The Evolution of ESG Reports and the Role of Voluntary Standards

88 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2022 Last revised: 31 Oct 2022

Date Written: September 23, 2022


We examine the evolution of ESG reports of S&P 500 firms from 2010 to 2021. The percentage of firms releasing these voluntary disclosures increased from 35% to 86% during this period, although the length of these documents experienced more modest growth. Using a semisupervised machine-learning approach and guided by volun- tary standards that identified material ESG issues, we explore whether the content in these reports has become more relevant to investors. On average, firms devote most of their reports to topics that are material to their sector. The relative amount of material information increased by 11% after the release of voluntary standards. This increase was driven by firms that were not involved in the standard-setting process. Firms that helped develop the standards increased material disclosures at similar rates while the standards were being developed. These results provide new insights into how ESG reports evolved.

Keywords: ESG Reports, SASB, Voluntary Disclosure, Textual Analysis, Topic Modelling

JEL Classification: M14, M40

Suggested Citation

Rouen, Ethan and Sachdeva, Kunal and Yoon, Aaron, The Evolution of ESG Reports and the Role of Voluntary Standards (September 23, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Ethan Rouen (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States
617-495-6275 (Phone)


Kunal Sachdeva

Rice University - Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business ( email )

6100 South Main Street
P.O. Box 1892
Houston, TX 77005-1892
United States


Aaron Yoon

Northwestern University - Department of Accounting Information & Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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