Global Reporting Initiative (GRI): Sustainability Reporting

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SEATTLE — The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an international organization which has set the bar for sustainability reporting among governments and global businesses since 1997. In the 1990s, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) realized the need for a standardized method of reporting on economic, social, and environmental sustainability issues among industry and government. As such, UNEP is a co-founder of GRI.

The goal of GRI is to help these various entities understand their non-financial impact on climate change, human rights and corruption through transparency, the inclusion of all stakeholders, global perspective and public interest. GRI maintains its has the most widely-accepted reporting standard in the world. Ninety-two percent of the world’s 250 largest corporations conduct sustainability reporting; 74 percent of that reporting uses GRI tools.

The guidelines set forth by GRI are not arbitrary; rather they are intended to line up with the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) Principles, and Principles on Business and Human Rights, as well as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Multinational Corporations. There are ten general principles agreed upon by UNGC and GRI in the areas of human rights, anti-corruption, labor and environment.

Companies are encouraged to include as many stakeholders as possible in determining the social and environmental impacts of their business, and linking those items to improved sustainability planning and strategy. Transparency is a key issue in all areas of sustainability reporting, particularly in developing countries, because it encourages new market growth, effective risk management, and improved performance.

The Global Reporting Initiative reports thousands of partners in more than 90 countries, and recently announced efforts to increase its presence in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region due to rapid economic growth among member countries.

This is the fastest-growing area in the world for sustainability reporting over the last four years. GRI has worked closely with dignitaries, ambassadors and political leaders from countries in ASEAN and has received support from other governments such as Australia, Switzerland and Sweden in its efforts.

In 2016, GRI held workshops for approximately 100 sustainability reporters from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. These workshops addressed topics such as gender equality, self-regulation and corporate reporting.

The Global Reporting Initiative and the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) are continuing their partnership for the next installment of the Corporate Sustainability and Reporting for Competitive Business (CSRCB) program. This program is intended to help small and medium enterprises (SME) gain value in the global economy by increasing access to and efficiency in sustainability reporting in order to create jobs in target areas.

Five million euros are being invested in this program to promote sustainability reporting in developing countries such as Columbia, Ghana, Peru, South Africa, Vietnam, and Indonesia through to 2020. The goal is to assist these SMEs in meeting sustainability standards to improve competitiveness in global markets, improve their non-financial impacts and create jobs in scarce markets.

The 5th GRI Global Conference was held in May 2016 with 1,117 participants from 70 countries and six continents. The main goals of the conference were innovation, transparency and collaboration in the name of global sustainability.

Sustainability reporting is meant to provide all companies, large and small, with the information needed to improve impacts on people, the environment and society. Efforts to increase sustainability reporting in developing countries has paid off. In 2000, GRI identified five sustainability reports filed in developing countries; by 2014, it identified approximately 1700.

The Global Reporting Initiative is focused on building capacity in developing countries. To this end, GRI has provided 105 Certified Training Program (CTP) sessions to 1,542 participants in developing countries since 2015. It has also implemented regional hubs intended to lend additional support to developing countries making efforts to implement sustainability reporting and practices. These hubs help local businesses implement standards so that conditions are improved and the changes carried out with local expertise.

Positive impacts, transparency, and improved practices encouraged by sustainability reporting can mitigate poverty and contribute to social change by opening new markets in developing countries. These areas become more attractive to international development and investment by adopting universally-accepted standards and reporting practices.

In 2016, The Global Reporting Initiative updated its sustainability strategies to align directly with the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These goals recognize that governments are not the only key players in establishing sustainable social, economic, and environmental policies. Businesses worldwide, large and small, hold an equal share in achieving these outcomes.

Mandy Otis

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Mandy Otis

Mandy lives in Lexington, KY. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Georgetown College (KY) and a Master of Arts in International Relations from The Patterson School at the University of Kentucky. Mandy has worked for a congressman as well as in the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security. Mandy is also a parenting blogger and mom of two boys. Her dream is to travel the world.

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