Digital reporting using Inline XBRL is in use right around the world. This format permits the “markup” or “tagging” of individual facts within a disclosures in a machine and human readable format. This process is carried out by, or managed by, the company itself, which means that the meaning associated with each fact is something that the company itself has chosen and is publishing in digital form.
To make this work, first there needs to be a common “alphabet and grammar”. These are the technical specifications that ensure interoperability for different software packages and ensure that information published using one piece of software can be consumed by another. This layer of technical definition is provided by the XBRL standards themselves.
Next there needs to be a common dictionary of words – a taxonomy is the technical term. The dictionary is prepared and maintained by a standards setter or a regulator. These dictionaries are modular by nature, meaning that it is possible (indeed common and encouraged) to start with a taxonomy developed by a standards setter and then to add layers of additional definitions that are specific to another standards setter or regulator. It is also possible (and common) for companies themselves to add their own entity-specific definitions in order to disclose specialised aspects of their performance.
Finally, companies (and other types of organisations) can prepare their reports using the words in the dictionaries, while following the rules set out in the specifications (the “alphabet and grammar”.
The SIG is focussed on those aspects of carbon and sustainability disclosures which create challenges for preparers and users and the software that they rely on. Some of these relate to the manner in which sustainability disclosures tend to be made. Others relate to the complexities thrown up for users of all kinds where differences in definitions in different reporting domains mean that comparability isn’t straightforward.
Basic Example: What Happens When There is Comparability?
That said, we start off by understanding what happens when there is alignment.
The very simplest use of digital disclosure involves different companies using the same definition, and the same digital reporting concept, drawn from the same dictionary (again — that’s called a “taxonomy” in the XBRL specifications). In this, the simplest scenario, different entities report their performance in the same way, meaning that they can be easily compared.
These simple examples use numeric facts, but (as we will see as we go on) the facts can just as easily be sections of narrative text
First, a taxonomy is created to collect data against.
Then, three (fictitious) companies all make use of this same taxonomy as part of their sustainability reports.
The first example company is called “CarMaker”.
The next company to report is called “Cloudify”. It also uses the same dictionary (a digital representation of a specific reporting standard).
The third company in this example is called “OutSourcery” and it also reports using the same taxonomy (aka: standards).
Finally, because they all use XBRL and the same taxonomy, it is easy to pull their data together for comparison: