The engine that powers sustainable organisations
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.
There are two ways to use the GRI 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.
There are three modular series that form the GRI Standards:
Let's have a closer look at each modular of the GRI reporting.
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:
By applying the Universal Standards along with sector-specific and topic-specific standards, organisations can ensure comprehensive and meaningful sustainability reporting.
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:
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:
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.
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.