In this post I thought we could look at the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards. If you have never heard of these before then let me fill you in. The GRI is an organisation that aims to promote sustainability reporting. It does this by developing a set of guidelines that have become arguably the key standard for the development of sustainability reports. Like ISO 14001 for environmental management systems, an organisation can develop a report to the GRI standards and then get it verified by an external body (quite often an accountancy firm or a certification body).
Recently the GRI developed a new set of standards (2021) that must be used for all sustainability reports from 1 January 2023. The previous version was developed in 2016. Basically, there are three groups of standards, these are universal standards, sector specific standards and topic specific standards.
Universal standards (with the moniker GRI 1, 2 and 3), as the name suggests, apply to all sustainability reports. They set out the background information that must be included within a report in addition to key reporting principles. GRI 1, for example, states that reports must follow several important reporting principles: balance, comparability, accuracy, timeliness, clarity, completeness, sustainability context and variability. GRI 2 requires a series of general disclosures such as details surrounding the organisation, activities and workers, governance, strategies, policies, and stakeholder engagement. And, GRI 3, is the standard that is all about ‘materiality’, this term means ‘significance’. It boils down to the fact that a sustainability report should be providing information on important or ‘material’ issues. This is to avoid green washing or providing information on environmental issues that are minor, rather than writing about those that are important, making themselves seem ‘greener’ than they are. GRI 3 therefore compels organisations to have a system to assess impacts, determine significance and report on those issues which are material.
Sector standards have been introduced into the latest set of GRI standards. They cover the most important impacts for a specific industry sector, outlining those that are likely material topics for organisations in that sector to report on. There are plans to develop 40 of these sector standards; currently only a few have been developed for sectors such as oil and gas, mining, financial services and textiles and apparel.
Topic standards cover very specific reporting disclosures. The compromise of information on how an environmental, social, or economic issue should be reported such as an overview of the topic and how it is managed. The topic standards reported on by an organisation are those that cover materials issues. As such there are many. The 200 series cover economic issues such as anti-corruption and anti competitive behaviour. The 300 series cover environmental issues such as biodiversity and waste. Whereas the 400 series cover social issues such as occupational health and safety and forced labour. They include sample key performance indicators (KPIs) that can be used as a means of objectively providing specific information on material topics. If you are looking at developing KPIs for your organisation, whether for reporting or not, the GRI topic standards will give you some ideas.
The GRI standards have been a market leader in the standardisation of sustainability reporting. As we have seen in this post, they consist of three sets of standards that provide guidance on developing a verifiable report. They consist of universal standards, sector standards and topic standards. You can download all of the standards that the GRI produces for no cost from the GRI website. This will allow you to take a more detailed look at what is involved in preparing a GRI compliant sustainability report.
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.