CSR Reporting: An Insider’s Update on the Latest from GRI

This is the first column in a three-part series on CSR Reporting.  Coming next — Part 2: What Investors Want from CSR Reports and Part 3:  CSR Reporting: When is Enough, Enough?

At the recent Financial Times Conference, Investing in a Sustainable Future, GRI’s Mike Wallace admitted that he hears complaints about the GRI Framework.  But, he also shared encouraging reports about its growing acceptance. Since he joined the Global Reporting Initiative as director of sustainability reporting framework in 2009, Wallace has devoted himself into understanding just how widely the GRI reporting framework has been adopted and listening to what users think about it.

So what’s new in the world of environmental, social and governance reporting?  Here are some of the insights Wallace shared with conference participants:

  • more customization available with the GRI framework,
  • widening mandates for non-financial disclosures, and
  • adoption beyond corporations.

More customization available
Some organizations that try to structure their environmental, social and governance reporting according the framework of performance indicators find that it can be a poor fit, with a number of the indicators irrelevant to their industry or country.  But as the GRI continues to roll out industry sector supplements – 15 have been developed so far – those complaints should begin to subside.

To offer even more customization, GRI is developing National Annexes so that GRI reporters can adapt the application of the guidelines to their local context. As a pilot project, GRI is convening a working group to develop content for a National Annex in Brazil.

Widening mandates for non-financial disclosures
Wallace noted the growing acceptance of the GRI reporting framework. Globally, European companies lead the way, as countries including France, the UK, Sweden and Denmark are experiencing (or have already experienced) a move towards non-financial mandatory disclosures.

Since November 2007, the Swedish government has mandated GRI reporting by State-owned companies. Last year, the Danish government followed suit by expanding the requirements in the Danish Financial Statements Act, requiring that reporting on environment and intellectual capital in the management review also include CSR in general.

Beyond the Corporate World
Reporting is spreading beyond companies to other organizations, including investment funds such as the Australian VicSuper Fund.  VicSuper Fund has published sustainability reports annually since 2004, and its 2009 report is a GRI-compliant report with an A+ rating and external assurance.

Interestingly, Wallace noted a recent spike in CSR reporting by Spanish companies, particularly banks. The trigger: an association of Spanish banks issued its first CSR report and recommended that all Spanish banks should follow suit. Not only did many banks comply, but one bank was even inspired to create and provide an online tool so that individuals could create their own simple personal responsibility report. With about 85 reporting organizations, Spain now holds fourth place worldwide in terms of the number of  GRI reporters and has experienced the greatest growth over the last four years.

Finally, Wallace also noted that a growing number of US government agencies are adopting the GRI framework.

Ed Note: 3p and ISOS group consulting have teamed up to offer a GRI Certified Sustainability Reporting course in Berkeley, CA on July 29-30 this year. Please click here to sign up and get more information.

Cindy Mehallow is principal of CRM Communications, a woman-owned sustainability communications consulting practice specializing in corporate social responsibility reporting and stakeholder communications. GRI-Certified in sustainability reporting, Cindy has produced award-winning sustainability reports for Fortune 500 clients in a variety of industries.

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