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The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Standards is one of the most popular sustainability reporting framework 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 newcomers and veterans alike. 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: by meeting all the requirements, therefore being ‘in accordance with’ the GRI Standards, or by 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 in the latter case either for regulatory purposes or simply to bolster the depth and quality of reporting. Companies that are just embarking on GRI reporting may be unable to meet some of the core requirements and 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, which includes, among others, a GRI Content Index usually placed at the end of a report that 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: Universal Standards, Sector Standards, and Topic Standards. The Universal Standards are general guidelines that apply to all organisations, covering topics such as governance, stakeholder engagement, business activities, material topics, and reporting approach. The Sector Standards list the most material topics to a given sector alongside indicators for reporting. Guidance for 40 high-impact sectors are being developed and is obligatory for organisations that belong to those sectors. For example, GRI 13 for the Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Fishing Sectors was recently released in June 2022, and more new or updated standards will be published. Meanwhile, Topic Standards focus on specific issues such as waste and occupational healthy and safety, designed to aid those looking for in-depth reporting on their material topics.
The Standards are guided by six reporting principles that aim to ensure a high standard of reporting. Reporting organisations should keep in mind those principles throughout the reporting process as they select and present ESG.
We always recommend being clear on your objectives and targets for reporting and consider the regulatory climate that applies to your operations. Then it should become clear which approach to use with the GRI Standards.
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 for Climate-Related Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations.