The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an independent institution whose mission is to develop and disseminate globally applicable sustainability reporting guidelines that help organisations to report on the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of their activities, products, and services. The aim of the GRI Guidelines is to assist reporting organisations and their stakeholders in articulating and understanding contributions of the organisation to sustainable development through their reports. 1
GRI is now the most widely used sustainability reporting framework. There are four key elements in the framework:
- Sustainability reporting guidelines (the Guidelines) are the cornerstone of the framework. These consist of Principles for defining report content and ensuring the quality of reported information. They also include Standard Disclosures made up of performance indicators and other disclosure items, as well as guidance on specific technical topics in reporting. The third edition of the Guidelines – the G3 – were published in 2006
- Indicator protocols exist for each of the performance indicators contained in the Guidelines. These protocols provide definitions, compilation guidance, and other information to assist report writers and to ensure consistency in the interpretation of the performance indicators. Users of the Guidelines should also use the Indicator Protocols.
- Sector supplements complement the Guidelines with interpretations and guidance on how to apply them in a given sector, and include sector-specific performance indicators. Applicable sector supplements should be used in addition to rather than in place of the Guidelines.
- Technical protocols are created to provide guidance on issues in reporting, such as setting the report boundary. They are designed to be used in conjunction with the Guidelines and sector supplements and cover issues that face most organisations during the reporting process.
Whilst the GRI Guidelines seek to enhance comparability between reports through encouraging the use of common indicators, it can also incorporate flexibility so that organisations can take steps to reflect the context in which they operate. The GRI Guidelines can also be used with a more informal approach consistent with organisation’s capacity. The organisation may choose to cover only some of the content in working towards improving their reporting. With this in mind, organisations are also asked to clearly indicate how they have used the GRI Guidelines and in particular, the core indicators. With time and practice, organisations are encouraged to move gradually towards more comprehensive reporting built on the content of the GRI framework.
“We have produced environmental reports for many years, but wanted a toolthat would combine financial, social, environmental and economic measurement to produce a fully integrated sustainable report. This integration has been one of the main benefits of using the Guidelines and the reason we chose them.”
— Triodos Bank NV.
- The GRI Guidelines provide a holistic framework that addresses broad performance – social, environmental and economic – as to how an organisation is reporting to stakeholders.
- They guide an organisation’s approach to ‘proving’ its impact.
- GRI is used widely internationally as a generally accepted reporting framework and, as such, provides a method for increased comparability.
- Organisations can use GRI reporting to help measure and benchmark performance, both against their own targets and externally. Management can use the GRI indicators to encourage employees to understand and contribute to progressively better performance.
- The Guidelines are flexible and can be used in different sectors and geographical contexts.
- The Guidelines support and integrate other tools such as Social Accounting and the AA1000 Series
- Adhering to the Guidelines can be labour intensive and full reporting may represent a challenge for smaller organisations.
- Their history of use in the third sector is limited and some of the language and approaches are more familiar and appropriate for multinational corporations.
- They provide guidance, but not accreditation, a mark or external evaluation unless combined with other tools, such as an assurance standard.
- Their main focus is ‘sustainability’, e.g. reporting external impact but not necessarily focusing on positive outcomes or impacts.
Who can use GRI Guidelines?
The GRI Guidelines are intended to be applicable to organisations of all sizes and types operating in any sector. However, they were developed primarily with the needs of larger businesses in mind. According to GRI, the reporting framework being used by more than 1500 organisations, ‘including many of the world’s leading brands’.
“We began using the GRI Guidelines in 2001 and were the first bank to use them for our annual report. They have increased our transparency to all our stakeholders.”
— Triodos Bank NV.
What resources are needed?
To adhere to the GRI Guidelines, an organisation will need to collect information and performance across the whole organisation and therefore it requires the leadership and commitment of management and senior staff members.
Proficiencies or skills
Skills and experience with developing reports and impact assessment or data collection would be helpful, as would experience of other social research methods.
Significant time will be required to compile, analyse and write up information and implement action. Some flexibility exists depending on whether the organisation uses all or part of the Guidelines.
Courses, support, and information
While GRI does not currently offer training programmes related to sustainability reporting or the GRI Guidelines, a number of companies, consultancies, NGOs and other organisations worldwide do offer this type of service. GRI does not formally endorse any specific training organisation and does not provide any sort of certification related to training.
Development, ownership and support
GRI is a multi-stakeholder process and independent institution whose mission is to develop and disseminate globally applicable sustainability reporting guidelines. GRI incorporates the active participation of representatives from business, accountancy, investment, environmental, human rights, research and labour organisations from around the world. Started in 1997, GRI became independent in 2002, and is an official collaborating centre of the UNEP.
Since its inception, GRI has initiated a process of continuous improvement driven by the insights and experiences of stakeholders familiar with the GRI Guidelines and other GRI reporting framework components. The network of stakeholders is now 30,000-strong. In 2009, priorities for revision to the G3 guidelines will be set out.
Third sector examples
- OXFAM GB
- Co-operative Bank
Examples from other sectors:
- Marks & Spencer
- British Energy
- Rio Tinto PLC
1 The GRI Guidelines organise ‘sustainability reporting’ in terms of economic, environmental, and social performance (also know as the ‘triple bottom line’). They reflect what the members of the initiative think is currently the most widely accepted approach to defining sustainability. GRI recognises that the definition has its limitations but sees the definition as a starting point that is comprehensible to many and has achieved a degree of consensus as a reasonable entry point into a complex issue. More information on sustainable development can be found in the GRI Guidelines.