Guide to the S&P Corporate Sustainability Assessment: Learning from Your 2023 Score

Getting to grips with your CSA score

S&P has begun releasing scores for their annual Corporate Sustainability Assessment (CSA). Considered to be the broadest and most in-depth ESG rating product on the market, S&P’s questionnaire covers all facets of ESG, from cybersecurity to product stewardship to customer satisfaction and everything in between.

As of 2022, S&P releases CSA scores in rolling waves dictated by a company’s chosen assessment window, which can elicit confusion around how to interpret the score and benchmark performance. S&P CSA scores are used for selection into the exclusive Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI), which aims to highlight the eligible companies in each sector and region that demonstrate ESG leadership.

Eligible companies that choose to actively respond to the questionnaire and submit by September 15th will be considered for inclusion in the DJSI, and the updated index composition will be announced on December 8th.

s&p datapoints

Sweeping changes to the 2023 S&P Corporate Sustainability Assessment questionnaire

This year, S&P has updated the CSA questionnaire significantly. Aside from removing 38 questions, including notably the Corporate Citizenship & Philanthropy criterion, S&P has added several new questions and updated countless others. In a subtle yet impactful move, many questions and sub-questions appear on their face to be the same as in prior years’, while data requirements have been quietly tightened to require their data to be made public. This means that a company that scored 100 on a question in 2022 using private data could score 0 on the same question in 2023 if they do not disclose publicly on the topic.

Codes of Conduct: Systems/ Procedures, Human Capital Return on Investment, Risk Governance, Privacy Policy: Systems/Procedures, and Employee Development Programs are all questions that appear relatively unchanged but now require public evidence.

Several sections, including Transparency & Reporting, Materiality, and Supply Chain, have been completely revamped.

Challenges to year-over-year score analysis and benchmarking

While some annual questionnaire changes are to be expected, updates of this scale have not been seen in years. Not only does this year’s questionnaire look quite different to previous years’, S&P’s benchmarking view shows companies their year-over-year comparisons as if the questionnaires are comparable, while they are essentially apples-to-oranges comparisons.

Moreover, S&P calculates the industry benchmarking and percentiles available in the CSA portal on a rolling basis by using all available scores – including a combination of 2023 and 2022 scores—while these are not comparable. Therefore companies who receive their score earlier could be met with a shock of seeing their score percentile plummet without realizing the analysis includes their competitors’ 2022 CSA scores in the absence of newer 2023 scores.

Dos and Don’ts after receiving your CSA score

Do: Review analyst revisions to understand S&P expectations

In the CSA portal, on the Assessments tab, look for all questions with a black flag next to the question name; this represents a revision made by an S&P analyst. Opening up the question will allow you to toggle between your submitted answer and the revised version, which represents the accepted content used for scoring. It is normal for many questions to have revisions and it can be a powerful tool in understanding how to improve your CSA score for future years.

Review the revised content against your submitted evidence and the details provided in the “Additional information and question guidance” panel. The revision may represent an opportunity to improve disclosure next year, but in certain circumstances, it could represent an oversight by S&P that requires a direct inquiry. Some questions (Emerging Risks, for example) are often heavily revised; focus on the low hanging fruit that can be directly improved for future years.

s&p screen

S&P criteria reflect a very high level of ESG maturity and therefore can be leveraged to raise the bar on your organization’s policies, programs, and KPI tracking.

Do: Strategise score improvement opportunities for next year

While the CSA process is still fresh in your memory, taking stock of where you lost points in your 2023 score by conducting a gap analysis can be a powerful mechanism for strategizing future improvement opportunities. Review the questions where you did not score as well as expected, as well as new questions and those that have been changed significantly year-over-year. These questions pose opportunities to improve your disclosure and programs to meet more stringent scoring criteria.

One of the best ways to improve your S&P CSA score is by targeting specific datapoints and keywords for inclusion in your annual ESG reporting, as well as ensuring that all relevant policies are publicly available. Given the increase in oversight and auditing of ESG datapoints, starting the process of deciding which new content to include in your next reporting cycle early can help ensure you will be able to seek the necessary approvals to disclose content. If specific datapoints are not tracked yet, connect with the relevant content owner within your organization to discuss if and how that KPI might be tracked moving forward.

In light of new pressures such as mandatory reporting, strategic ESG planning is becoming business-critical.

For deeper gaps that cannot be closed with expanded disclosure alone, consider your organization’s strategic ESG planning. For example, if your organization is performing a double materiality assessment in the next year, look for opportunities to align outputs with requested information in the relevant S&P question. If developing a new commitment, review the relevant S&P criteria against it as one way to evaluate the strength of the policy.

Do: Submit inquiries to S&P

After receiving your score, you can email with three inquiries about your score.

We recommend doing this after an initial gap assessment and suggest that these three questions focus on opportunities to recoup lost points rather than general requests for more information. A consultant can help answer questions about your score, but only S&P can adjust your score directly.

Ideally, inquiries should:

  • Focus on highly weighted or highly material questions to your business
  • Represent a potential mistake or oversight by S&P which could be rectified
  • Be specific and pointed, and make a clear argument as to why you should receive points based on the specific question guidance, data requirements, and evidence provided

Do: Reach out for support

Often, it is advantageous to have a third party review your assessment and identify improvement opportunities. Through supporting several organizations with disclosures such as the CSA, Anthesis has developed the expertise to help you understand and improve your score. Also consider whether S&P’s benchmarking tools may be useful in further evaluating your performance.

Don’t: Compare peer performance before November 17th

We recommend waiting until November 17th, when the majority of companies’ scores are available, to publish scores and assess relative performance against peer companies. For added peace of mind until more scores are released, consider unticking the box that says “Include scores from previous assessment” on the Benchmarking tab of the CSA portal to ensure that all analyzed scores are from the present reporting year.

For more information about how Anthesis can support you in understanding and improving your S&P CSA response, contact