global_reporting_initiativeIn this post Elaine writes about this just released comprehensive review by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) of what it has been doing between July 2009 and June 2010. It covers such topics and events as the well attended third GRI conference in Amsterdam in May 2010where the GRI announced its goal that large and medium sized companies should by 2015 be required to report on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance. It goes on to cover in greater detail the various specifics that are included in this GRI review.

by Elaine Cohen, Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd. Read Elaine’s blog. Follow Elaine on Twitter. Elaine is the author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices

Nope, it’s not a Sustainability Report (that’s due later in 2011), but it is a comprehensive summary of what the GRI has been getting up to between July 2009 and June 2010. It’s the GRI Year In Review Report for 2009/2010, released today.

The 09/10 year for the GRI was quite a memorable one which included the outstanding third GRI conference in Amsterdam in May 2010 (1,209 attendees, dubbed “the largest multi-stakeholder conference focusing on the role organizational transparency plays in achieving a sustainable global economy”) at which the GRI declared its visionary goals including:

By 2015, all large and medium-size companies in OECD countries and large emerging economies should be required to report on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance and, if they do not do so, to explain why; and by 2020, there should be a generally accepted and applied international standard which would effectively integrate financial and ESG reporting by all organizations.

Despite the fact that the achievement of these goals still seems light years away, and, let’s face it, 2015 is right in front of our noses, the GRI has made considerable progress as the only global comprehensive sustainability reporting framework available, translated into 25 languages and increasing in uptake year on year.

To read more on the new Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) 3.1 guidelines covering the new GRI Technical Protocol, see our related post: “The New Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)3.1 Guidelines Explained

The GRI says that the data shows that more companies are having their sustainability reports assured, resulting in more accurate and trustworthy data and that statistics for 2010 reflect a global upwards trend in sustainability reporting, suggesting an increase in the use and awareness of GRI Guidelines. In 2010, 1,818 reports were recorded as using the GRI Framework (up 22% from 2009). The GRI recognizes that this does not include all sustainability reports which are estimated by to reach close to 6,000 in 2010, but the GRI says that the GRI database and their Reports List which is freely downloadable is indicative of overall reporting trends.

The Year in Review opens up with an introduction by Elaine Cohen :-) (go on, take a look), and follows with an overview of updates to the GRI Framework undertaken in 2009/2010 leading up to the GRI 3.1 update and a review of sector supplements. Also in 2009/2010 the GRI made (welcome) strides to achieve greater partnership and alliance with a range of other organizations which promote sustainability and in some cases, reporting: the UNGC, the OECD, CDP, Earth Charter, IFC and ISO (for the ISO 26000 development). These alliances are important on the journey towards standards harmonization which the G4 framework overhaul will (hopefully) address over the coming year.

The Year in Review outlines the strides made in sustainability reporting and how reporting has been a catalyst for performance improvement in many companies, as well as the developing technology focus to support more efficient reporting processes. The GRI has also advanced a successful partnership program for SME’s in supply chains, a project which should be scaled up with many more MNE’s, in my view. The globalization of the GRI with the increase in Focal Points and partnership projects around the world, including the 179 times GRI staff were asked to speak at external events, and the engagement of 564 Organizational Stakeholders (members, in lay-language), completes the picture of the penetration of the GRI Framework in many countries. The GRI’s position on informing government policy change is also covered, and though tangible results are still a somewhat lightweight, the GRI is working hard to engage policy makers to put sustainability on their agenda.

Finally, what’s next? The GRI highlights expansion of its network in new geographies, translation of more publications, the G4 upgrade, collaboration with the IIRC, and the Next Big Conference in 2012. So far, so good, but personally, I believe this falls short of a concrete plan, with milestones, to deliver the visionary goals mentioned above. The GRI has less than 4 years to have companies required to report on ESG in OECD and emerging economy countries in order to to achieve their first goal. I would like to see more specific plans as to how this might be achieved because, aside from a few pioneers (Denmark, South Africa etc), I don’t yet see significant strides towards this worthy goal.

Additional data on reporting status and trends from the GRI reports database shows an increase in GRI based reports every year since 1999 (see table on left). A GRI based report must contain a GRI content index. There are many reports published which use the GRI Framework as a guideline but do not include a content index and these reports are excluded from this data.

Europe leads the pack in GRI-based reporting at 45% of all reports published globally in 2010 (Spain is the largest reporting country in Europe). Asia follows at 20% and the USA and LATAM tie in third place with 14 % of reports published in 2010.

Looking at data by country, the USA, Spain and Brazil top the list for absolute numbers of GRI-based reports published in 2010, but Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands and Japan top the list for numbers of GRI-based reports per country GDP which is a much more relevant measure.

In terms of sectors, the Financial Sector leads the field in 2010, followed by Energy, Energy Utilities, Food and Beverage and Mining. The GRI database shows that 12% of reports published in 2010 were Integrated Reports, and 33% of reports are sent to GRI for the Application Level check. 29% of reports published in 2010 reports achieved an Application Level A.

A whopping 47% of GRI based reports receive external assurance, though we all know that assurance remains somewhat of a Wild West. Another interesting piece of data shows that reporting by SME’s has been increasing year on which is a welcome development and one which I expect to fully continue.

The Year in Review 09/10 is a nice summary of where the GRI is up to and is worth a look. GRI is staying very much on the radar on Sustainability Reporting and no conversation on reporting can take place today without reference to the GRI Framework. That’s quite some achievement for what is still a relatively young organization, even though there is still so much more to do. The future agenda should include not only an increase in the quantity of reports, but also greatly improved quality of disclosures and accountability for impacts (not only actions). While we must value the drive towards greater transparency of business, and the GRI Framework is an essential stepping stone to transparency, we must all retain focus on the fact that what the world needs is sustainability and not only sustainability reporting. Having said that, by now you all know that I am a strong supporter of the GRI and perhaps you might also know that I was born eternal optimist (that comes just after the fact that I was born an ice-cream addict), so with more hard work, clear direction and the vitality of the GRI team, there’s a chance that it’s all gonna work out.

Our related post: “5 Steps to Lead Your Organization Down the Path to Environmental Sustainability“, outlines five critical steps an organization needs to take in order to be successful in promoting sustainability until it becomes integrated into every level, process, and function within the organization.

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© 2011, Elaine_Cohen. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Elaine_Cohen (19 Articles)

Elaine Cohen is the Joint CEO of BeyondBusiness Ltd, a leading CSR consulting and reporting firm, offering a wide range of consulting services for the strategic development of social and environmental responsibility of businesses, reporting and assurance using the GRI and Accountability frameworks, and reporting on application of Global Compact principles. Elaine writes a blog on CSR reporting, expert CSR report reviews for ,tweets on CSR topics at @elainecohen and has specialist knowledge of governance, ethics, diversity, advancement of women, responsible workplace and use of social media for csr communications.