a range of stakeholders was consistent with Cbus’ pre-existing culture of collaboration and focus on responsible investment. The approach taken by Cbus to corporate reporting helped to align priorities across the organisation, deepen the Board’s engagement and broaden strategic thinking to encompass a multi-capital approach[i]. When staff numbers increased significantly (as a result of in-sourcing investment management and member services), the annual integrated reports served as a guide to prospective and new employees as to what the organisation stood for.

Citation: Adams, C A and Masson R (forthcoming 2023), “Responsible investment, integrating the SDGs, corporate reporting and governance by an asset owner: the case of the Construction and Building Industry Superannuation Fund (Cbus)“, in The Handbook on Corporate Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility, edited by Magnan, M and Michelon, G, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd. 

The material cannot be used for any other purpose without further permission of the publisher, and is for private use only.

Introduction

Cbus annual integrated reports are here

Cbus  is one of the largest superannuation funds in Australia and the leading Industry Super Fund for the building, construction and allied industries with more than 775,000 members and managing over $68 billion of members’ money (as at 31 December 2021)[ii].   Cbus is a profit-to-members Fund governed by a Board made up of an equal proportion of member and employer representatives drawn from the building and construction industry plus independent directors. The Cbus heritage emphasises acting in the best financial interests of members. In addition to earning healthy returns for their retirement savings[iii], Cbus serves members’ needs whilst they are in the workforce, addressing concerns about their well-being and contributing to a sustainable world into which they will retire.  Responsible investment or Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and, later sustainable development, was recognised by Cbus as essential to its investment strategy. 

Cbus established a wholly owned commercial and residential property development company, Cbus Property[iv], as one of several means of serving members whilst in the workforce.  Cbus Property facilitates a unique way of investing back into the industry, delivering strong investment returns while creating employment for people in the construction industry.

Evolution of corporate reporting at Cbus[v]

The commitment to transparency and accountability had long been a hallmark of Cbus operations and reporting. For example, in its Annual Report 2010/2011, the then Chair of the Fund, The Hon. Steve Bracks AC, noted in his foreword: 

As the super industry matures, it brings with it a greater responsibility for more accountability and openness, and the need for a commitment to even higher standards in environment, social and corporate governance. Cbus aims to be at the leading edge of this challenge.[vi]

Some requirements of integrated reporting were contained in the Fund’s Annual Reports before using the integrated reporting framework. For example, the 2012 Annual Report made significant advances in articulating Cbus’ sound management and governance oversight, with the Fund’s strategy articulated and connected to the strategic objectives. However, these traditional reports were largely a retrospective account of the Fund’s performance over the previous twelve months.  

Adams had been engaged as a paid consultant[vii] initially to assist with adopting the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) sustainability reporting guidelines led by Kerry Lindupp[viii]. In early 2013, Adams noted the alignment of Cbus’ culture and approach, including its long-term focus, with the principles of the then prototype framework for integrated reporting. Adams discussed this with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), David Atkin at the time, who sat on the Board of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI)[ix], and arranged a meeting in Melbourne between him, ESG Investment Manager, Louise Davidson[x] and Paul Druckman, then CEO of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC). David Atkin then made the decision to begin integrated reporting.

The Cbus approach to integrated reporting was influenced by its heritage, its involvement in the PRI and its commitment to GRI reporting. Cbus used the GRI 3.1 Guidelines in the 2013 Annual Report. In providing feedback on a draft of that report, Adams commended the statement about the relevance of sustainability issues to Cbus at a time when asset owners globally were just beginning to recognise the significance. Adams noted the need to integrate responsible investment considerations and develop a suite of policies to signify their importance in the CEO Statement. 

Rod Masson

The 2015 Annual Report[xi] used the GRI G4 guidelines and highlighted the material issues identified by stakeholders. The relevance of these material issues identified through the GRI reporting process to value creation, facilitated the development of Cbus’ first report informed by the integrated reporting framework. In 2016, the Annual Report became the Annual Integrated Report.[xii] The internal reporting team for the 2016 report was led by Masson, then Head of Corporate Affairs, who has continued to play a significant part in developing the report and gaining internal buy-in for the reporting strategy. His connections across the organisation were invaluable in this regard along with the ongoing support of the CEO. Adams continued to guide report development, including drafting sections, providing technical input and reporting strategy expertise. 

The key components in the early development of integrated reporting included the need for timely, accurate data and additional information. Some data, such as member satisfaction, was collected and reported for the first time during the transition to integrated reporting. Functional leaders had to adopt a more concise style that aligned with the Cbus definition of value creation and the value creation process. The submissions were edited by the reporting team and went back and forwards between them and the functional leads several times. Adams developed a template aligned with the integrated reporting framework for submissions to assist the reporting process in the future.

Particularly significant in the development of the 2016 report were the internal discussions about what value was created for whom and who were the main providers of finance to Cbus.  Adams prepared initial drafts of the value creation statement and process from her knowledge of internal documents, particularly strategy documents while Masson tested them with the senior executive, governance staff and the reporting team. These discussions highlighted a range of views on what value Cbus created and for whom that were brought into alignment through the process. As a result, the 2016 report demonstrated greater confidence and shared understanding of the value creation process. It provided links to additional information in its GRI G4 report and on the website. However, the organisation’s strategy still did not fit well with the report structure.  

The discussion of how value was created, and the role of multiple capitals led to a rethink of the approach to strategy development at management and board level. Adams advised on the need to further align communication and action around the agreed value creation statement, gain greater board ownership of some of the content and develop more quantified, time-bound targets. Overall, however, the report was of a high standard and Adams recommended Cbus submit it to reporting awards[xiii].

Development of the 2017 Annual Integrated Report was significantly facilitated by the greater alignment of the strategy with the integrated report. The Integrated Reporting Framework had provided a structure around developing strategy which in turn improved reporting. As confidence in the reporting approach grew, it became clear that controls over data, some of it reported for the first time externally, needed attention and Adams suggested that data gathering, and development of data protocols should fall under the purview of the CFO. The reporting team had struggled with non-financial data and written input being received late and a general lack of rigour relative to the process of collecting and maintaining financial data. Further, there was also room for improvement in the development of quantified goals and targets against which performance could be assessed. 

At Adams’ suggestion, the 2017 Annual Integrated Report included a timeline demonstrating the significant shift in thinking and action on responsible investment by Cbus[xiv].  These shifts were common across the sector, but Cbus was at the forefront. From little or no activity prior to the turn of the century the consideration of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) investment risks was now embedded within policy and investment considerations. Key Cbus policy initiatives included a Climate Change Position Statement and measurement of the carbon exposure of the equities portfolio in 2016. Further initiatives included developing a strategy in 2017 for a long-term net zero target at Cbus Property whilst also expanding the active engagement strategy.

Following the publication of the 2018 Annual Integrated Report, Adams advised that the report quality had plateaued. The Executive Team struggled to engage with the reporting process as the organisation went through significant structural changes. This was reflected in a lack of connectivity (in Adams’ view) between the Annual Integrated Report and the separate Corporate Responsibility Report that followed the GRI Standards and the TCFD recommendations. Both reports contained a CEO Statement with different messages and the audience for each report was unclear. 

Cbus had embarked on a process of increasing direct control of fund investment decisions and member services, moving away from its historical outsourcing arrangements. As in the previous year, Cbus increased its staff headcount by well over 100 people. With a significant increase in staff to follow in the subsequent year, Cbus focused on culture. The CEO’s statement in the 2018 report notes: 

“With so many new staff joining, we have taken steps to embed our culture and holistic approach to creating value for members. I emphasise that it is a team effort and that we take a whole-of-organisation approach through a collaborative and supportive culture that respects individual points of view.”[xv]

This work on culture sought to refresh and embed the pre-existing (prior to the structural changes) culture at Cbus. The work on culture assisted the further development of integrated reporting and the mainstreaming of responsible investment practices. The Executive sponsorship of the Annual Report was later strengthened with the appointment of Robbie Campo as Group Executive of Brand, Engagement, Advocacy and Product. Under Campo’s leadership the Fund extended its integrated thinking, giving consistency and amplification to the representation of its heritage and culture and communication of strategic direction across multiple channels, with the Integrated Annual Report as the corporate communications flagship.   

The connectivity issue across the reporting package was addressed in 2019 by making the annual integrated report the key report for all stakeholders with additional ‘supplements’ for those who wanted more information on: responsible investment; governance; people, culture and remuneration; and stakeholder engagement and materiality. The reporting team had more oversight of these supplements in comparison to the prior year to ensure key information was included in the annual integrated report.  The supplement approach remains at present.

Over this period the key to improving reporting was a genuine reflection on the process of collecting information, the level of engagement around the organisation in the development of the report and the extent to which it reflected the Cbus heritage and aspirations.  This was facilitated by internal debriefings and one-on-one conversations with Executives and key contributors led by Masson and Jeana Vithoulkas.  Further, Adams wrote annual letters to the CEO and the reporting team on what had gone well and areas for further consideration to which the reporting team added their own reflections.  In 2019 the CEO invited Adams to present on the purpose and benefits of integrated reporting to senior managers making his commitment clear. This helped increase the knowledge and commitment to integrated reporting and thinking across the organisation and increased senior staff involvement in developing the report. 

The roots and evolution in Board and Fund thinking  

The sole purpose of the Cbus Board of Directors, made up of equal numbers of representatives nominated by member and employer organisations from the construction and building industry as well as independent directors, is to act in Fund members’ best financial interest. As Trustees of working peoples’ retirement savings, the Board recognises their obligation to keep members informed about the Fund’s decisions and activities. 

The adoption of the Integrated Reporting Framework in 2015 demanded even greater transparency about how the Board managed risk, viewed the Fund’s external environment, responded to material issues for stakeholders and how it created value in the short, medium, and long term.  It also influenced the integration of ESG issues into strategy and decision making. It demanded disclosure of matters that did not go to plan and that at times did not reflect Cbus in a positive light but had a material implication for the Fund’s strategy and stakeholders. For example, in 2019 Cbus did not realise a key strategic priority stating that: 

Although we have seen growth in employer numbers, we did not achieve the level of growth that we targeted for 2019. We recognise that our product range and service capability have not enabled us to compete particularly at the larger end of the market. To address this, we are currently undertaking significant work on our growth strategy, capability and our product offer.[xvi]

The Integrated Reporting Framework provided an impetus for reporting performance against adopted objectives and targets and how remedial or divergent strategies could be adopted in response to changing stakeholder needs or external circumstances.

Soon after the decision to adopt integrated reporting, Cbus embarked on a substantial period of significant change in its business model in pursuing its strategy of delivering greater value to members and other stakeholders. Building internal capability and ownership of its investments and member services, mentioned above, saw the Fund grow from around 100 employees at the adoption of integrated reporting to over 600 by 2021. 

Alongside these internal changes, Cbus, both directly and as part of the industry superannuation sector in Australia, faced an increasingly hostile conservative Federal Government seeking to impose widescale regulatory change aimed at disrupting the sector’s governance, distribution, product and investment models. These matters occupied the Board and were reflected in its integrated reporting. 

Industry super funds in Australia (indeed the system of compulsory, preserved and transportable superannuation) were the products of the country’s industrial relations system. Industry funds such as Cbus had been established by construction and building union members through their wage claims of the 1980’s. Compulsory superannuation was introduced by the Keating Labor Government for all Australians in the early 1990’s. 

With their all-profit-to-members business model, access to strong cash flows and long-term, risk adjusted investment approach, industry super funds were able to diversify their investments to include unlisted assets such as property and infrastructure. All these elements resulted in industry super returns on investment outperforming the for-profit sector over sustained periods.

Conservative politicians’ ideological views differed markedly from the key cornerstones of Australia’s superannuation system. They did not support the introduction of compulsory superannuation arguing that individuals should decide what to do with their earnings and should not be forced to preserve it for retirement. They have supported, in policy and legislation, the individualisation of superannuation and promoted the for-profit sector (largely Australia’s private banks) as the market vehicle for directing people’s savings (financial capital) in the economy. Perhaps, most abhorrent to conservative politics, is the idea embodied in industry super funds, that workers and their representatives should have a say in directing the investment of growing pools of capital. This world view has also resulted in conservative politicians criticising industry funds’ responsible investment approach, particularly where it does not align with their views. For example:

“Some of these funds have got very big and very influential and they seem to forget their job isn’t to rebuild the economy or create jobs or reframe the climate debate or require industrial relations changes at companies they invest in,” Senator Jane Hume, Minister for Superannuation, quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald September 18 2020[xvii]

The growth in funds under management in superannuation has brought increased Government policy intervention. Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) have also become increasingly active in holding superannuation funds to account on ESG issues ranging from investee company action on climate change, governance issues, corporate culture, indigenous recognition and labour rights. 

Adopting the Integrated Reporting Framework facilitated Cbus’ ability to discuss broader external policy and regulatory risks in a way that connected them to the Fund’s core value creation purpose and responsiveness to stakeholders’ needs.  It would allow for the amplification of the Fund’s narrative, values and culture making it a great reference point for potential and existing employees. However, it also placed greater scrutiny on management to demonstrate how the Fund was directing the various capital inputs in a manner consistent with delivering the strategic value creation objectives set by the Board.

It was determined that the annual Board and Executive planning offsites of 2017 at which the strategic direction of the Fund is debated, tested and broadly set, be conducted using multiple capitals as discussion anchor-points. Changes in board decision making following the adoption of integrated reporting was also a finding in Adams’ (2017a) research.

The Board would now probe a little deeper around the themes and contents of the report including seeking to know that the report reflected the strategy and performance accurately, was aligned with their position on the external environment (including policy and advocacy, competition, responsible investment considerations), that it had robustly captured the material issues for stakeholders (primarily fund members and employers, but also steering cultural and value alignment for Cbus employees) and was disclosing how the Fund was responding. The Board’s engagement played a part in the 2017 annual integrated report setting a high-water mark for Cbus. This engagement is reflected in the Board Chair’s statement in the 2017 annual integrated report: 

Following the Integrated Reporting Framework has enabled us to explicitly focus on our inputs and outcomes for multiple capitals. As a Board we acknowledge our responsibility to ensure the integrity of the Integrated Report. We considered how the Integrated Report is prepared and presented at our meeting on 22 August 2017.[xviii]

External assurance

In 2017 Masson and Adams began to discuss the state of development of external assurance over integrated reports. There was a desire to improve the rigour in data collection processes, including internal controls and internal audit, and provide the broader readership with confidence in the report’s rigour, particularly regarding Cbus’ stated approach to value creation for members.  

Adams and Vithoulkas worked on the request for tender for the assurance engagement. Emphasis was placed on assuring processes and ensuring that Cbus worked to create value according to its value creation statement, i.e. for members. None of the providers who submitted tenders had conducted engagements previously with a scope of this nature although one large provider noted that their firm had done a similar engagement in another country. 

The document calling for tender submissions also specified that the assurance statement should describe in some detail the assurance work done and evidence collected. Adams knew that practice in this regard varied considerably with large accounting firms tending to be more conservative than specialist firms providing sustainability assurance (Farooq and de Villiers, 2017). However, this detail was felt to be essential if the assurance report was to inspire confidence in Cbus’ reporting and stated emphasis on transparency and accountability.

Responses to the tender document varied in the extent to which they addressed the criteria and further information was sought from tenderers. Some suggestions by tenderers were concerned more with report preparation than assurance, e.g. that they do a ‘gap analysis’ against the framework. Along with Adams and Vithoulkas, the interview panel included the Chief Financial Officer and Senior Risk Manager. Tendering firms expressed discomfort at assuring processes relevant to the Integrated Reporting Framework (as opposed to data). This is in line with prior research, but Simnett et al (2022) argue that the examples of evidence of sound processes provided in the SDGD Recommendations (Adams et al, 2020), “is an example of a low-cost credibility enhancing technique which can either supplement or replace traditional assurance approaches”. The two large accounting firms, a medium sized accounting firm and sustainability assurance firm differed in approach. There were differences in opinion amongst the selection panel about the relative merits of different type and size of providers, which largely coincided with the findings of Farooq and de Villiers (2019). 

The limited assurance over the Cbus 2018 Annual Integrated Report would initially drive further engagement with the Board. The assurance providers engaging directly with those Directors who chaired the Audit and Risk and Member and Employer Services Committees to explore their knowledge of integrated reporting and test their views on the veracity of the report. The final assurance report was also presented to both the Audit and Risk Committee and the Board for noting.

In 2021, Campo extended the assurance process to include limited assurance on the Responsible Investment supplement. Cbus had reflected that much was written, opined and claimed by companies and investor peers in relation to ESG considerations and sustainability that the audience could not test. It was determined that Cbus should adopt a leadership position on this to provide further confidence to its stakeholders about the veracity of its responsible investment activities and to encourage the companies it invests in, and the investor partners it works with, to do likewise. 

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The SDGs were first mentioned in Cbus’ 2016 report which identified six SDGs to which Cbus contributes. The 2017 Annual Integrated Report took this a step further with and sustainable development issues were considered in the identification of  risks and opportunities posed by the external environment. 

During that year, Cbus joined the Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) Advisory Group for the SDGs and David Atkin was on the Advisory Group for Adams’ (2017b) report The Sustainable Development Goals, integrated thinking and the integrated report published by the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) and Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS). Further, Cbus was invited to contribute to a group of Dutch pension funds on developing an SDG taxonomy for investors. This was an important step as some concern had been signalled by the investment team not to overstate the role that SDGs were playing in investment decision making.

The SDGs were developed for governments not investors although the role that investors needed to play alongside governments was acknowledged and accepted by the Fund. However, without rigorous measurements and agreed taxonomies for investors, actual impact and contribution claims created real concerns about greenwashing. Whilst it could be acknowledged in general terms that some investments, such as those in infrastructure, renewables, social housing and construction aligned with some SDGs, the actual investment impact was not quantifiable nor was the contribution to the SDGs a key driver of investment decisions.

Adams took the view that concerns about measurement should not delay action and that the progress could be addressed through narrative disclosures of process. Cbus did identify several SDGs that it could contribute most to (through the process set out in Adams, 2017b) through both its investment practices and operations. Adams was of the view that Cbus could initially set out its process of selecting SDGs aligned with its business model and strategy to making a contribution to these specific SDGs prior to then measuring the impact on contribution. Stakeholders could then form a view of the strategy and process of selection of key SDGs (which could also be externally assured). The point being to ensure that steps were being taken to increase alignment of (investment) strategy with sustainable development. Cbus submitted a response[xix] to the consultation informing the Sustainable Development Goal Disclosure (SDGD) Recommendations (Adams et al, 2020).  The response argued they had not been drafted with investors in mind, while the authors argued they were relevant to all types of reporting organisations and that corporate reporting aligned to the recommendations could be used by investors “seeking reliable and credible information relevant to long term value creation” (Adams et al, 2020, p 6).

It is worth reiterating that there is no common or agreed methodology of measuring SDG contribution or impact from an investment portfolio perspective. However, the GRI Standards, which Cbus has been using forseveral years, include indicators of performance on matters that are included in the SDGs.  The SDGD Recommendations (Adams et al, 2020) recommend their use in measuring performance.

While Cbus continued to acknowledge SDG alignment with its activities in its reports, the period between 2019 and 2021 did not see further advancement of SDG contribution or impact reporting. However, throughout 2021 the Responsible Investment Team reviewed third party SDG data analytic providers from the myriad of emerging consultants and methodologies. Following the selection of a data analytic group, Cbus’ objective in 2022 is to report the investment contribution based on linking the percentage of revenue derived by the companies Cbus invests in from activities they undertake that are deemed to be aligned with the SDGs. This will be done for the equities and private markets components of the investment portfolio initially establishing a benchmark that can then be used to consider greater impact investment.

Benefits of integrated reporting: the CEO’s perspective

The following is a summary of points made by CEO, David Atkin to the International Integrated Reporting Council on Cbus’ experience with integrated reporting:

  • Initial implementation responsibility rested with our Communications Group, but over time, it moved to the Office of the CEO to make sure all the strategic dots in the organisation are being connected. 

•       Board involvement is critical. The Integrated Reporting Framework helps the Board identify material stakeholder wants and needs, connects those wants and needs to our business model, to how we measure performance and compensate people, and to how we look ahead in setting strategy. 

  • Integrated Reporting has raised stakeholder trust in Cbus. This stakeholder trust has been bolstered by subjecting our reporting to an independent external assurance process. 

•       The bundle of standards and metrics we measure and report on has helped us identify our data needs.

•       In many corporations now, ‘value’ can no longer be measured by adding up their physical and financial capital. This means non-financial disclosures have become increasingly important. The <IR> Framework helps define what those corporate disclosures should be and helps organize them into an investor-friendly narrative. As a result, we ask companies to use the <IR> Framework. We would have no credibility doing that if we did not use the <IR> Framework ourselves. 

Further, integrated reporting at Cbus, conceived as an account of value created for Cbus members and society, highlights the importance of responsible investment and creating sustainable value. 

Reporting awards and wider influence 

Cbus annual integrated reports have had a broader influence on corporate reporting through winning awards and other forms of recognition. The Cbus Annual Integrated Reports 2016, 2017 and 2019 won the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees best corporate reporting award and the 2017 report was one of eight commended out of 2,500 researched in the Global Responsible Investor awards.

In 2021 and 2022, Chant West, a leading Australian ratings, research and data company for superannuation and financial advice, awarded Cbus Best Fund: Integrity[xx]. In doing so, Chant West stated:

…the Annual Report shows how it’s going on meeting its sustainability goals together with all its PRI material. Its integrated annual report shows how the fund is delivering on its promises across areas such as member and employer satisfaction, member engagement, risk management, complaints and insurance claims. Metrics are shown for each area, along with targets, and where targets are not met these are highlighted.

Discussion and Conclusions

Cbus did not adopt integrated reporting as a means to demonstrate enterprise value creation in contrast to the IIRC (2021) purpose of value creation. Cbus’s commitment to integrated reporting was borne out of its roots and its commitment to its members including, through responsible investment. 

The future of the Integrated Reporting Framework is uncertain. In practice many organisations, like Cbus, that have committed to integrated reporting, were already reporting using GRI G4 guidelines which formed the basis of the GRI Standards published in 2016. Like Cbus, these organisations engaged with a broad range of stakeholders to identify material issues and articulated value creation as something that benefited them. In contrast, the revision of the Integrated Reporting Framework (IIRC, 2021) maintained the focus on enterprise value and value creation for providers of finance. Following the absorption of the Value Reporting Foundation by the IFRS Foundation, this focus appears likely to continue given the direction set out in IFRS Foundation Trustees Consultation Paper on Sustainability Reporting (IFRS Foundation, 2020) and subsequent publications and in particular the focus on financial materiality, enterprise value and cash flows. (See Adams and Mueller, 2022 for a critique of this approach by the scientific community in the field through their responses to the  Consultation Paper on Sustainability Reporting). Cbus’ interpretation of its fiduciary duty has recognised the dependency of long-term investment returns on integrating responsible investment practices, climate change risks, greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable development considerations into its investment practices. 

The manner in which Cbus adopted integrated reporting was cognisant of its pre-existing culture. Through its integrated reports, Cbus has sought to demonstrate how it creates value for a broad range of stakeholders. Cbus has sought to demonstrate to members that it is committed to creating value through their lives, including their working lives through employment creation (by investing in property through its wholly owned subsidiary) and the provision of services (such as insurance which is particularly relevant in an industry where injuries are high). Further, Cbus has sought to demonstrate that it invests funds in a manner compatible with the concerns of members for their children, grandchildren and future generations. Cbus has also reported on its advocacy work on behalf of members. External reporting at Cbus involved the Board and has, as the literature suggests, influenced board strategic decision making (Adams, 2017a; de Villiers and Dimes, 2022).

Through its awards and wider recognition of its corporate reporting Cbus has influenced other asset owners. It has also intended to influence the reporting of companies it invests in.

The further development of Cbus future reporting strategy is likely to involve continued use of GRI Standards (see GRI 2021) developed by the Global Sustainability Standards Board (GSSB) and the TCFD recommendations (Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, 2017),  which are now incorporated into an Exposure Draft of the IFRS Foundation’s International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB). Enterprise value creation is facilitated by the creation of value for a broad range of stakeholders, including future generations through investment practices.

Our key reflections, having been intimately involved in the integrated reporting process are:

  • The prior involvement of Cbus in the PRI and with GRI sustainability reporting was critical to the appreciation of the importance of responsible investment and of the impacts of Cbus on society and the environment to long term value creation.
  • This approach to long term value creation, its connection with the organisational culture and its articulation through the annual integrated report acted as an anchor through a period of significant staff growth.
  • Cbus’ definition of ‘value creation’ and its approach to integrated reporting facilitated broader thinking about strategy at board level.
  • Both GRI reporting and integrated reporting highlighted the need for: new data, better data controls and a broader consideration of risk , opportunity and context.

However, the limitations of integrated reporting include:

  • Its lack of credibility without assurance over processes (e.g. materiality determination, governance oversight) as well as content elements.
  • Its inability to shift the organisational focus to sustainable development and achieving the SDGs, unless accompanied by impact reporting (eg by following GRI Standards).
  • The focus of the Integrated Reporting Framework on enterprise value creation something Cbus interpreted as being beyond financial value.

References 

Adams, C.A. (2017a), “Conceptualising the contemporary corporate value creation process”, Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, Vol. 30 No. 4, pp. 906-931.

Adams, C A (2017b) The Sustainable Development Goals, integrated thinking and the integrated report, IIRC and ICAS.  ISBN 978-1-909883-41-3. 

Adams, C A, with Druckman, P B, Picot, R C, (2020) Sustainable Development Goal Disclosure (SDGD) Recommendations, published by ACCA, Chartered Accountants ANZ, ICAS, IFAC, IIRC and WBA. ISBN: 978-1-909883-62-8.

Adams CA and Mueller F (2022) Academics and policymakers at odds: the case of the IFRS Foundation Trustees’ consultation paper on sustainability reporting, Sustainability Accounting Management and Policy Journal Vol 13 No. 6.  https://doi.org/10.1108/SAMPJ-10-2021-0436

De Villiers, C. & Dimes, R. (2022). Critical analysis of the contribution of Integrated Reporting (IR) to sustainability, in Adams, C A (editor), Handbook of Accounting and Sustainability, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.

Farooq, M.B. and de Villiers, C. (2019), “The shaping of sustainability assurance through the competition between accounting and non-accounting providers”, Accounting Auditing and Accountability Journal, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 307-336.

Farooq, M.B. and de Villiers, C. (2017), “The market for sustainability assurance services: a comprehensive literature review and future avenues for research”, Pacific Accounting Review, Vol. 29 No. 1, pp. 79-106.

Global Reporting Initiative (2021) GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards Global Reporting Initiative. Available at https://www.globalreporting.org/standards/download-the-standards/ (accessed 8th August 2022)

Global Reporting Initiative (2014) GRI G4 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. Global Reporting Initiative.

Global Reporting Initiative (2011) GRI 3.1 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. Global Reporting Initiative.

IFRS Foundation (2020). Consultation paper and comment letters: Sustainability reporting. London: The International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation. IFRS Foundation. 

IIRC (2021), International <IR> Framework, International Integrated Reporting Council, London.

Simnett R., Zhou S. and H. Hoang. (2022). “The History and Future of Sustainability Assurance” in Adams, C A (editor), Handbook of Accounting and Sustainability, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd. London.

Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) (2017), Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures: Basel).


Endnotes

[i] The authors have sought confirmation from Cbus that no confidential information has been disclosed. Atkin, Campo and Vithoulkas have confirmed the accuracy of the account of their role.  

[ii] Media Super is now a division of Cbus, offering Media Super products. For more than 30 years Media Super has been the industry super fund for Print, Media, Entertainment and Arts, and broader creative industries. As at 31 December 2021 Media Super provided superannuation and retirement accounts to 72,000 members and managed $7 billion.

[iii] Cbus – Growth (MySuper) fund was ranked fourth best Australian balanced fund on 10 year average returns by SuperRatings as reported in the Australian Financial Review at https://www.afr.com/policy/tax-and-super/revealed-only-three-super-funds-made-money-this-year-20220715-p5b1v6 (accessed 8th August 2022). 

[iv] Cbus Property Pty Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of United Super Pty Ltd, and is responsible for the development and management of Cbus’ direct property investments

[v] Cbus Annual (Integrated) Reports, currently dating back to the 2011 report, are available at https://www.cbussuper.com.au/about-us/annual-report (Accessed 4 March 2022). 

[vi] Cbus Annual Report 2010/2011, Page 3, at www.cbussuper.com.au/annualreport (accessed 15 July 2022)

[vii] Adams continued to advise Cbus until 2021 by which time internal skills and know-how were well developed.

[viii] Kerry Lindupp subsequently served as a member of the GRI Stakeholder Council. She retired as Head of Investor Relations and Reporting at Cbus in 2021. 

[ix] In 2021 Atkin was appointed CEO of the PRI. 

[x] Louise Davidson subsequently joined the IIRC Board in 2015. 

[xi] Key features of the 2015 report are discussed at https://drcaroladams.net/cbus-superannuation-fund-publish-first-report-in-a-3-year-journey-towards-integrated-reporting/ (accessed 15 July 2022)

[xii] See discussion at https://drcaroladams.net/cbus-superannuation-fund-annual-integrated-report-2016/ (accessed 15 July 2022)

[xiii] Adams had previously served as a judge for ACCA reporting awards in the UK, Australia and Malaysia.

[xiv] See pages 14 and 15 of the 2017 Annual Integrated Report at https://www.cbussuper.com.au/content/dam/cbus/files/governance/reporting/Annual-Integrated-Report-2017.pdf (accessed 6 September 2022).

[xv] Cbus Annual Integrated Report 2018, Page 7 at www.cbussuper.com.au/annualreport

[xvi] Cbus Annual Integrated Report 2019, Pg. 55

[xvii] See https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/not-your-job-superannuation-minister-says-super-funds-forget-their-role-20200918-p55wyd.html (accessed 6 September 2022)

[xviii] Cbus Annual Integrated Report 2017, Message from the Chair, Page 9 at www.cbussuper.com.au/annualreport

[xix] Available at https://drcaroladams.net/the-consultation-responses/ (accessed 4 March 2022)

[xx] https://www.cbussuper.com.au/campaigns/awards

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