GRI Application Level skipped by 25% of reporters – Why?

Why do 25% of sustainability reporters NOT declare their GRI Application Level (A, B, C with or without ‘+’)? Curious about this statistic, I dug deeper to find which countries and brands are the main culprits. 

GRI recently announced that it is reorganizing to better pursue its two main objectives. First, that, by 2015, all large and medium-size companies in OECD countries and large emerging economies should be required to report on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance and, if they do not do so, to explain why. And second, that by 2020, there should be a generally accepted and applied international standard which would effectively integrate financial and ESG reporting by all organizations.

Although perhaps desirable, I am not fully convinced about the feasibility of these goals. But that is beside the point…  I am concerned about existing structural challenges which may be contributing to the chasm between those who report and those who do not - or deviate from GRI’s reporting framework.

In my last week's blog entry, I took A Look at GRI Application Level Declaration Statistics. The high percentage of undeclared reports intrigued me – so I dug a bit deeper. The largest ‘culprits’ - in terms of countries - comprise China (37 of 51 reports in GRI’s 2009 database or 73%), Japan (60/86 or 70%), France (15/25 or 60%), South Africa (18/45 or 40%) and the USA (47/132 or 36%). 

Looking just at the US contingent, I note that this includes long-term reporter, arguably many reporting leaders, such as Abbott, Alco, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, Nike and Proctor & Gamble.

What drives these major brands to make the conscious decision to skip their GRI Application Level declaration? Are they worried about the Six Commandments mentioned in  Elaine Cohen’s blog post GRI Reporting Levels 101? Or are there other reasons - perhaps most persuasively offered by corporate counsel - which may be driving this process? I would welcome your insights and comments.

Mehrdad Nazari is a Senior CSR, GRI & ESIA Advisor (Blog:, Web: