Shape of GRI’s emerging Reporting Standards?


On June 28, 2016, I attended one of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)’s public consultation meetings held in North America. These meetings focused on the transitioning of the GRI-G4 Sustainability Reporting GUIDELINES to the GRI STANDARDS. Below my postcard from the GRI event in Chicago and some of my take-aways. Thank you to Edelman for hosting the event.

As many of you will know, GRI provides the world’s most widely used framework on sustainability reporting and disclosure. Attendees of the consultation meeting in Chicago included several of GRI’s US-based training partners, such as the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, BrownFlynn, Deloitte, and ERM (the ISOS Group did not attend) and Gold Community members (which includes Prizma).

The discussion also benefitted from experienced sustainability reporters, including Amcor, AmerisourceBergen, Baxalta, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, MillerCoors, and Monsanto. And rounding the picture were several sustainability consultants, ranging from BSR to Prizma.

The meeting commenced with a quick introduction of attendees. It was evident that all had first-hand experience with sustainability reporting, along with the associated trials and tribulations. This made me feel right at home.

As the meeting continued, Bastian Buck, GRI’s Director for Sustainability Reporting Standard, highlighted the process leading to the exposure draft (download complete zip file here, 26MB), which is currently out for public consultation. Alternatively, you can download the PowerPoint slides summarizing the rationale, process and outcomes here (3MB). Those of you who were/are unable to attend a GRI consultation meeting can engage via an online consultation platform provided by GRI here.

GRI Standards

As a practitioner, I felt that the conceptual shift from guidelines to standards, maintaining GRI’s core elements (materiality, reporting principles), and introducing a modular structure to enable a more "surgical updating" in the future to be sensible. I also did not feel that these changes generate a major departure in terms of activities expected from reporters who are already using GRI-G4. In fact, the proposed editorial and layout changes will make it much easier to distinguish between reporting requirements vs recommendations and guidance.

My sense is that the emerging changes will ensure that the GRI framework will continue to be relevant and up to date, despite of an increasingly crowded market of issue-oriented to more holistic reporting frameworks. The changes are also designed to “future proof” GRI and support its goal to be recognized as the "go to framework" for stock exchanges and governments around the world.

Also, I see a risk that yet another round of changes, new acronyms, transitions, mapping documents, retraining, etc. will contribute to existing market confusion (read:  reluctance of reporting) and slow down the uptake of sustainability reporting. However, as I am writing about such risks, I can also see solutions being adopted by GRI. These include strategic information campaigns through opinion multipliers and co/branding, as demonstrated through GRI’s engagement in Chicago.

I left the meeting convinced that GRI will continue to play an important role in shaping and supporting best sustainability reporting and disclosure practices for the foreseeable future. One of the developments to watch will be how GRI’s bet on attracting and supporting “issue reporters” will pan out. Some emerging reporters with very specific needs may view the “stand-alone” GRI standards as an attractive approach to generate credible reporting for targeted users/stakeholders without having to go “Full Monty”. However, GRI may also find itself to be competing with (or co-opting?) other issue-oriented reporting frameworks, such as CDP and its disclosure drive focused on carbon and water.

One of GRI’s challenges will be the need to decide how to position itself (and its limited resources) moving forward. Will GRI be more like a curator or perhaps an aggregator of the proliferating topics and associated disclosure standards? Just consider the diversity of existing and emerging new topics ranging from executive pay, human rights to carbon footprint. And now think about a systematic processes required to routinely review and update reporting requirements related to each topic within a multi-stakeholder setting.

Do you feel that GRI’s move towards sustainability reporting standards will add value to reporters and users of such disclosures? Do you expect that the changes will accelerate or slow down reporting? How will the new standards affect your reporting practice?

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