Credibility boost through GRI Check or 3rd Party Checks?

 

Statistics of use of GRI Check and 3rd Party Check for 2009

Generating credibility and trust is the sustainability reporter’s quest for the Holy Grail. Do GRI Check or 3rd Party Check of the GRI Application Level declaration help report makers and user find the Holy Grail?

GRI’s data base of sustainability reports recorded for 2009 lists 1,251 sustainability reports.  Of those which declared their Application Levels, 37% indicate some form/level of assurance. Of the assured reports, 47% had a 3rd Party Check, 42% featured a GRI Check, and 10% relied on Self-Declaration.

Looking at the 496 reports which did not declare the use of an assurance process, 66% featured only a self declaration, while 28% obtained a GRI Check and 5% pursued a 3rd Party Check.

So what do all these checks and statistics really mean? As GRI confirms in its FAQ “the GRI Application Level check does not represent GRI's view on the value or quality of the report and its content. It is a statement about to what extent the G3 Guidelines have been reported upon. Therefore, GRI does not certify Application Level claims nor professionally assure the quality and the contents of the report.”

In fact, the same limitation also applies to a 3rd Party Check, which is perhaps little more than counting of number of profile disclosures and indicators contained in a GRI-type sustainability report. Despite misperceptions by some report users, neither GRI Check nor Third Party Checks provide any indication of quality of the report, the underlying reporting process (such as engagement with stakeholders) and accuracy of data/statements made (such as validity of greenhouse gas emission disclosure). See also my related blog postings (Is SIF’s GRI Study more Searching for Key under the Lantern and Sustainability reporting – Misperception and Barriers).

Do you think obtaining a GRI Check or 3rd Party Check adds value to sustainability reports beyond co-branding? Do you feel that some report users confuse ‘checks’ with assurance or stakeholder panels, and have you seen evidence of such confusion or inappropriate use?

8 Comments to Credibility boost through GRI Check or 3rd Party Checks?

  1. […] reporting using the GRI framework and a breakdown of latest statistics visit my previous blog post here. An interesting report about stakeholder panels, entitled ‘Critical Friends, The Emerging […]

  2. Henrik says:

    Yes, I do think they add credibility, in the sense that the reporting organization allows a third party to ask questions about the report and its contents. Although some organizations might do it because they know that readers are unclear about what a third party or GRI check actually means in terms of ESG performance, I think most organizations simply see it as a natural step in making the best possible report.

  3. Thanks for your note, Henrik. As you know, the use of Application Level is designed to communicate which elements of the GRI Reporting Framework have been applied in the preparation of a report. This means that either GRI or the Thrid Party checks on the presence or absence of the criteria in the report that corresponds to the report makers self-declared Application Level. As detailed in GRI’s FAQ on this subject, the GRI/Thrid Party check does not represent an opion on the value or quality of the report and its content – even though this is a common but wrong assumption of some (many?) report readers. Keeping GRI’s guidance in mind, a GRI/Third Party Check is probably not the critical external review (opinion) you may be looking for… for that, you would better turn to other tools and approaches. You may also wish to take a look at a couple of my other blog posts on stakeholder panels and – more generally – common misperceptions about GRI/sustainability reporting.

  4. While having the report checked by the GRI or a third party may create the perception of credibility, some companies abuse the system. I have read several GRI-checked reports that claim to report on certain indicators but actually do not. The GRI does not check whether the reporter reports on each and every indicator claimed but rather checks a sample of indicators. So if, for example, a reporter does not report on indicators not within the GRI’s sample list, the reporter can still claim an A application level, and have it GRI-checked, without actually meeting the application level requirements. This is a key failing of the GRI application level and checking systems. But then again, it’s up to the company to be honest about whether it has reporting on an indicator. Unfortunately, not all are.

  5. Thanks for your note, Kathee. I agree with you that the GRI/Third Party check is amongst the more confusing and perhaps also misleading elements of the GRI framework. That is one of the constant feedbacks I receive when delivering GRI-certified courses. Best, Mehrdad

  6. NB: Need to watch out that a Third Party Check or GRI Check designed to boost credibility does not backfire. See my blog entry:

    http://prizmablog.com/2010/08/06/chuckles-courtesy-of-scotiabank-and-cbsr/

  7. […] Credibility boost through GRI Check or 3rd Party Checks? […]

  8. janani says:

    can anyone mail me the third party check procedure?If not where can i find it?

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