THE European Union’s (EU) Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) entered force on January 5. The directive strengthens the rules concerning social and environmental performance reporting by European and international firms active in the EU, and lays the groundwork for companies with more than 250 employees to report their performance according to the EU Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS). These are expected to be approved this year and become active in stages from the start of the 2024 financial year.

Europe is not alone in upping the ante on sustainable performance monitoring. Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting is becoming more and more common in North America while Asian countries are also steadily increasingly their ESG requirements, albeit at a slower pace.

As well as regulators, existing and potential investors are actively considering sustainability in their decisions to support certain companies or projects, often issuing sustainability-specific KPIs. Likewise, sustainability is becoming a factor in the decisions made by consumers to choose one company’s products over another. Demonstrating compliance and, ideally, strong ESG performance will become essential corporate practice in the years to come.

Recognising the rail sector’s need to comply, the International Union of Railways (UIC) launched the Rail Sustainability Index (RSi) in 2022 as a benchmarking tool to measure sustainability performance. The index considers seven United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) identified by a UIC working group as specifically related to rail: gender equality; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry innovation and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; and climate action.

The results, which together compile three years’ worth of data from 2019 to 2021 to enable analysis of trends and progress, are summarised in the UIC’s 2022 Global Rail Sustainability Report, released on March 21. A total of 34 UIC members, including 32 from Europe, one from North America and one from Asia, contributed to the inaugural report. As well as the RSi, the report incorporates findings from more established UIC databases, including those covering traction energy and railway safety. Crucially, it considers how railways are helping to mitigate climate change and achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement.


Ms Lucie Anderton, the UIC’s sustainability director, says publication reflects a desire within the sector to harmonise reporting on sustainable performance. She says the methodology used is transparent and embraces a shared approach to reporting.

“It is a really nice way of demonstrating all the different ways in which rail is contributing to the sustainable development agenda,” Anderton says. “And making clear it’s not just about moving people in a low-carbon way. It’s loads of other things that we're doing. It’s nice for railways to be able to highlight that and tell their stories.”

Among the standout observations is that of the participants, 59% are sourcing energy from renewables, with 61% of their lines electrified. In addition, 53% report having a target in place for sourcing energy from renewables that is constantly monitored, while more than 290GWh of energy was saved over the last three years. Anderton says the results for energy consumption reflect some “pretty impressive” action, which became particularly pertinent following the surge in energy costs in 2022.

“It is a really nice way of demonstrating all the different ways in which rail is contributing to the sustainable development agenda.”

Lucie Anderton

In addition, waste recycling and reuse rates have risen from 64.9% in 2019 to 77.5% in 2021. On climate action, 56% of participants collaborate with government on policy solutions for climate change and scaling up climate action, while 56% also had an emissions target active in 2021. “Many have already smashed their own targets for this,” Anderton says.

The wider report also highlights industry efforts to be responsible employers, rail’s impact on cities and communities, and its role in economic development, crisis support and promoting peace.
Anderton says the report shows that rail’s employment gender balance “is improving steadily.” However, she says among the more interesting findings is a drop in female managers in 2020-21. “We’re wondering whether Covid impacted women in work in a different way,” she says. “It is not a huge change, but a noticeable pattern. It will be quite interesting to see how that develops.”

Anderton adds that participants are already actively promoting their scores, including presenting their UIC Sustainability Index dashboard to investors. She highlights Austria’s Rail Cargo Group as one such company that has embraced index branding in its external communications.

The methodology is also proving useful for companies at the start of their sustainability journey to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to develop their own sustainability strategy. Anderton says that during the UIC Sustainability Celebration Day in Paris on March 1, members came together to share their experiences and best practice.

Similar sessions also reflected on how the index and sustainability reporting process might be improved, including making the tool easier to use. One possible addition is a metric on the gender pay gap. However, Anderton is cautious about over-complicating the methodology.

“We don't want to add in a KPI that only a few people will be able to report on,” she says. “We want the tool and the index to be something that our members from all regions could get involved in.”
Indeed, while Anderton describes the inaugural report as “a good start,” she is optimistic that the scope of the report and its findings will increase when the exercise is repeated in 2024.

“I think this kind of report makes people see that we’re using the data, that it’s useful,” Anderton says. “I think the more visible the use of the data is, the more likely it is that people are going to participate.”