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Jun 19, 2019

How GRI targets common language for ESG reporting

Tom Whittles, senior media relations manager at the Global Reporting Initiative, tells Debbie Miller how the ESG reporting framework was developed and how it should be used

What is your methodology and approach to reporting on ESG matters?
The Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) methodology is encompassed through the GRI Standards, the most widely used sustainability reporting framework in the world. The aim is to help organizations communicate and measure their ESG impacts in a way that conforms to global best practice, understands risks and opportunities, and informs strategic decision-making.

There are three ‘universal’ standards that run alongside 35 optional and topic-specific standards – all of which adhere to the same terms of reference, which means each of the standards, no matter what the subject, has been developed in the same way. GRI’s framework enables organizations to select and report on the standards that are relevant to them and their stakeholders, which are then used together with the universal standards as a set.

Each standard follows a modular structure and can be individually kept up to date and relevant, providing a consistent and comparable reference for policy-makers and regulators. Together, the standards provide a complete picture of the ESG impacts, as well as contextual information to understand how these impacts are managed. The GRI Standards are about more than simply reporting; they aim to equip businesses with the type of data that can be used to improve ESG performance and contribute to sustainable development.

How did GRI come to develop the methodology for corporate reporting on ESG matters?
Global reporting was launched in 1997 by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (Ceres). The original remit was to create an accountability mechanism to ensure firms followed the Ceres principles for responsible environmental conduct.

We launched the first version of the GRI Guidelines in 2000, became an independent international organization in 2001, and the following year we relocated to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Over the years, the scope of topics covered by four generations of the GRI Guidelines steadily increased, covering such issues as climate change, human rights and social well-being. This led to the launch in 2016 of the first global standards for sustainability reporting: the GRI Standards. All of the standards were developed by multi-stakeholder and independent expert working groups, with public consultation.

Today, 93 percent of the world’s largest firms by revenue report on their ESG, and three quarters of them use the GRI Standards.

Who is the intended audience for your reporting methodology?
First and foremost, the primary audience for GRI is the individuals who write, develop or contribute to reports that follow the GRI Standards. The standards are provided free of charge to anyone who wishes to use them, while we also support a global network of companies and organizations that are committed to driving ESG transparency in their own business.

More broadly, the approach taken through the GRI Standards offers a common language for ESG reporting activity by a diverse range of organizations around the world: businesses, governments and market and investor organizations.

What advice would you offer to Corporate Secretary readers to help them formulate their own ESG reporting actions?
Whether you are new to ESG reporting or a seasoned pro, it’s always important to start by engaging key people – both inside your organization and main stakeholders – in developing a short list of your critical sustainability issues. Think of these as your key performance indicators. This process will allow you to determine the issues that are most important to you and your stakeholders, investors and customers.

Ultimately, always remember that the most important thing about ESG reporting is not the report itself – it’s what you do with this information. The goal is to take practical and measurable steps that improve your company’s financial, social and environmental outcomes.


This interview appeared in Corporate Secretary’s special report on ESG engagement, reporting and integration