ESG Reporting Research Paper

Lindsay Meermans, Wittenberg University, Business and Economics
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Summary

Students will select a topic of their choice related to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governmental) reporting to explore further, culminating in a 5-page research paper. The research paper will have milestones such as topic, annotated bibliography, outline, rough draft, and final paper due throughout the second half of the semester. Various articles and readings will be provided along the way. In addition, students are required to attend the department's ESG panel with leading experts on current ESG topics.
Learning objectives include introducing students to ESG reporting and the role accounting plays in this emerging field. Pulling from the common exercise students will see that businesses have multiple stakeholders with similar and conflicting needs, creating complex problems that can be hard to solve.

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Learning Goals

Many students had not been exposed to the concept of ESG reporting. Currently, it is not required by US companies as part of their annual reporting. International standards will be adopting some required reporting soon, and the US is expected to follow soon after. Many investors are now demanding companies have some sort of ESG strategy in place. The question is, how can companies measure their adherence to these strategies? Are there consistent measurements used across companies? Different stakeholders and users of data have different needs. How are these different needs being addressed? By allowing students to explore various topics in ESG reporting, they are allowed to choose a topic or a company that most interests them.

Context for Use

This course is our capstone which only seniors take. It is a writing intensive which requires specific number of pages of research to be written throughout the semester. This specific assignment is just a portion of the overall written requirement for the course. The assignment was assigned after the common exercise took place. ESG reporting was first introduced, then the common exercise completed, then the research paper assigned. In addition to the research paper, 3 current articles were assigned to be read and summarized so that the students were all starting from a similar place for ESG reporting research topic ideas. Since this is a capstone course, yes, the student is expected to have mastered the other accounting topics.

Description and Teaching Materials

ESG is a hot topic in investing and accounting. A simple Google search can bring back many current articles. To introduce the ESG topic to my students, I provided a PowerPoint with a few current videos and articles. After this, the research paper was assigned. Summarizing important points of the assignment: Possible topic areas could be around stakeholders, firm performance, history of reporting standards, ESG strategies, profile popular companies, etc. THERE MUST BE SIGNIFICANT COVERAGE ON ESG REPORTING STANDARDS from an accounting field's perspective. Need to have 10 references, ranging from academic journals, CPA firm or Investor guidance (like KPMG or BlackRock), FASB, SEC, Corporate reports or other related sites. Students must reference three articles that were provided as part of the introduction to ESG reporting: 1. FASB's Intersection of ESG Matters with Financial Accounting Standards, 2. A4S Navigating the Reporting Landscape, and 3. CDSB Framework. The paper had to be 5-pages. In addition, our department invited 4 alumni who are currently involved in ESG (from investing, consulting to help companies create an ESG strategy, to legal team to help companies adhere to their strategy, etc.) to a panel and all students had to attend as part of this project.
Introduction to ESG Reporting PowerPoint (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 34.2MB May11 22)
ESG Reporting Research Paper Rubric (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 13kB May11 22)


Teaching Notes and Tips

It is easy for the students to get swept up in the ESG strategies specific companies tout on their websites, but the goal of this is to focus on the reporting and the role accountants can play in holding companies accountable to their ESG strategies through reporting requirements. If a student chose to research a specific company I asked them to provide comparisons within the industry, to really focus on the data that is being presented and explain how various stakeholders can use this data to make decisions regarding the company.

Assessment

I've attached a rubric in supporting materials that I used to assess the research paper.

References and Resources

I used a video from KPMG (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qdcmCsoYJdM),

Two articles from Strategic Finance Magazine's April 2022 issue (https://sfmagazine.com/post-entry/april-2022-sustainable-business-management/, https://sfmagazine.com/post-entry/april-2022-the-digital-transformation-of-sustainability-data/),

In addition to an article from FASB.org (https://www.fasb.org/jsp/FASB/Document_C/DocumentPage&cid=1176176379917),

Climate Disclosure Standards Board Framework for reporting environmental and social information (January 2022)(https://www.cdsb.net/sites/default/files/cdsb_framework_2022.pdf),

And A4S Navigating the Reporting Landscape (https://www.accountingforsustainability.org/content/dam/a4s/corporate/home/KnowledgeHub/Guide-pdf/Navigating%20the%20Reporting%20Landscape.pdf.downloadasset.pdf)

All of these were provided to introduce the students to ESG reporting, for them to explore various topics and then choose their research paper topic.