Section 10.3: Global reporting initiative (GRI)

There are numerous frameworks that may be adopted for voluntary reporting on sustainability. One of the most popular is the format offered through Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), an international independent standards organization that promotes sustainability reporting. GRI was established to promote responsible reporting practices, and to help businesses, governments, and organizations understand and communicate the impact of their operations on sustainability issues.

The GRI framework lays out the principles and the indicators that can be used by a company to measure and report their economic, environmental, and social performance. It also provides guidance to assist companies that wish to disclose their sustainability reports. By creating a universally uniform standard, the GRI framework can be applied to all organizations worldwide, regardless of size or type of operation.

Watch this video to gain more of an insight into the business value of GRI reporting from a certified sustainability specialist

It is currently the most widely adopted sustainability reporting framework by companies, with almost 80% of sustainability reporters adopting it. Thirty-five countries also refer to it for guidance on the development of their sustainability policies and regulations.

The GRI Standard

The GRI Standards are a set of 36 modular standards for preparing a sustainability report focused on material topics. They are organized as follows:

Source: GRI 101 – Foundations

The three universal Standards comprise of:
– GRI 101: Foundation which sets out the reporting principles that are fundamental in helping a company decide what to disclose and how to ensure quality of reporting
GRI 102: General Disclosures which details the contextual information about a company that should be reported
GRI 103: Management Approach which guides the companies in identifying, analyzing, and responding to the impacts related to material topics.

The remaining standards are topic specific:
200 series – Economic
300 series – Environmental
400 series – Social

* Material topics refer to any relevant topics that are sufficiently important to the operation of the company, meaning that the company should report on these activities.

Companies select topics that are material to them within each of the topic-specific disclosures, and report on the specific disclosures within each sub-section of the relevant topic specific disclosure. Companies in 10 specified industries are required to report additional information listed within sector specific standards for their industry, that cover impacts that are not covered within the general GRI Standards.

In summary, the GRI Standards enable companies identify a range of material topics relevant to them, and assist them in producing a full and balance picture of its sustainability factors, along with how they are managed. The figure below outlines the GRI reporting process.

A company is required to report all information pertaining to the three universal standards. It then chooses from the topic-specific and sector specific standards to report on its materiality issues. There are two options for preparing a sustainability report in accordance with GRI Standards – Core and Comprehensive.

– Core reporting requires that the company disclose information for all requirements specified in at least one of each topic-specific standard (economic, environmental, and social).
– Comprehensive reporting requires that a company complies and discloses information for all requirements specified across all topic-specific standards. It is a far more tedious process but produces are very comprehensive sustainability report.

Supplementary Resources

Moneva, Archel & Correa (2006) “GRI and the camouflaging of corporate unsustainability”

Isaksson & Steimle (2008) “What does GRI-Reporting tell us about Corporate Sustainability?”

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