By Mara Slade
I consider myself a corporate change agent in training. As part of my preparation, I recently became a certified Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporter. For those of you who are curious about the GRI reporting framework, there are abundant resources available here.
So what does a GRI report have to do with stakeholder engagement? As I recently learned — everything! The main purpose of a GRI report is to give stakeholders a view into what an organization is doing and not doing to address economic, social, and environmental impacts. For organizations reporting for the first time, this is an important and time intensive undertaking. Apart from feeling vulnerable, one of the key challenges for an organization when conducting a GRI report is to determine which stakeholders to engage given the typical constraints of limited time and budget.
So here goes, the top 3 lessons from the GRI reporter training:
Lesson #1: The process of creating a sustainability report is an opportunity to engage with stakeholders and get a fresh perspective on your organizations strengths and weaknesses.
Engaging stakeholders is a key requirement within the standard disclosures section of the GRI. Seeking involvement and input from stakeholders early in the process can help identify what aspects are deemed the most critical for inclusion in the report. It also allows your company or organization to learn about potential problems before they occur. External and internal stakeholders are key audiences for which a sustainability report is written in the first place, and engaging them from the beginning will lead to openness and receptiveness to what is eventually detailed in the final report.
Lesson #2: Stakeholder engagement is a slow and an ongoing process that, over the years, can pay dividends as long as you take the time to grow relationships and establish trust.
If key stakeholders see that your company is taking their recommendations and ideas seriously, they will be less likely to take an aggressive stance against you and this will add to your overall credibility as an organization. Side-note: The GRI “walks the walk” when it comes to engaging their own stakeholders, and is currently conducting a multi-year process seeking input from individuals and organizations to inform the latest version of the GRI Guidelines, the G4, which is slated for launch in May 2013.
Lesson #3: If you are an American (like me) and received an American education, then you might think that the grading system or what the GRI refers to as “Application Levels” chosen by the reporting organization (either A, A-, B, B-, C, or C-) is reflective of the overall quality of the report.
In fact, the application level does no such thing. Nor does it speak to how sustainable an organization is. The A, B, or C application level signifies the degree of transparency in reporting. For companies who are creating a sustainability report for the first time, the GRI recommends using the Level C report as a template and building upon the report from there. So, don’t get hung up on getting an “A” level report. The important thing is to start somewhere and keep pushing for greater levels of transparency year after year.
Mara Slade is a freelance communications strategist and current MBA student at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, California.
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