A Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) Standards Explainer - Last Updated: March 12, 2023

What is the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD)?

The Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) is an EU ESG (environmental social governance) standard passed by European Union Council on November 28, 2022 designed to make corporate sustainability reporting more common, consistent, and standardized like financial accounting and reporting. The CSRD will apply to all companies with:

  1. Over 250 employees
  2. More than 40€ million in annual revenue
  3. More than 20€ million in total assets
  4. Publicly-listed equities and have more than 10 employees or 20€ million revenue
  5. International and non-EU companies with more than 150€ million annual revenue within the EU and which have at least one subsidiary or branch in the EU exceeding certain thresholds

Any EU company that meets that criteria is required to file an annual report using the CSRD's forthcoming sustainability taxonomy on how sustainability influences their business, as well as the company's impact on people and the environment. A first draft of the initial environmental reporting requirements, the EU Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), was released in draft form for public comment on May 3, 2022 by the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG). A later, updated draft was released in November 2022, with EFRAG providing guidance that sector-specific sustainability reporting guidelines would be published later in 2023.

The CSRD updates and replaces the existing Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD), and goes into effect throughout the European Union (EU) in 2023. It's estimated 50,000+ companies who do business in Europe will need to report and comply with ESRS. the European Parliament adopted the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) on Thursday, November 10 2022 in a 525 to 60 vote (with 28 abstentions).

EU CSRD Sustainability Reporting

A big goal of CSRD is to standardize and simplify sustainability reporting for companies. Many companies are currently under pressure to use a wide range of different sustainability reporting standards and frameworks. The EU CSRD aims to consolidate this into one ESG report that meets the needs of EU regulators, investors, and other stakeholders. The first version of CSRD standards are being drafted in collaboration with EFRAG.

Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) Requirements

To comply with CSRD, organization's will need to take the following annual compliance steps, starting in 2024:

  1. Prepare and submit a CSRD report - A large company's first CSRD report will be due in early 2025 based on the company's 2024 fiscal year environmental performance. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) must begin reporting for 2026 using the CSRD's streamlined SME guidelines
  2. Track and disclose the required information - CSRD reports must include management commentary and data (via a dedicated management report section) on a company's:
    • Materiality process to select material ESG themes, topics, risks, and focus areas
    • Sustainability and ESG performance targets, goals, and progress (the CSRD recommends at least absolute greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for 2030 and 2050)
    • The plans of the undertaking, including implementing actions and related financial and investment plans, to ensure its business model and strategy are compatible with the transition to a sustainable economy and limiting global warming to 1.5 °C in line with the UN 2015 Paris Agreement and the objective of achieving EU climate neutrality by 2050 as established in Regulation (EU) 2021/1119 of the European Parliament and of the Council
    • Sustainability risks (including climate change) affecting the company, as well as the organization's operating impacts on society and environment
    • The resilience of the undertaking’s business model and strategy in relation to risks related to sustainability matters
    • How sustainability and ESG risks could or are impacting operating results and business performance
    • Where relevant, the exposure of the undertaking to coal-, oil- and gas-related activities
    • Environmental protection policies and actions
    • Company sustainability policies
    • A description of the company's sustainability due diligence
    • Social responsibility and treatment of employees
    • Respect for human rights
    • Anti-corruption and bribery practices
    • Corporate ESG governance in relation to sustainability matters, the administrative, management and supervisory bodies' expertise and skills in relation to fulfilling these responsibilities
    • Corporate board diversity
    • Important social, human, and intellectual capital
    • How the undertaking’s business model and strategy take account of the interests of the undertaking’s stakeholders and of the impacts of the undertaking on sustainability matters
  3. Digital data and tagging - Companies must prepare their financial statements and management statement in XHTML or electronic format in accordance with the ESEF regulations and the EU sustainability taxonomy, then digitally ‘tag' their reported sustainability information according to a digital categorisation system specified by the CSRD Regulation (or use ESG software like Brightest that can auto-tag and format data)
  4. Third party assurance - Organizations reporting under CSRD will also be required to seek "limited" assurance of the sustainability information they disclose from a neutral, trusted, and experienced third party who reviews the data. "Limited" assurance is less strict than a financial audit, but still requires working with an independent sustainability reporting partner organization or auditor

CSRD reporting must be submitted in a compliant electronic reporting format specified in Article 3 of Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2019/815 no later than 12 months after a company's balance sheet date.

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Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) Timeline

The CSRD has been approved by the European Commission an is now being implemented into law. The timeline for the CSRD coming into effect is:

This means companies need to prepare to plan and implement their CSRD compliance approach by 2023 in order to be ready for the 2024 reporting cycle to stay compliant. It's not yet know exactly how the EU Commission or specific member states might penalize businesses who fail to comply with the CSRD, but according to the Commissions’ requirements within the Directive, non-compliant eligible organizations will be forced to pay a meaningful fine.

For the latest updates, please refer to our EU Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) guide.

When Does the CSRD Take Effect for Different Types of Companies?

The EU CSRD regulation takes effect in four phases:

  1. Companies already subject to the NFRD must begin reporting in 2025 on their 2024 financial year
  2. Large companies not currently subject to the NFRD must begin reporting in 2026 on their 2025 financial year
  3. Listed SMEs (except micro undertakings), small and non-complex credit institutions, and captive insurance undertakings must begin reporting in 2027 on their 2026 financial year
  4. International companies with net turnover above 150€ million in the EU who meet other CSRD requirements must begin reporting in 2029 on their 2028 financial year

A Few Helpful Recommendations

Your Next Steps With CSRD and ESRS Sustainability Reporting

As you're likely already aware, the EU is implementing several new, major sustainability rules, laws, and disclosure requirements in 2023 and beyond, including the CSRD. For organizations in the early stages of their sustainability reporting journey, we have a few general recommendations, additional reading, and suggested next steps:

Sustainability leadership attention and structure - Ultimately, the board and senior management have a responsibility to oversee sustainability issues, and to assess the potential sustainability and climate risks to a company’s overall strategy. Clarify the board and senior management's role(s), structure, and processes around sustainability, including which committee(s) will review and decide on sustainability matters, resources, and disclosure. Your company will likely also want to set up one or more sustainability working groups or committees (as well as formal departments), comprising management and staff, to implement action plans, collect data, track sustainability KPIs, and report to the board and senior management.

Materiality assessment - Before collecting data or thinking about preparing your first report, you need to conduct a “Materiality Assessment” to help determine what your sustainability goals, targets, and priorities should be in order to stay compliant with and get ready for the CSRD. A materiality assessment is a project which determines and ranks the most material themes for your business based on market data, stakeholder interviews, and surveys. For example, a healthcare company might focus on healthcare access, affordability, innovation, and its supply chain. A technology company could focus on data privacy, security, and STEM education access. A bank might designate financial inclusion as its most material theme. Pick and rank the right sustainability themes depending on your organization’s mission, sector, model, and ESG maturity.

Sustainability data systems and process - While this might go without saying, in order to report your organization's sustainability performance, you need to know what it is - with a high degree of accuracy. Your materiality process can help guide you toward the main sustainability themes you may need to focus on and collect data around. Is employee travel a big source of your organization's carbon footprint? Facilities? Manufacturing sites? Where does that data exist today, and how will you access or collect it? Many organizations start their sustainability reporting with relatively simple spreadsheets, surveys, and documents, but things can get complex fast - particularly for larger companies. If you're an organization with a medium-to-large or complex environmental footprint, you likely need dedicated sustainability reporting and data management software, like the kind we design here at Brightest to help organizations stay ESG compliant. Ongoing report archiving, version control, and governance are also important to think about, since you'll be reporting every year.

Further reading - Our free guides to sustainability measurement and ESG reporting provide additional, detailed guidance and insights on how to measure and report your sustainability performance.