XBRL, or “eXtensible Business Reporting Language” is a data standard for financial data that conforms to GAAP and global standards. The SEC mandated in 2009 that large U.S. companies use XBRL to report financial statements (balance sheets, income statements, etc.). Why is this important? XBRL enables machines to automatically read documents, meaning that Machine A can post a financial statement on a web site while Machine B can easily understand what each and every line means so that it can, for example, automatically compare and contrast net income within a NAICS category. Here’s a humorous intro to XBRL (with English sub-titles):
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is promoting an XBRL approach for sustainability reports.
If, for example, a user wanted to focus specifically on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, XBRL would enable a user to immediately find the “GHG emissions” information in the document, extract it, and present it as raw data, analyze it based on the user’s predefined interest (e.g. amount of GHG emissions per product). The user could apply this to multiple reports to compare emissions information across different reports.
Does the future of sustainability reporting analysis look like the below with boxes/circles for energy and GHG emissions instead of sales, profit, etc.? (from “Delivering Value Beyond Eﬃciency with Visualized XBRL,” by Byron Marshall, Kristian Mortenson, Amy Bourne, Kevin Price, Andrew Marshall.”