The engine that powers sustainable organisations
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.