Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Mary Schapiro have joined the board of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, serving as chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the fledgling organization.

The addition of Bloomberg and Schapiro will lend extra clout and credibility to SASB, which has been rolling a series of sustainability accounting standards for various industry sectors, including health care, finance and most recently technology and communications (see SASB Releases Accounting Standards for Tech & Comm and SASB Releases Sustainability Accounting Standards for Financial Sector).

[IMGCAP(1)]"More than 30 years ago I started a company on the idea that greater market transparency leads to better investment decisions, and that idea is at the heart of SASB's mission," Bloomberg said in a statement. "The more complete and reliable the information that investors have, the better markets work—and that benefits not only individual investors but all of society."

SASB’s original board chairman, Harvard Business School professor Dr. Robert Eccles will continue to serve on the SASB board with a special focus on harmonization with other sustainability and integrated reporting organizations, such as the International Integrated Reporting Council.
The group has also recently come under criticism from one commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission, who objected to its unofficial standard-setting role.

“The somewhat confusingly-named Sustainability Accounting Standards Board provides a good example of an outside party attempting to prescribe disclosure standards,” said SEC commissioner Daniel Gallagher in a speech in March. “I say ‘confusingly-named’ because the SASB does not actually promulgate accounting standards, nor does it limit itself to sustainability topics, although I suppose it is in fact a board.  The SASB argues that its disclosure standards elicit material information that management should assess for inclusion in companies’ periodic filings with the Commission. I don’t mean to single out the SASB, but it’s important to stress that, with the sole exception of financial accounting—where the Commission, as authorized by Congress, has recognized the standards of the Financial Accounting Standards Board as generally accepted, and therefore required under Regulation S X—the Commission does not and should not delegate to outside, non-governmental bodies the responsibility for setting disclosure requirements.  So while companies are free to make whatever disclosures they choose on their own time, so to speak, it is important to remember that groups like SASB have no role in the establishment of mandated disclosure requirements.”

SASB executive director Dr. Jean Rogers responded last month to Gallagher’s remarks. “First, we’d like to clarify that SASB does not mandate disclosure, and we have no intention of displacing or undercutting the SEC’s authority to prescribe disclosure standards,” she wrote. “Rather, SASB develops standards that help companies report on material sustainability factors in a decision-useful way for investors.  This is helpful market infrastructure, not regulation. SASB is helping companies to comply with Regulation S-K, which requires material information to be disclosed. The final determination of materiality is, of course, the onus of the corporation. Our standards are designed for use in the MD&A section of the SEC Form 10-K, which helps investors see the company through the eyes of management, enhances the overall understanding of corporate performance—particularly with respect to known trends and uncertainties—and enhances financial disclosure by providing important context.”

Rogers also pointed out that SASB had a former SEC chairman and former commissioner, Elysse Walter, on its board, and with Schapiro taking on the role of vice-chair, the organization is likely to gain greater influence with regulators.

[IMGCAP(2)]“Markets work best when they offer investors access to material information that supports informed decisions,” said Schapiro in a statement. “I am thrilled to help SASB achieve their mission of developing standards that will provide the information our investors and markets need and deserve.”

“The new appointees represent growing market demand and support for SASB standards,” said Rogers on Thursday. “I am deeply appreciative for Bob Eccles’ leadership in growing SASB from an idea formulated at Harvard into a robust standards setting organization. I am deeply confident in Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Schapiro’s ability to further SASB’s transformation into the leading standards setter for material sustainability information.”   

“As SASB’s first board chair, I oversaw the creation of a dispassionate, evidence-based standards development process,” said Eccles. “Now that we’ve begun publicly issuing standards, the next challenge is encouraging adoption and use of the standards by corporations and investors. Mr. Bloomberg and Ms. Schapiro, given their influence over and trust from the capital markets, are the perfect leaders for this charge. ”

SASB also announced Thursday the appointment of a new board member, Shawn Lytle, Head of Americas at UBS Global Asset Management. Returning board members include Rogers. Eccles and Walter, along with Jack Ehnes, CEO of CalSTRs; Steve Gunders, a retired partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP; Dan Hanson, a portfolio manager with Jarislowsky Fraser USA; Erika Karp, CEO of Cornerstone Capital Inc.; Peter Knight, co-founder of Generation Investment Management;  Suz Mac Cormac, a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP; Clara Miller, president of the F.B. Heron Foundation; Catherine Odelbo, executive vice president of corporate strategy and partnerships at Morningstar; Aulana L. Peters, a retired partner at Dunn & Crutcher LLP; and Ted White, a managing partner at Fahr LLC.

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