By Nikki Wood
Here at the start of the new year, many companies are energized in planning their sustainability strategies for 2017. A select group of businesses is stepping up their game by making an early switch to the new GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards).
The final few months of 2016 were exciting here at GRI, as we launched the GRI Standards and introduced them around the world. But now the real magic begins: Sustainability professionals will dive in and get acquainted with the changes from G4.
For some, only minor adjustments will be required. For others, the changes will mean updating data collection and rethinking what they report on.
But for an exclusive group, the Standards mean the chance to jump into something new, taking the lead in what we expect to be a broad movement toward greater corporate transparency. The GRI Standards Pioneers – a group of 100 companies that will be early adopters of the Standards – will work together throughout 2017 as they navigate through their first reporting cycles with the Standards.
The foundation of good reporting is set down along with the integration of sustainability into a business – something familiar to General Motors, one of the companies taking part in the program. “Conducting our business through the lens of sustainability provides top-line growth, bottom-line results and helps us mitigate risk,” said Sharon Basel, senior manager of sustainability at General Motors. And reporting is an essential part of that process.
“I think that reporting brings a certain amount of discipline and engagement throughout our organization, which in turn helps us progress each year a little faster,” Basel of GM continued. “You can’t expect to be fully integrated unless you’re bringing in your employee base.
“Employees are extremely important when it comes to engaging with the issues – they’re the ones who are doing the work to which we want to apply the lens of sustainability. We want them to understand what our impacts are beyond our four walls, because they want to engage in areas that benefit communities, even beyond their own volunteer hours and day-to-day work, so the company achieves its goals.”
International chemical company Solvay, another GRI Standards Pioneer Program member working toward integrated reporting, has a focus on sustainable development and value creation. Michel Washer, Solvay’s deputy chief sustainability officer, explained: “In the simplest definition of sustainable development, development means growth and sustainable means for a long time, so we can’t have a strategy that is not entirely fitting with sustainable development requirements, priorities, issues or opportunities.”
While reporting isn’t everything, it is an important element for Solvay. “It’s about measuring responsible value creation, which is something that is not yet standardized and normalized. You start with a limited number of financial, social, and environmental indicators and progressively expand the scope to cover all your material issues.”
Materiality will be a major focus of the Standards Pioneers as they work together through their first reporting cycles using the GRI Standards. In addition to learning from the experts who develop the Standards, General Motors, Solvay and the other Pioneers will spend time sharing knowledge and critiquing each other’s reports, enabling them to improve and establish what it means to report well using the GRI Standards.
“I think that we’ll learn a lot, and I think the more hands-on approach, being a Pioneer, will enhance our reporting,” Basel said. “That will benefit us and all those that we impact in terms of disclosure and tracking our business.
“The focus on material issues is critical in terms of what you’re doing. Otherwise, you’re not really capturing the business risks and other impacts.”
As well as helping organizations determine what goes into their reports, the GRI Standards also lend authority to internal negotiations — enabling companies to break down silos and report according to the questions stakeholders are asking.
“Solvay is a 150-year-old company; the tradition was for us to report on what we wanted to report on,” Washer said. “In today’s world, you have to report on what your stakeholders want to hear about. It’s a lot easier if we can say, ‘This is the standard and we need to be aligned with it because this is what our stakeholders expect.’ It helps us to show our own team that it’s not just us measuring how we perform; it’s the rest of the world looking at us and comparing us to others. If you want to benchmark between companies, or if you want to make the work of people analyzing a company easier, it’s a lot better if you can relate to a standard.”
Basel agreed: “One of the benefits of the GRI Standards is that it allows us to clearly understand what is required. We know what we need to disclose and how we need to disclose it. This makes it easier for us to collect the data we need from our stakeholders. It brings a level of prominence when people learn that there are actual standards in sustainability reporting, raising it to the level of other types of reporting with which they are more familiar, such as the reporting that we do to government agencies or our financial reporting.”
With a new structure and updated language, the GRI Standards reflect global best practice in sustainability reporting, and are ready to move with important trends in sustainability and reporting. Staying ahead of emerging trends, risks and opportunities was a fundamental consideration for Solvay in deciding which standards and frameworks with which to align.
“GRI is the standard of today, and we believe integrated reporting will most probably be the standard of tomorrow, so logically they should converge,” Washer said. “This is how we came to decide to stick as closely as possible to GRI as it evolves, and contribute working with GRI, including through the Standards Pioneers Program. Practically speaking, sticking to a standard of the past makes little sense. Instead of spending more time trying to perfect our G4 reporting, it makes sense to get to work early with the Standards.”
Solvay, General Motors and other leading companies will be working together throughout 2017 as GRI Standards Pioneers. To find out more and join this exclusive Program, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nikki Wood is Director of Corporate and Stakeholder Relations for GRI.