Verification, assurance and certification

Obtain third-party validation of information on practice and performance

Last updated: July 6, 2023

Description

Verification and assurance

For effective decision-making and management, organisations need confidence that their processes and practices are sufficient to delivering the desired sustainability performance, and that the resulting practice and performance information is complete, accurate and reliable. This is also critical to the organisation’s stakeholders (e.g. investors, clients), who need confidence in sustainability disclosures.

The process of establishing whether information on the organisation’s impact management practice and/or performance is true and accurate is known as verification.

Assurance goes a step further. It is the process of evaluating an organisation’s information against suitable criteria and standards in order to increase confidence in the information. Assurance engagements are conducted with limited assurance (negative attestation that the attester is unaware of any significant issues) or reasonable assurance (affirmative attestation that all information is fairly stated).

Assurance should be conducted by an independent, competent and qualified attestation service provider in accordance with high quality, internationally recognised assurance standards. The third-party assurer and the organisation agree the underlying subject matter, as well as suitable criteria, which can include the assurance of practice or performance information, or both.

While organisations typically establish their own, internal, verification and assurance processes, third-party assurers (such as chartered or certified accountants) can help ensure that the sustainability information is accurate and reliable. While third-party verification and assurance entail a higher work and cost burden to organisations, they are becoming synonymous with good impact management practice, much as they already are for financial management.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that, in some instances, it may not be realistic to seek third party assurance. This may be the case for smaller organisations. Instead, such organisations might consider inviting representatives of the affected parties to review information and to validate whether it constitutes a fair and true representation of the affected parties’ experience. Larger companies will have more resources to conduct assurance, although systematically assuring all information may not be realistic. For this reason, regular and prioritised assurance practices should be established and communicated.

Certification

Organisations that want confidence that their performance or processes have met a certain required level of attainment can seek certification by a third party. Whilst assurance engagements result in an opinion expressed by the assurer on the quality of information provided, certifications typically result in awarding a grading or pass/fail.


Resources

Resources that set expectations on verification and assurance

For all enterprises:

OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises

Last updated: 2011

One of the main (and government-backed) international instruments on Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) setting out principles and standards on RBC. Regulators reference them in regulation.

This resource calls upon organisations to:

  • Strategy: Align strategy with the expectation to avoid and address negative impacts of their operations, while contributing to sustainable development in the countries where they operate.
  • Governance: under construction
  • Identify: Set objectives with reference to minimum safeguards on topics such as: human rights, labour relations, employment practices, public health and safety, bribery and extortion, science and technology and taxation.
  • Measure, assess and value: under construction
  • Implement: Embed due diligence across business operations and in the value chain in order to identify, assess, mitigate, cease and prevent adverse impacts on people
  • Communicate: under construction

OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct

Last updated: 2018

Guidance that provides practical support to enterprises on the implementation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by providing plain language explanations of its due diligence recommendations and associated provisions.

Use this guidance to:

  • Implement: Cease, prevent or mitigate negative impacts and provide for or cooperate in remediation where appropriate

SDG Impact Standards for Enterprises

Last updated: 2021

Practice standards that provide a common language and a system for integrating sustainable development issues, the Sustainable Development Goals and impact management into business and investment decision-making. These practice standards also outline the ‘ABC’ classification methodology, which helps organisations assess whether an impact ‘Acts to reduce harm’, ‘Benefits stakeholders’, or ‘Contributes to solutions’ in relation to the SDGs.

Use this resource to:

Set up processes and embed practices that orient an organisation towards achieving the SDGs. The SDG Impact Standard contains practice indicators that are relevant to several actions. Use the links below to access guidance for different practice indicators. Alternatively, view the whole guidance document here.

For investors and financial institutions:

Reporting and assessment framework

Last updated: 2020

Tool to report on responsible investment activities annually.

This resource calls upon organisations to:

  • Communicate: Report on firm-wide and portfolio or strategy-specific investment practices.

SDG Impact Standards for Private Equity Funds

Last updated: 2020

Practice standards that provide a common language and a system for integrating sustainable development issues, the Sustainable Development Goals and impact management into business and investment decision-making.

This resource calls upon organisations to

  • Measure, Assess and Value: Develop an impact management and measurement framework
  • Set targets and plan: Set portfolio level impact goals.
  • Implement: under construction
  • Verification, assurance and certification: Disclose how the SDGs and sustainability are integrated into decision-making and report on performance

Principles for Responsible Banking

Last updated: 2019

Principles for Responsible Banking (PRB) are designed to ensure that signatory banks’ strategy and practice align with the vision society has set out in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement.

This resource calls upon organisations to:

  • Strategy: Commit to aligning the bank’s activities and portfolios to global goals, namely the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreements, by embedding sustainability at the strategic, portfolio and transactional levels, across all business areas.  This initiative involves a fee for participation and requires periodic disclosure of progress made towards enforcing the Principles.
  • Governance: under construction
  • Identify: under construction
  • Measure, assess and value: under construction
  • Set targets and plan: under construction
  • Verification, assurance and certification: Use the PRB Assurance Guidelines to assure adherence to the Principles.

Impact Standards for Financing Sustainable Development (IS-FSD)

Last updated: 2021

Practice standards to support donors in the deployment of public resources through DFIs and private asset managers, in a way that maximises the positive contribution towards the SDGs. The Standards are harmonised in approach with the UNDP SDG Impact Standards suite, the IS-FSD constitute a framework, ensuring that collectively (with the SDG Impact Standards for PE Funds, Bond Issuers and Enterprises) they help to connect actors across the system using a common language and approach for integrating SDG impacts in the investment strategy and throughout the investment process and governance structures.

This resource calls upon organisations to:

  • Strategy: Set impact objectives framed in terms of the SDGs and country priorities
  • Governance: Set up processes and embed practices that are aligned with the SDG Impact Standards.
  • Measure, assess and value: Understand whether all relevant information is being actioned to understand impact. The Standards outline how baselines, social/ ecological thresholds and other contextual information should be included in assessment of whether an underlying asset is contributing to the SDGs.
  • Set targets and plan: under construction
  • Implement: under construction
  • Communicate: Disclose how impacts are managed and measured

Verification and assurance standards and providers

Assurance/verification standards:

AA1000 Assurance Standard

Last updated: 2020

A set of criteria that demonstrates adherence to AccountAbility’s four principles: inclusivity, materiality, responsiveness and impact. Assurance using this assurance standard can cover an organisation’s practices as well as sustainability performance information.

Use this resource to:

  • Verification, assurance and certification: Assure a report or the organisation’s practices with reference to the AA1000. The subject matter for an assurance engagement is not pre-defined in the AA1000, meaning this assurance standard is commonly used to assure external reports prepared according to other reporting standards.

International Standard on Assurance Engagements 3000 (Revised)

Last updated: 2013

A standard for assurance professionals that covers any assurance engagement other than audits or reviews of historical financial information.

Use this resource to:

  • Verification, assurance and certification: Organisations may require that their third-party assurance providers apply this standard to ensure adherence to global best practices.
Assurance and verification providers:

Report Assurance Standard

Last updated: 2018

Report Assurance standard that provides criteria to assess the application of SVI’s Social Value Principles as evidenced in a report. Assurance is conducted acting in the interests of the affected stakeholders, an important distinction versus other assurance standards that are currently available.

Use this resource to:

  • Assure a report that has been prepared in accordance with the Principles of Social Value. The Principles of Social Value and associated practice standards help organisations measure and manage the social value generated through their business activities. This means the assurance standard is best applied to a report that has been prepared in accordance with the principles from the outset. The assurance standard is used to assess application of the principles, it does not assure accuracy of performance information.

Certification standards and providers

Certification standards:

ISEAL Codes of Good Practice

Last updated: 2014

ISEAL’s Codes of Good Practice provide a globally recognised framework, defining practices for effective and credible sustainability systems.

User this resource to:

  • Define how a standard should be developed, structured and improved over time. The Code addresses multi-stakeholder consultation and decision-making, and ensures the standard contains clear requirements that can be measured and assessed.
  • Provide a framework for assessing compliance with standards, so that consumers, supply chain partners, investors and other stakeholders know they can trust the results of assessments. It encourages assurance that is rigorous and accessible, providing accurate and transparent results.
  • Support robust monitoring and evaluation that helps systems to understand how effective their standards are in achieving what they set out to do. It provides standards with a roadmap to measure progress against sustainability goals and to improve practices over time.

ISEAL Credibility Principles

Last updated: 2021

The Credibility Principles define the core values of credible and effective sustainability systems. They provide the foundations for systems to deliver greater impact.

User this resource to:

  • Develop standards and similar sustainability tools to understand which attributes of their system are critical to the credibility of their approach, and why this matters for improving sustainability performance and delivering impacts.
  • Identify systems that can be effective partners in delivering against shared sustainability objectives.
Certification providers:

B Corp certification

Last updated: 2019

Certification awarded when an organisation achieves a score of 80 on the B Impact Assessment.

Use this resource to:

  • Become B Corp Certified. Organisations undergo verification including interviews, submitting documentation, and as necessary site reviews, to increase confidence that the company’s score is accurate and the required 80-point score has been achieved.

Social Value Management Certificate

Last updated: 2021

Certification process that assesses to what extent the Principles of Social Value are embedded in an organisations systems and processes. The certificate has three levels that set out a progression for organisations looking to continuously improve how they optimise social value for their stakeholders.

Use this resource to:

  • Certify that an organisation’s systems and processes adhere to the Principles of Social Value.

Green Bond Principles

Last updated: 2021

To be completed.

Use this resource to:

  • To be completed.

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