Sustainability Reporting

What is GRI Standard and how to use it

March 18, 2024

The GRI Standards is one of the most commonly used sustainability reporting frameworks in the world. This article gives an introduction to the Standards, their structure, application, and usage. We also cover the seven key steps for reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards.

What is GRI?

GRI is the Global Reporting Initiative, an independent standard setter with the mandate to develop guidelines for sustainability reporting. Established in 1997, the goal of the GRI Standards are to hold companies accountable for their impacts on society and the environment. They use a common language to communicate these impacts and work with organisations in all sectors and countries.

GRI was formed to help organisations report their impacts transparently – a necessary component of a sustainable economy. The GRI sets the global standards for sustainability reporting through a comprehensive set of guidelines called the GRI Standards.

What is the GRI Standard?

The GRI Standards is a framework for sustainability reporting that covers the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) aspects of an organisation’s footprint. It consists of three modules: the Universal Standards, Topic Standards, and Sector Standards, all freely accessible to the public.

These standards are constantly being developed and maintained in consultation with topic experts and the public. The multi-stakeholder process ensures technical rigour and subject-matter accuracy for all the reporting topics covered.

The Standards have been significant in shaping sustainability reporting requirements and approaches. Its relevance to corporate sustainability has been a source of guidance for regulators and investors to benchmark a company’s sustainability performance. The GRI Standards have informed reporting legislation, with many national laws citing the GRI or building off it as a benchmark or reference framework.

The Standards are used in more than 100 countries worldwide, by businesses of varying sizes, governments, investors, and other stakeholders. For reporting organisations, the Standards serve as a credible benchmark of their performance compared to other reporting organisations.

For report users, GRI-aligned reports provide the disclosures needed to make informed decisions and judgments about the performance of an organisation, often to understand the ESG risks and opportunities faced by the organisation.

How to use the GRI Standards?

The Universal Standards apply to all organisations in any sector. They cover general information about the organisation, such as its size and activities, as well as material topics and how they are managed. To be considered aligned with the GRI Standards, organisations must report on all required information specified in the Universal Standards.

The GRI Sector Standards explore the material topics identified as most relevant to a particular industry. GRI is developing Sector Standards for 40 sectors with the highest impact. As these are released, descriptions of the industry and its impacts are provided. This can serve as a good starting point for reporting organisations to narrow down their list of material topics.

The GRI Topic Standards outline the disclosures for each material topic, covering the metrics and indicators that are either required or recommended. Organisations that wish to comply with the GRI Standards must at the minimum report the required disclosures.

If a report does not meet the minimum requirements of the GRI Standards, it can still be considered aligned with the Standards if it includes a GRI content index that shows what has been disclosed in the report and where. This helps readers quickly see what is included in the report and whether all the necessary information has been provided.

There are essentially seven steps for reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards:

  1. Determine which modules to use. A question worth asking at this stage is how much data is available for reporting, and how ready is the organisation’s internal capabilities for fulfilling the requirements of all three Standards.
  2. Understand and apply the reporting principles. The GRI Standards are based on six principles of reporting: Comparability, Accuracy, Timeliness, Clarity, Reliability, and Conclusion. These principles should inform your reporting approaches, such as your reporting cycle and data collection methods.
  3. Assess materiality. An important concept for GRI as well as other reporting frameworks is materiality. Material topics reported must be relevant to the reporting organisation and based on the real and potential impacts of the organisation’s operations.
  4. Collect and disclose information. This is the process of measuring, organising, and making sense of the data based on the specific disclosures required by the GRI Standards.
  5. Compile the GRI content index. Once all the disclosures are complete, prepare the content index to the requirements specified, such as indicating whether a disclosure is partial or complete and the page where the information is found.
  6. Publish disclosures. A GRI-aligned report can be in digital or print format and released to the public.
  7. Register your GRI report. Notify GRI that you have used the GRI to develop your report. If a report is in accordance with the GRI Standards, it will receive a verified status in the submission system. It should be noted that the quality of disclosures does not affect the outcome of your registration.

The future of GRI and sustainability reporting

GRI will remain relevant in the future as sustainability reporting grows in importance. The pressure on organisations to demonstrate their management of ESG issues is the focus of much regulatory and investing scrutiny.

As the EU and other regions promote sustainable economic, finance, and policy frameworks, reporting is becoming more important. The GRI Standards are expected to remain a leader in setting the reporting standard and will continue to adapt to reflect the most relevant approaches. It is one of the top choices for organisations embarking on sustainability due to its modular system and relative ease of use.

Yet, it also has the ability to grow with an organisation’s reporting fitness. It is universally applicable to so many sectors and types of organisations, while also being compatible with many other reporting frameworks.

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How we help you

  • We help you build and structure your GRI report following guidelines from all three sets of Standards while selecting data and disclosures that are best suited to tell your ESG story.
  • We simplify the collection of ESG data in your organisation by offering one central platform to automate data collection with integrations into ERP, HRM, CRM, EMS, etc.
  • We facilitate data collection from your suppliers and ensure that relevant information arrives in a complete and accurate manner. Furthermore, we will handle the burden of information exchange with multiple stakeholders.
  • We conduct materiality assessments of your business to ensure your report remains relevant to your stakeholders.
  • We help you complete the information requests from regulators and guarantee the protection of business-critical information, for example about your supplier network.


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