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GRI G4: Are We No Longer Striving For An “A”?

By Nancy Mancilla The GRI application levels - analogous to our scholastic grading system in the United States - may finally be getting an overhaul. When introduced with the G3 Guidelines in 2006, the goal was to bring sustainability reporting organizations into transparency slowly and incrementally by designating a minimum number of disclosures to be addressed. Unfortunately, we couldn’t help but to think that we were to achieve excellence by immediately striving for an A+. In fact, many reporting organizations would completely confuse the level applications and its system of checks with the quality of the report or how well an organization was actually doing. This left us all in the gray, questioning how valuable an “A” really was, especially when the requirement was to address each indicator though data might not be available, it wasn’t relevant, nor was it really fully contemplated organizationally.

It’s important to remember, the Global Reporting Initiative is a non-profit organization with the goal of building transparency globally. In serving the world, they probably did consider that the whole world doesn’t use the A, B, C system that we commonly associate with our formative years. They probably didn’t expect sustainability reporting to take hold so quickly in the U.S. and for these letters to stimulate such concern. So what would be the appropriate system? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just ranked depth using 1, 2 or 3? Sadly, that may then cause the Europeans to share in our sentiment as they have spent their adolescence striving for a 1. What about a color-coding approach similar to LEED? Do different colors represent conflicting sentiments throughout the world?

Though we don’t have the exact figures, we can imagine that the bulk of the requests for a change to the application level came from the U.S. Through our trainings held across the country, we have heard the concerns, the discontent, and the suggestions. After GRI's G4 second public commentary period closed and we were under the impression that this letter system was threatened, our feelings changed and we no longer wanted such a significant change.

GRI, being the process-oriented organization that it is, has taken feedback submitted over the last two years during the G4 development process to heart and from what we can tell, might be introducing a new “in accordance” system. This debate has been rinsed through by over 1000 individuals who participated in the public commentary periods, more than 200 people who attended over 70 workshops and events and now has been vetted through the Technical Advisory Committee and the Stakeholder Council. We now wait patiently for the board to approve the G4, while wondering what “in accordance” could really mean! Will there be as much rigor involved when simply stating that the report is “in accordance with the G4”? It may be that the rigor will actually lie in the underlying the process. By strengthening all other facets of reporting such as the Reporting Principles, Boundary and Materiality, reporters will become entrenched in a more challenging journey. As with all other versions of the guidelines, organizations will have the opportunity to slowly ease into more of an “all-in” approach over a two-year transitional period - broadening the scope over time.

In exactly one month’s time, we will all have our answers as to what the changes will actually be. Are we ready to take sustainability reporting to the next level?

In an effort to bring everyone up to speed, we will be reporting LIVE from Amsterdam with 3p and will be following up with a free one-hour webinar to brief everyone on those changes. We’ll also be tacking on a G4 Bridging Module to all ISOS scheduled courses through the remainder of 2013.

Disclaimer: The thoughts shared here should not in any way be taken as factual evidence supporting expected G4 changes. They are based on the thoughts of affiliates of GRI in the US who are worthy of sharing perspectives of how possible changes may be implemented upon the release of the final G4 document at GRIs Amsterdam Global Conference on Sustainability & Transparency May 22-24, 2013. This piece is part 1 in a series of weekly postings leading up to the global conference and will be revisited after the release of the G4.

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