For many professions, continuing education is not an option. Doctors, nurses, architects, teachers and many other licensed professionals must complete a certain number of credit hours to maintain their professional certification. Licensing boards ensure that individuals comply.
Such standards do not exist for those in Corporate Social Responsibility, a relatively new profession, but that does not negate the importance of ongoing education. Because the profession is developing and evolving, education becomes doubly important. We must train and retrain, learn and unlearn, to stay on top of the trends, laws and regulations that emerge anew everyday.
That said, certification in the GRI, Global Reporting Initiative, should be stop number one for those looking to increase his or her understanding of sustainability. Corporate sustainability (used interchangeably here with CSR) is a complex, multi-faceted thing, covering every nook and cranny of an operation. CSR efforts could include to water conservation, labor relations, carbon accounting, supply chain relations, waste management and much more. A company ready to move towards sustainability will be overwhelmed and unclear as to what to do first.
GRI provides guidance. GRI’s framework offers specific suggestions on what to report and how to report. Clearly defined guidelines assist the organization in defining the boundaries of the report, identifying exactly what will be included in the report and to what level. Sector Supplements provide further guidance for respective industries and reporters receive ongoing support from GRI, long after certification has occurred (note: certification is optional, as GRI does not charge for its materials. However, certification is highly recommended for those new to the standards or sustainability reporting in general). GRI standards provide a roadmap, taking the guesswork out of what should or should not be evaluated by sustainable firms. Further, using the standards, companies can start small and increase their metrics and reporting depth as their operations progress.
As the CSR profession matures, the need for standardization increases. Standardization in reporting, with the GRI leading the way in global fields, gives credence to the profession and baselines by which consumers, investors and other stakeholders can accurately evaluate the CSR efforts of the firm. Enhanced standardization is the future of sustainability and CSR, as is demonstrated by the increased use and acceptance of GRI and by emerging standards through the International Organization for Standardization: ISO 26000. CSR professionals should learn these basics now, as they will only increase. It has been said that GRI will be to reporting and corporate responsibility what LEED is now to green buildings. No doubt this is the case.
The most important skill for sustainability professionals is communication. The GRI report is a baseline for all corporate sustainability communications. A GRI report is not, however, a simple marketing piece, filled with green fluff and doctored statistics. It offers real transparency, exposing corporate risks and mistakes and intentions for correcting or mitigating such shortcomings. GRI standardization, properly implemented, curbs the accusation of greenwash as it exposes real and verifiable data. Best practices and areas in need of improvement are equally presented.
I recently invested in GRI certification and have zero regrets. I encourage readers eager to learn more to explore the above sites and ask questions of those who have been through the certification. There is also a 2,000 plus member group for GRI on LinkedIn that you might want to visit. Ask your friends at TriplePundit a few questions. We are glad to help.