The topic of non-financial information as such is not new; the so-called "Non-financial Reporting Directive" (Directive 2014/95/EU) already requires a number of companies to disclose and include in their management reports a non-financial statement containing information relating to at least environmental matters, social and employee-related matters, respect for human rights, anti-corruption and bribery matters.
Transposed into French law in 2017, the companies in scope are required to publish a "declaration of extra-financial performance" (the "DPEF"), integrated into their management report, which presents information regarding how they take into account the social and environmental consequences of their activities.
However, the implementation of these requirements has highlighted significant shortcomings: many companies do not provide reliable, comparable and relevant information on sustainability risks, opportunities and impacts.
These shortcomings prove all the more problematic in light of the European Green Deal and the European Commission's objectives of promoting sustainable finance and investment, and ensuring a just transition.
This is the context in which the European Commission published its legislative proposal (April 2021) which aimed to thoroughly revise applicable rules on non-financial reporting (renamed "corporate sustainability reporting") in view of improving the flow of information on sustainability matters. On 21 June, after several months of negotiations, the Council and the European Parliament reached a political agreement on this new directive - the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive) (the "CSRD Directive").
The CSRD, which broadens the scope of non-financial reporting, will oblige more companies to disclose precise information, on the basis on harmonised standards and subject to reinforced control. Thus, the CSRD will require companies to communicate with respect to both sustainability risks to which they are exposed as well as and about their own impact on people, the environment and society at large. In that respect, sustainability can be of relevance for the measure of companies' performance.
- Extending the scope of non-financial reporting
The CSRD will require the following entities to disclose information on sustainability matters :
- all companies listed in EU regulated markets (with the exception of micro-companies), including those not established in the Union but whose securities are listed on a European regulated market;
- non-listed companies with more than 250 employees and either a balance sheet total or a turnover of more than EUR 20 million or EUR 40 million, respectively.
European subsidiaries and sub-groups whose parent company is not established in an EU Member State will also be required to disclose sustainability information. Small and medium-sized companies are also encouraged to publish sustainability information according to simplified standards. Finally, all parent companies of large groups will have to publish sustainability information.
As a result, it is estimated that an additional two thousand French companies will have to publish sustainability information.
- Towards more granularity and greater comparability of sustainability information
The CSRD strengthens significantly the list of sustainability indicators that companies will be required to report on.
From now on, companies will notably have to provide information about i) their business strategy and the resilience of the undertaking's business model and strategy to risks related to sustainability matters; ii) any plans they have developed to ensure that their business strategy and model are compatible with the transition to a sustainable and climate-neutral economy; iii) their targets related to sustainability matters and the progress made towards achieving those targets; as well as iv) the role of the administrative, management and supervisory bodies with regard to sustainability matters.
This information will have to be clearly identifiable in a specific section of the management report and will have to include precise descriptions, including for example the plans defined by the company to ensure that its business model and strategy are compatible with the transition to a sustainable economy and with the limiting of global warming to 1.5 °C in line with the Paris Agreement and climate-neutrality.
Although certain derogations may apply in exceptional cases (impending developments, matters under negotiation, information seriously prejudicial to the commercial position of the company) and transitional periods are provided for, the spirit of the reform is undeniably to move towards greater transparency and comparability of the information provided by companies in scope of the CSRD.
In this respect, sustainability reporting standards will be prepared on the basis of technical advice and contributions from the working group set up by the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG). They will be adopted by the European Commission by means of delegated acts and will aim to ensure that the information disclosed is understandable, relevant, verifiable, comparable and is represented in a faithful manner.
The adoption of these standards will face both opportunities and challenges: the standards could pave the way to the emergence of a sustainability data ecosystem, and contribute to the coherence of the legal and regulatory framework relating to the European Taxonomy and the so-called SFDR, all while striving to find the right balance by taking into account to the greatest extent possible the work of global standard-setting initiatives for sustainability reporting, as well as existing standards and frameworks.
The CSRD will therefore result in a double upheaval: an amendment of the current non-financial reporting provisions under French law, in particular the Commercial Code, and the emergence of a new body of harmonised standards at EU level. The new legal framework is bound to have strategic implications and be demanding for companies, under the guise of the concept of "sustainability", and will require all activities of companies in scope to factor in the objective of sustainable development. It is therefore a real revolution which companies face, which they will have to adapt to and prepare for by 2024.
- Strengthening the audit and assurance of sustainability reporting
The absence of an assurance requirement on sustainability reporting would undermine their credibility and fail to meet the needs of the investors and other users of sustainability information for whom they are intended. It is therefore appropriate to consider a gradual increase in the level of assurance required for sustainability disclosures, starting with a requirement for the statutory auditor or audit firm to give an opinion on the compliance of sustainability disclosures with EU requirements, based on a limited assurance engagement.
The co-legislators also wanted to offer undertakings a broader choice of independent assurance services providers for the assurance of sustainably reporting. Member States should, therefore, be allowed to accredit independent assurance providers to provide an opinion on published sustainability information.
It should be noted that French law already provided such an assurance mechanism for a certain number of companies.
The European Commission's ambition, with the proposed CSRD, was to ensure a consistent flow of sustainability information within the financial system, in order to achieve the transition objectives and prevent greenwashing.
The broader scope of CSRD, the principle of greater comparability through common benchmarks for sustainability reporting, and the assurance mechanism agreed by the co-legislators should all be welcomed and will contribute to deliver on the Commission's objectives. Companies may now start preparing and assessing the operational impacts resulting from the CSRD.
That said, the reform is not complete yet: the Union is still to adopt the European sustainability standards which will have to further transcribe the principle of double materiality and provide a common framework for the latest waves of sustainability-linked rules and regulations. This will be the true test that will determine whether the EU can become a front-runner in setting global sustainability reporting standards, and whether sustainability can become a new pillar of businesses’ performance.
 Article L.225-102-1 of the French Commercial Code.
 These are companies which employ, on average, more than 500 employees and whose turnover or balance sheet total exceeds (i) for companies listed on a regulated market, their turnover or balance sheet total must exceed 40 million euros or 20 million euros respectively and (ii) for other companies, their turnover or balance sheet total must exceed 100 million euros.
 Namely, companies that employ less than 10 people and whose annual turnover or annual balance sheet total does not exceed 2 million euros.
 These are companies that employ less than 250 people and whose annual turnover does not exceed 50 million euros or whose balance sheet total does not exceed 43 million euros.
 Simplified standards will apply to SMEs.
 Cf. Regulation (EU) 2019/2088.
 Including existing standards and frameworks for natural capital accounting and for greenhouse gas accounting, responsible business conduct, corporate social responsibility, and sustainable development.
 From 1st of January 2024 for companies already subject to the non-financial reporting directive; from 1st of January 2025 for large companies that are not presently subject to the non-financial reporting directive; and from 1st of January 2026 for listed SMEs, small and non-complex credit institutions and captive insurance undertakings.