It seems as if it is always reporting season in the sustainability world. People are heads down working on the CDP, the now official name of what was formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project (the logic is missed on me as well); the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (not for the faint of heart); and their sustainability reports. The most widely accepted standard for company sustainability reporting is the Global Reporting Initiative. While spearheading reporting at CA Technologies, we’d been adhering to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines since our first report was issued five years.  I found this to be a highly worthwhile exercise, with many benefits to the organization, so I wanted to take a few minutes to bring you up to speed on this important group, how it works and what it can mean to your company.

What is the GRI

The GRI is a non-profit organization that promotes economic sustainability, and it produces one of the world's most prevalent standards for sustainability reporting.   Unlike financial reporting, or even carbon reporting GRI’s sustainable reporting framework delivers a structure which companies use to provide information about economic, environmental, social and governance performance inside their organizations.   Their mission is to make sustainability reporting standard practice for all organizations.

This broad scope, which has been developed with input from thousands of businesses, NGO’s and governments, provides a framework for groups to investigate their performance in these four areas that are critical to a company’s ability to endure (or be sustainable).  As the GRI states on their website, “Sustainability reporting is a vital step for managing change towards a sustainable global economy – one that combines long term profitability with social justice and environmental care.” 

Global Reporting Initiative – Reporting Guidelines

The basis of the GRI’s importance comes down to their reporting guidelines.  Now on their third iteration, these guidelines provide guidance to encourage organizations to look beyond financial and focus on the aspects of their company that contribute to the triple bottom line.  As their website explains:
The G3.1 Guidelines are an update and completion of the third generation of GRI's Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, G3. The Guidelines are the cornerstone of GRI's Reporting Framework.
G3.1 includes expanded guidance for reporting on human rights, local community impacts, and gender. G3.1 was launched in March 2011 and is the most comprehensive sustainability reporting guidance available today.
 The G3.1 Guidelines are made up of two parts. Part 1 features guidance on how to report. Part 2 features guidance on what should be reported, in the form of Disclosures on Management Approach and Performance Indicators.
 G3.1’s Performance Indicators are organized into categories: Economic, Environment and Social. The Social category is broken down further by Labor, Human Rights, Society and Product Responsibility sub-categories.

Global Reporting Initiative – Reporting Outcomes

As you may have noticed in this recently released sustainability report, CA received an A+ on our most recent submission to the GRI.  While we are very proud of that rating, we certainly didn’t start out that way.  Here’s what I learned about grading and your GRI sustainability report.
If you are just getting going and submitting your first report, don’t stress about it.  Do your best, learn the process, do the due diligence inside your organization, start the conversation with the key stakeholders and submit your report.  You will be amazed with what you find and will generate significant momentum.  When CA filed its first report with the GRI, we gave ourselves a self-declared ‘C’, which is the lowest grade that you can get with the GRI. There’s no shame in that – it was a reflection of where we were, which was at the beginning.

The next year, we made some real progress, learned much more about our organization and provided more details.  For a small fee, GRI will review your submission and grade it based on their protocols.  Our second report followed about 18 months later. We needed the additional time to better refine our strategy. We received a ‘B’ and were very happy with the improvements we’d made.  Last year, we’d made significant strides, not only with environmental sustainability, but also in areas like governance, and increased transparency of our commitment to improve the diversity of our workforce.  All that earned us an A based on the GRI standards. We also had KPMG provide third party verification of our submission for which we received the extra brownie point of the “+”.  Our benchmark is now an A+, and I’m pleased that we’ve attained it again with this year’s report, Future Ready.

Global Reporting Initiative – Benefits to Companies

So you’re probably thinking, “Wow, this sounds like a lot of work, what’s the upside?”  Good question!

From my perspective, the most important aspect of GRI reporting is transparency – both internally and in the greater market.  By preparing and submitting your initial report, you are pulling back the curtain on your operations and collecting and sharing with all your stakeholders’ details of your organization that you may not have ever reported on before (let alone realized).  This process of discovery should provide your organization with an increased understanding of internal and external risks and opportunities, better visibility into the link between financial and non-financial performance, and improved influence on long term management strategy and policy. 

It also provides a framework to start important conversations amongst key stakeholders in your company and community.  Meanwhile, the increased transparency provides pressure – interestingly mostly internal – to address and improve issues over time, the main objective of the GRI.
Sustainability Reporting can lead to improved outcomes because it allows organizations to measure, track, and improve their performance on specific triple bottom line issues.  There is truth in the ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it’ statement.  By proactively collecting, analyzing, and reporting on the steps taken by your organization to reduce potential business risk and improve performance, it allows you to tell a strategic and tactical story to stakeholders.


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