The AA1000 (AccountAbility) verification standard is particularly suitable for companies that want to have their sustainability reports subjected to a neutral audit. The attestation documents the transparency and reliability of your company's reporting. And it gives all interested parties the certainty that the report is an accurate reflection of your sustainability performance.
More and more companies are not only focused on their business results. Increasingly, they also feel an obligation to the environment and society, but above all to their interested parties (stakeholders). They therefore regularly publish a sustainability report. In addition, under EU Directive 2014/95/EU, certain companies are required to report their sustainability performance in detail. This affects around 6,000 public interest companies across the EU with more than 500 employees.
But how effectively transparent and reliable is the published information?
Organizations that want to have their sustainability report audited on the basis of a globally recognized auditing standard often opt for AA1000AS (AccountAbility 1000 Assurance Standard). Especially if their focus is on a strong dialog with their stakeholders.
What is the case for AA1000?
Sustainable corporate governance is good. Evidence from an independent body on sustainable corporate governance is better!
"Credibility is a fundamental requirement for effective sustainability reporting. Credibility can be significantly enhanced through independent external verification using accepted, professional standards."
AA1000 Auditing Standard
What can you achieve by having your sustainability report verified?
- High level of credibility for sustainable corporate governance through external verification
- Systematic consideration of all required facts as well as interested parties
- Attestation by an internationally recognized certification body
- Recognition of the attestation by the major rating and ranking agencies such as DJSI (Dow Jones Sustainability Index) and CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project)
AA1000 - The standards
The AA1000 series was adopted in 2003 by the British organization "AccountAbility" from the AA1000 Framework Standard, which had already been created in 1999, and has been continuously developed since then.
The standards of this series are:
- AA1000AP: The AA1000 AccountAbility Principles standard from 2018.
- AA1000AS: The AA1000 Assurance Standard (2008), which is based on the framework of principles in AA1000AP (AA1000 Assurance Standard (AA1000AS, 2008) with 2018 Addendum).
- AA1000SES: The AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (2015) was developed specifically to guide stakeholder engagement. It is a generally applicable framework for assessing, designing, implementing, and communicating high-quality stakeholder engagement.
The starting point for verification is the information contained in the report on how sustainability issues are embedded in the organization, how they are managed and communicated.
AA1000 - Four principles for effective sustainability management
AA1000 is based on four principles for effective sustainability management, which also form the basis for the verification process.
Targeted and systematic involvement of relevant stakeholders in sustainability management: "People should have a say in issues that directly affect them."
Compliance with this principle is a prerequisite for fulfilling the subsequent principles. Inclusivity means involving interested parties in the development and implementation of a responsible sustainability strategy.
The strategy should be designed as a separate process. The necessary competencies and resources for this must be available. Qualitative demands on the company's own business conduct can be formulated. Voluntary commitments to relevant interested parties or declarations of compliance with international sustainability standards can also be made.
Identify the issues and challenges relevant to your business and stakeholders: "Decision-makers should identify and understand the material sustainability issues."
Materiality consists of identifying the relevance and significance of a sustainability issue. Material or relevant is anything that affects the decisions, actions and performance of an organization or its stakeholders.
A separate process must also be established for determining materiality, which provides suitable information for an analysis of explicitly non-financial aspects. This will highlight the relevant aspects for sustainability and identify the needs and expectations of the company and its interested parties.
Responsible handling of stakeholder issues: "Organizations should show transparency on material sustainability issues."
Reactivity means how your company deals with issues that affect the sustainability performance of its stakeholders. Reactivity mainly comes from appropriate decisions and actions, as well as communication with affected stakeholders. The principle indicates how your organization responds to specific concerns and whether it acts responsibly in doing so. This involves, among other things
- The setting of principles and goals
- Developing a corporate structure
- The creation of action plans, and
- Engaging relevant interested parties.
Impact of organizational activities: "Organizations should monitor and measure their activities and take responsibility for how their actions impact the surrounding ecosystem."
Organizations should be aware that significant things can have direct and indirect impacts, both positive and negative. They should realize that impacts can be both intended and unintended. Moreover, impacts may have already occurred or may yet occur and may be felt in the short, medium or long term. The principle shows that dealing responsibly with the impacts of activities leads to more effective decision-making and results-oriented management within the organization.
Basic questions of AA1000
- Does your organization identify relevant interested parties and consistently place them at the center of its actions?
- Does your organization have effective stakeholder management integrated into its corporate responsibility strategy?
- Does your organization identify material sustainability issues and derive appropriate fields of action from them?
- Does your company apply systematic methods that involve stakeholders in dealing with these fields of action?
- Has your company implemented effective and documented processes and assigned clear responsibilities for responding to stakeholder inquiries and sustainability crises?
- Does the communication process with stakeholders involve the business units relevant to sustainability?
"A key feature of an AA1000AS audit, and one of the strengths of the standard, is the ability to directly address deficiencies identified while the audit is still ongoing."
AA1000AS - A variable audit standard
If you want to have your sustainability report verified and aim for an attestation according to the AA1000AS standard (2008), you can determine both
- The scope (two different modules) and
- The intensity of the assessment (two audit levels)
MODULE TYPE 1
This module is the basis of a review of your sustainability report and cannot be changed. Here, the auditors primarily determine how you deal with your interested parties by means of interviews with management and a document review. Special attention is paid to whether the four principles mentioned above are implemented in the considered processes and organizational framework of your sustainability management system. This module does not consider the reliability of reported information.
MODULE TYPE 2
The application of this module is optional. It requires the implementation of the requirements mentioned in module 1, especially the four principles. The focus is on evaluating those published sustainability information that have the highest decision-making relevance for your stakeholders. The focus is on the informative value, accuracy and completeness of the reporting as well as the comparison with the internal company view.
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AA1000AS - Two combinable audit levels
Verification according to AA1000AS can be performed at two audit levels: high or moderate assurance. The standard specifies requirements tailored to objectives, characteristics of audit evidence and attestations. These differ in degree primarily with respect to principles, performance information and the extent of conclusions.
The subject of an audit is a variety of topics. Thus, in one and the same attestation, a high level of audit assurance can be obtained for one subject and a moderate level for another subject.
However, certain fundamental decisions must necessarily be made in advance. For example, the orientation must be based on stakeholder requirements and appropriate resources must be planned for implementation. Because of the process-oriented nature of the AA1000AS standard, there must be appropriate documentation of all processes. At the same time, this creates the prerequisite that processes function independently of persons across interfaces.
Conclusion on the Accountability 1000 Assurance Standard
For sustainability-driven stock market indices (for example FTSE4good Indices and NYSE Euronext) or relevant investor initiatives such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, sustainability reports must be verified by independent third parties. Internationally recognized auditing standards, such as AA1000AS (AccountAbility 1000 Assurance Standard), are particularly suitable as a basis.
An AA1000AS attestation certifies that your organization's sustainability management incorporates all relevant facts and stakeholders. The scope (module type 1 or 2) and intensity of the report audit (two levels) can be determined by your company if required.
What DQS can do for you
Your company is legally required to publish a sustainability report? As an AA1000-licensed certification body, DQS offers external verification for your sustainability reports (GRI, Global Compact, ISO 26000, ...). The external report verification certifies transparency and credibility in your reporting. And: it gives all stakeholders the assurance that your report is an accurate and complete reflection of your sustainability performance.
OUR TIP: The internationally valid guidelines of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) offer you the right tool for preparing a sustainability report. The guidance, principles and indicators they contain will help you to record and validly present your organization's sustainability performance.
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