Article

The Dynamics of Sustainability Reporting: Insights from the ESG Reporting Team

1 December 2023

In this interview, ESG reporting team members Kristien Schreurs, Susan De Boever, and Alexander Van Lil share insights on the evolving sustainability reporting landscape.

They discuss the challenges of convincing boards and stakeholders, the time pressures associated with upcoming regulations, and the evolving mindset of companies toward sustainability. Not only do they touch upon TriFinance's pragmatic approach, process focus, and its role as a bridge between theory and implementation, the team also highlights the excitement of a dynamic job with continuous learning, and a startup mentality, aligning with the anticipated market growth driven by EU obligations.

Sustainability train coming!

ESG or sustainability reporting is a rapidly developing field, advancing at lightning speed. A train that a lot of young talents want to jump on. We spoke with three colleagues from the TriFinance ESG reporting team,

Three people, three completely different backgrounds. One explicitly sought a position where sustainability, analysis, and finance converged; another was drawn to the theme through a project opportunity that came her way, while the third returned to his initial passion: sustainability.

They share a common experience for a little over a year now: being actively involved in the TriFinance sustainability reporting team. This entails assisting companies in their sustainability endeavors, primarily by reporting the evolution of their impact. However, Kristien Schreurs, Susan De Boever, and Alexander Van Lil all bring backgrounds from more traditional financial roles or advisory positions.

With ESG reporting, you get out of your silo and have contacts across all departments. With financial reporting, that's rarely the case. The board adds an extra dimension.

Kristien Schreurs, ESG Project Manager, CFO Services

The imperative to become more sustainable

That's why we inquired about the distinctions between sustainability reporting and traditional reporting, as well as whether ESG reporting revolves around compliance or transformation.

"You get out of your silo and have contacts across all departments," Kristien Schreurs says. "With financial reporting, that's rarely the case. The board adds an extra dimension to this. The arguments to take or accelerate the step to sustainability are there, but you have to convince both the board and the stakeholders of its importance."

Convincing the board proves to be one of the major challenges for the sustainability team. Although help comes from various quarters. "The theme is increasingly present in current affairs," Susan De Boever says, "and that helps us in telling the story. Awareness of the imperative to become more sustainable is growing."

Left to right: Alexander Van Lil, Susan De Boever & Kristien Schreurs
Left to right: Alexander Van Lil, Susan De Boever & Kristien Schreurs

Hot topic

"The reporting guidelines of the European CSRD regulations have recently become final, providing clarity." Kristien Schreurs says. "But on the other hand, there is, of course, time pressure. Listed companies and financial institutions must report as early as 2025, meaning that by the end of 2024, they have to have their sustainability data accurately mapped. That only gives them a few more months."

The time pressure is causing more and more companies to take action, although it does not always seem to be wholeheartedly. For many it is an obligation, not an opportunity. Alexander Van Lil: "As is often the case, you notice resistance to new things. For companies that are at the beginning of their sustainability journey, the positive effects of their sustainability actions are not always noticeable yet. For frontrunners, those effects are tangible, after all, they are first adopters."

Processes remain central to sustainability reporting. By checking in detail what is available in the company, we automatically map out both the processes and the sustainability story.

Susan De Boever, Project consultant, CFO Services

A key focus on processes

In terms of content, the role may differ significantly from a traditional job as a project consultant or financial expert, but in terms of approach, several TriFinance principles do return. For instance, there is a strong emphasis on processes, a TriFinance key focus.

"Processes remain central to sustainability reporting," Susan De Boever notes. "By checking in detail what is available in the company, we automatically map out both the processes and the sustainability story. Since there is a strategy phase, change management immediately comes into play. And that necessitates the development or modification of processes."

"Processes are extremely important in sustainability reporting," Alexander Van Lil adds. "Especially when a company operates in several countries. The challenge therefore lies in the homogeneous collection of all data."

Processes are extremely important in sustainability reporting, especially when a company operates in several countries. The challenge lies in the homogeneous collection of all data.

Alexander Van Lil, Project consultant, CFO Services

Seeing the forest for the trees

Another aspect that TriFinance highly values is pragmatism. So no high-flown presentations, but a tangible action plan that a company can immediately start working on, along with guidance throughout the entire process.

"Sustainability is a new and complex topic," Alexander Van Lil acknowledges. "You shouldn’t make it more complex. We prioritize simplicity and structure. The best compliment we get is clients after an initial meeting saying that they now have a much clearer understanding of what to expect."

"That starts with basic considerations," Kristien Schreurs explains. "Many companies don't know how to report. Should they document policies for all phases with flow charts? How detailed should that documentation be? Can they refer to existing policies?"

"It's also crucial to engage the internal team as quickly and extensively as possible," she adds. "This is a collaborative effort that can only be achieved together.” That does not mean that all TriFinance clients have an established sustainability team. “Sometimes,” Kristien says, “we assist in setting up the strategy, and sometimes we are the sole entity working on it."

Alexander Van Lil summarizes: "In any case, we are the bridge between the theory and the practical implementation."

Softs skills reign supreme

To do the job well, it obviously helps to have a number of competencies, although these appear to be mostly soft skills. "Hard skills in themselves are not that important," says Susan De Boever. "Everything is new. Everyone can still develop hard skills. It is vital, however, to show motivation, perhaps by taking relevant courses. The determination to step out of your comfort zone and the eagerness to learn also play pivotal roles. It is not handed to you on a platter.”

This job is never routine. You can really pave the way. There is a strong startup mentality. Learning by doing is key.

Kristien Schreurs, Susan De Boever, Alexander Van Lil

Startup mentality

According to the three sustainability experts, a fun job awaits those who have the right competencies and a willingness to take the plunge. "It's never routine," they emphasize. "You can really pave the way. There is a strong startup mentality. Learning by doing is key."

Moreover, this market is expected to see a robust growth in the coming years, driven by the obligations from the European Union.

Kristien Schreurs: "Companies are slowly starting to report, but not a single report has been audited yet. The focus is still on establishing the standards."

Text by Spyke

Photographs by Maja Olsen