It’s the marketing men’s idea of a near perfect viral product. The work of a 25 person secretariat living on grants and donations has swept around the world with barely a penny spent on advertising.
Now hailed as the defacto standard and on its third generation of guidelines, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) dominates the world of environmental reporting.
Even those outside the CSR profession prick up their ears when they hear the acronym. It means something: it has respect and gravitas. If you comply with GRI you must be one of the Good Guys.
But what actually is it, and what makes it so popular?
The GRI was first launched in 1997 by the Centre for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), a network of environmentalists and investors based in the USA.
The 2002 revision of its guidelines emphasised transparency, which remains an imperative as work continued toward the release of the third generation of the guidelines (G3).
These were published in 2006, creating a complete reporting framework for organisations to use. Their gestation included countless rounds of committee and sub-committee meetings, guaranteeing that all stakeholders were not just consulted but were actively included participants.
This is why the GRI is so popular and has such a far reaching influence. Many other standards are formulated from the point of view of business or environmentalists, accountants or trade unions. GRI G3 is formulated from the point of view of all of them, and many more beside.
At the heart of the GRI G3 Reporting Framework is a big basket of indicators against which a company can choose to report. These are categorised according to what they measure: human rights, the environment and so on.
Alongside them is another basket of disclosures. These are statements of fact, policy and strategy which are designed to ensure an organisation is thoughtful and transparent in its approach to sustainability and CSR reporting.
To help organisations use these tools, GRI documentation is divided into three key sections:
- Guidance and Principles, which define basic principles and give guidance on how to compile and ensure the quality of a resulting report.
- Protocols, which spell out how to implement specific indicators, including supporting terminology and where to source data.
- Supplements, which identify additional indicators specific to various sectors and nations.
Taken together these provide a robust and thorough guide to how to define and implement high quality indicators which can be measured and tracked by independent professionals.
As a brief example, consider indicator EN13, “Habitats protected or restored”. This relates to a company’s biodiversity strategy, especially if they are involved in protecting land from adverse effects or remediating such an impact.
The three steps to producing the indicator can be summarised as follows:
- assess whether the area in question is either “restored” or “protected”
- report the size and location of each area and whether the restoration or protection has been verified by independent professionals
- report whether the protection or restoration has been overseen directly by the organisation itself or undertaken in partnership with a third party
Definitions are given for the terms “restored” or “protected”. These require that the area in question has been returned to or remains in its original state with a healthy ecosystem in place.
The framework also suggests documentation in which to find information about such areas of land, including site plans, organisational policies, impact assessments and risk registers.
Gravel extraction companies, for example, usually dig large holes in the ground, extract all the gravel, use the hole as a landfill site and then cover it with a layer of topsoil.
To perform all of this according to local regulations is one matter. EU regulations simply ask that once a landfill has been closed its former operator must report any “significant adverse environmental effects”.
To do it all to EN13 standard, requiring that the area is returned to its former state with a functioning ecosystem, is another matter altogether.
EN13 is just one small example of the indicators which cover aspects of an organisation’s activities as diverse as corruption and water use. They are all similarly precise and to the point.
Taken as a whole, the GRI Reporting Framework provides a solid foundation from which companies’ sustainable practices, their measurement and reporting, can start to grow and flourish.
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