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What is GRI and how to use it

January 17, 2023

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, its goal is to drive accountability for the impacts created by organizations in all sectors and countries through a standardized, unified language for communicating those impacts. 

GRI was formed to help organizations 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 organization’s footprint. It is comprised of three modules: the Universal Standards, Topic Standards, and Sector Standards, all freely accessible to the public. These standards are continually being developed and maintained in consultation with topic experts and the public. The multi-stakeholder process ensures technical rigor 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 organizations, the Standards serve as a credible benchmark of their performance compared to other reporting organizations. For report users, GRI-aligned reports provide the disclosures needed to make informed decisions and judgments about the performance of an organization, often to understand the ESG risks and opportunities faced by the organization. 

How to use the GRI Standards?

The Universal Standards are applicable and relevant to any organization in all sectors. It covers general disclosures relating to the entity’s business information including the size and scale of operations, the organization’s activities, and the list of material topics including the process of determining materiality and management approaches. For a reporting organization to qualify as reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards, it must report on all the required disclosures specified under 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 organizations 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. Organizations that wish to comply with the GRI Standards must at the minimum report the required disclosures.

If the minimum requirements for reporting in accordance with the GRI Standards are unmet, either due to partial disclosures or omissions without explanations, reports can be said to be prepared with reference to the Standards. To qualify as GRI-aligned, reports must include a GRI content index that identifies what disclosures are made in the report and where. This provides a quick overview of the contents of the report and the completeness of the disclosures at a glance.

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 organization’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 organization and based on the real and potential impacts of the organization’s operations.
  4. Collect and disclose information. This is the process of measuring, organizing, 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 organizations to demonstrate their management of ESG issues is the focus of much regulatory and investing scrutiny. With reporting being a key driver of the sustainable economic, finance, and policy framework that the EU and other regions are promoting, the GRI Standards are expected to maintain their leadership as a standard setter and will continue to evolve to reflect the most relevant reporting approaches. It is one of the top choices for organizations embarking on sustainability due to its modular system and relative ease of use. Yet, it also has the ability to grow with an organization’s reporting fitness. It is universally applicable to so many sectors and types of organizations, while also being compatible with many other reporting frameworks.

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 organization 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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