Sustainability Reporting

Where to start with GRI reporting

March 18, 2024

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards is one of the most popular sustainability reporting framework. It is used by companies around the world across all sectors. The standards are developed and continually updated through public consultation.

Its comprehensive coverage of ESG topics and flexible application with certain sector-specific guidance make it a popular choice for reporting. The standard has seen exponential growth in users since its inception in 1997 and remains the most widely used ESG reporting standard that exists today.

General criteria and requirements  

There are two ways to use the GRI Standards:

  • Meeting all the requirements, therefore being ‘in accordance with’ the GRI Standards.
  • Referencing parts of it to guide a broader reporting strategy (with reference to the Standards).

Depending on your business and reporting needs, it could make sense to use more than one reporting framework. Companies that are just embarking on GRI reporting may be unable to meet some core requirements. They would use the ‘with reference’ approach until their reporting ability matures.

In the case of reports prepared ‘in accordance’ with the Standards, companies must familiarise themselves with the essential requirements. These include a GRI Content Index usually placed at the end of a report. It serves as a checklist of all the relevant indicators they need to report on.

The ‘in accordance’ approach used to have a ‘Core’ and ‘Comprehensive’ option allowing flexibility in criteria but has since been removed. Now, all reports prepared ‘in accordance’ with the Standards must fulfil a standardised set of criteria.

Three sets of standards

There are three modular series that form the GRI Standards:

  • Universal Standards
  • Sector Standards
  • Topic Standards

Let's have a closer look at each modular of the GRI reporting.

The Universal Standards

The Universal Standards are general guidelines that apply to all organisations. They are covering topics such as governance, stakeholder engagement, business activities, material topics, and reporting approach.

They consist of three main components:

  • GRI 1: Foundation: Establishes the purpose and principles of the standards and provides guidance on their use.
  • GRI 2: General Disclosures: Contains disclosures about the organisation's structure, activities, governance, and stakeholder engagement
  • GRI 3: Material Topics: Explains the process of identifying material topics and includes disclosures related to managing and reporting on these topics.

By applying the Universal Standards along with sector-specific and topic-specific standards, organisations can ensure comprehensive and meaningful sustainability reporting.

The Sector Standards

The Sector Standards of the GRI reporting aim to enhance the quality, completeness, and consistency of reporting among organisations. These standards are being developed for various sectors, starting with those that have the highest impact, such as:

  • oil and gas,
  • agriculture,
  • aquaculture,
  • fishing.

Each Sector Standard provides an overview of the sector's characteristics, including its activities and business relationships that contribute to its impacts. The standard identifies material topics for the sector and describes the significant impacts associated with each topic. It also references the relevant disclosures in the Topic Standards for organisations to report on. Additionally, a Sector Standard may include additional disclosures if the Topic Standard does not provide sufficient information about the organisation's impacts on a particular topic.

The development of these standards is based on:

  • sector-specific evidence,
  • international guidelines,
  • input from sector experts to align with stakeholder expectations regarding impact management in the sector.

The Topic Standards

The third modular in the GRI reporting is the Topic Standards. It consist of disclosures related to specific topics, such as waste, occupational health and safety, and tax. Each standard provides an overview of the topic and includes specific disclosures on how an organisation manages the impacts associated with that topic.

Organisations select the Topic Standards that align with their identified material topics and use them for reporting purposes. These standards help organisations provide relevant information and transparency on specific sustainability topics in their reports.

Impact and materiality

A core part of GRI reporting and ESG reporting in general is an assessment of impacts and material topics. Reports should focus on the most material topics to the reporting organisation and describe the process in which those topics were determined.

Stakeholder engagement in this process is very important to demonstrate that the materiality assessment was fair and inclusive. You can then structure your report around your material topics, using the Topic Standards to guide disclosures. Omissions of information are allowed so long as the reasons for omission are provided. Data collection is always a concerted effort for reporting organisations, especially those that have not yet developed department-level awareness of ESG issues.  

If preparing a report in accordance with the GRI Standards, remember to benchmark the final report against the list of requirements. It is mandatory for reporting organisations to notify the GRI of their published report. The GRI Standards is compatible with many other reporting frameworks, such as the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations.

How we help you

  • We help you build and structure your GRI reporting by following guidelines from all three sets of Standards. While also 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. 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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