The 5th GRI Global Conference 2016, held in Amsterdam 18- 20 May, convened 1,500 sustainability leaders to exchange information about best practices, innovation, and trends. Alyson Slater, head of GRI’s Knowledge Unit, outlines the mission behind the event. Interview by Kelly Eisenhardt.
KE: Sustainability issues are not just limited to GHG-emissions and water use. What are some of GRI’s priority program areas and what outcomes do they generate?
AS: There are many priorities for GRI to focus on these days. It’s important that GRI concentrate on what is most material to the companies and stakeholders that participate including investor communities. New factors such as the Paris climate deal and the release of the UN Sustainable Development Goals make materiality and the alignment of resources and priorities critical.
Prioritizing enables us to understand how to push the needle forward on megatrends like climate change and human rights.
With access to so much data, we want to decipher how data can be unlocked and used to better assess risk management, improve strategies, increase stakeholder relations, and enhance company performance.
KE: In what ways did the GRI Global Conference 2016 showcase the full spectrum of sustainability issues, particularly in relation to the UN SDGs?
AS: Companies are grappling with so many emerging issues. The challenge in front of us is to determine what role businesses play in supporting the UN SDGs. Most businesses are unsure of how they can contribute in a tangible way and what role they might play. This causes hesitation and uncertainty when deciding to contribute their resources to achieving the goals.
We need to help companies define how the goals relate to their business. We suggest a company begin by peering down their supply chain to determine the conditions and sourcing of how their products are made. It is important to understand each level of the supply chain and the practices instituted.
When considering a major food producer or retailer, it is likely that you will find women who are working in fields and factories. Many times, there is a struggle with labor conditions, pay equality, and access to education. More often than not, these women are supporting families and lack the opportunities to advance themselves and by default their families.
When matching up the SDG with the issues, we see that the goals that align most are SDG number 5 for gender equality and SDG number 8 regarding decent work.
It’s important that GRI help companies understand their value chain from a sustainability perspective. Along the value chain there are risks and impacts. Those risks and impacts are where GRI can raise awareness and provide tools so that businesses can address the concerns fully.
At the conference, we conducted deep dives with attendees on topics like supply chain management and sourcing, gender equality, anti-corruption, land tenure, and human rights to name only a few.
KE: This was the 5th GRI Global Conference. Each one has had a different theme that reflected the current state of sustainability. This year's theme is Empowering Sustainable Decisions. What does that say about where we are now?
AS: Front and center is the need for alignment with the Paris agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is a massive undertaking for the public, private, and governmental sectors to interpret the requirements and build actionable and measurable plans to support them.
We lined up the most inspirational speakers for the conference. Our plan was to provide spaces and opportunities for attendees to work together and inspire one another. The freedom to share not only best practices but real and true challenges faced by each company will be the biggest takeaway benefit for attendees.