Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
ISSUES: Developing consensus on a global framework for corporate environmental/sustainability reporting. Multi stakeholder perspectives.
GOALS: To develop and disseminate globally applicable sustainability reporting guidelines for voluntary use by organisations reporting on the economic, environmental and social dimensions of their activities, products and services. GRI is a long-term, multi-stakeholder, international undertaking, focused on corporate sector, with possible extensions to other organisation types in future e.g. local municipalities, NGO’s
PARTICIPATING STAKEHOLDERS: The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES); NGO’s; accountants; business; international organisations such as UNEP
TIME FRAME: Initiated in late 1997, ongoing, developing process
MSP CONTACT DETAILS; URL: www.globalreporting.org
Type: Informing; for the purpose of Implementation & Monitoring: A process in steps: stewardship (consolidation), tools (identification issues) to application (use and implementation).
Designing the MSP
The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), in collaboration with the Tellus Institute, convened the GRI in late 1997. (CERES is the coalition of environmentally concerned groups that sponsors the 10 point CERES principles). UNEP then joined as a key partner.
Encouragement was given to others to become part of the process.
GRI has two main components:
The process for the initiative was fairly organic. Initially, an informal group of like-minded people developed the concept, then a more formal group was set up (also involving new individuals) as a Steering Committee (SC) to develop the Mission Statement. The SC has membership from 7 countries and 17 organisations and has guided GRI to date. The statement was open to comment and change for others outside the SC. Now it is fairly defined, although it is still open to change. The core principle is to allow anyone interested and committed to the process to participate i.e. no stakeholder is being excluded. Also, if a party should decide not to participate then they can still receive regular up-dates and reports on the process for purposes of transparency and openness.
The opportunity for GRI arose in response to rising expectations for greater corporate accountability, transparency and encouragement for more companies to move towards sustainability reporting (as opposed to just financial reports).
Identifying the issues to be addressed in an MSP
CERES identified potential SC members to kick-start the process. The Steering Committee had the initial idea and then widened discussion.
GRI Meetings were held in more than 15 countries – 35 countries involved so far. GRI process developed through Working Groups, Briefings, Conferences and Communications. GRI’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, were released in a draft format in March 1999, and opened to comments and testing. The Revised Guidelines released in June 2000 were developed with the help of representatives from business, NGOs and governments across the world.
Identifying relevant stakeholders
Process of identification began informally, then through more coordinated structure (Steering Committee). Then built allies e.g. John Elkington (Sustainability), Roger Adams ACCA (UK accountants association. They started to develop working groups and programmes. The SC meeting quarterly and then less frequent “open meetings” are held to identify the focus of a working group e.g. Social Development Indicators.
Governments, NGOs, businesses, business associations, labour organisations and human rights groups involved to date.
Identifying MSP participants
The GRI is open to all individuals and organisations interested in sustainability reporting. Particular targeting of multi-national corporations in this phase. GRI clearly states that it will not form formal alliances, partnerships or ventures with commercial firms.
21 companies pilot tested the draft guidelines, published in 1999 – about half volunteered and the rest were recruited after the gaps became obvious. Selected on the basis of various criteria e.g. geographical balance, diversity in size, reporting experience etc.
Many other stakeholders - corporate and non-corporate - provided feedback. Several companies have already published GRI Reports.
Setting the goals of an MSP
The GRI Steering Group in partnership with stakeholders has guided developments so far. The vision aims to move, over time, from an informing process to one that brings together disparate reporting initiatives into a new multi-stakeholder, global process, with ramifications for disclosure, investment and business responsibility.
Set out in Mission statement (defined by SC) and refined through consultation, through process on on-going dialogue and consultation (largely via internet and email).
Setting the agenda
GRI in collaboration with stakeholders. An open process so checking back is possible.
Process in steps: stewardship (consolidation), tools (identification issues) to application (use and implementation). Set by SC and open meeting.
Setting the time-table
Process is on-going. This band of activities will finish 2002. Timing led by SC, Secretariat and Transitions Director.
GRI describe the process as intensive, multi-stakeholder, and international. As well as input from business and governments, the June 2000 release benefited from the thinking of labour organisations, human rights, environmental, and investor groups.
GRI identifies initiatives, invites them into the process and tries to find common elements across the programmes.
GRI optimises use of email, regional meetings and video conferences to ensure a top-down, bottom-up balance. It uses the Internet for grass-roots and NGO monitoring and feedback.
People are involved more as a personal capacity and less on behalf of organisations, therefore consultation is less relevant and anyone can be involved. However, where contentious issues arise then people can go away and assess.
Extensive use of electronic reporting to facilitate dialogue dissemination.
Email, meetings, conferences, international symposium e.g. Washington. The process seeks to be neutral as far as possible and level discussion. Careful and strong chairing in a meeting is essential. The GRI offers an opportunity to NGOs to deliver their message through to industry and government actors. GRI view the process as one which enhances and disseminates the Guidelines through ongoing consultation and stakeholder engagement.
Decision-making process: procedures of agreement
Agreement is sought through working groups, careful wording and clarification of definitions is often necessary. Groups work by consensus, not majority.
The Guidelines will be a useful resource to any company wishing to use them. They were described by Roger Adams of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants as “a major step towards a generally accepted, global framework for sustainability reporting” (DETR 2001).
The test of whether the GRI succeeds in improving quality of company reporting will depend upon the number of companies adopting the guidelines.
The process is constantly redefined (this is an integral part of GRI process) and redesigned, through an iterative, open process (along model of software development i.e. version 1.0, 2.0 etc.).
Closing the MSP
Process is still in its early stages. The guidelines will be further tested and refined. Work is to be done on strengthening and increasing stakeholder engagement. SC decides with open meeting consultation.
Structures / institutions of the MSP
SC, secretariat, working groups, open forum (largely internet based). The interim Steering Committee reflects GRI’s multi-disciplinary and international dimension. Set up in early 1998 and currently based in Boston, USA. Efforts underway to build a permanent GRI institution, governed by a Board of Directors and involving multi-party technical and stakeholder groups to ensure continuation of GRI’s core values of inclusiveness and transparency.
GRI Secretariat, in partnership with CERES (GRI base) and UNEP. Offers research, meeting, drafting, coordination services.
There is extensive use of the Internet; reports, frameworks etc. are being produced, e.g. first draft of GRI guidelines in 2000.
Relating to not-participating stakeholders
The June 2000 release of GRI’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines attracted widespread attention. Guidelines can be used by any relevant institutions. For example, the UK Department of Trade and Industry is currently seeking independent advice on the feasibility of their reporting against the GRI Guidelines.
GRI now working to strengthen stakeholder engagement. They receive info, can comment and input at any opportunity.
Relating to the general public
GRI is not really a public forum but the process is open to comments from relevant individuals. Information is available via the Internet.
GRI Guidelines provide reporters and users of reports with guidance on reporting principles and recommendations for report content. They also include indicators covering the “ triple bottom line” issues - environmental, social and economic issues which will make it easier for users of reports, such as investors, to compare performance across organisations.
Information is available through brochure, internet, and press.
Linkage into official decision-making process
GRI is a voluntary initiative and a non-governmental process. The agreed principle initially was that government involvement at a too early stage could slow down the process and be potentially hazardous. Now, however, government interest is growing and GRI is often consulted in other processes, e.g. EU Disclosure guidelines, OECD equivalent, ISO, UNEP GC, UN, ILO, High Commission Human Rights. GRI is assisting processes of standard reporting.
GRI is funded mainly by foundations including United Nations Foundation, Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, CS Mott Foundation, as well as Spencor T Oil (US), the US Environmental Protection Agency, one Danish funder (undeclared). A business plan to secure future growth is underway. Independence is an issue. Budget is around US$ 3-4 million for the first three years. Requirements will grow to US$ 4-5 million per year. Proposal in the future is to create a trust, ensuring transparency. Funders will have no control or influence over the distribution of their funds.
[ information gathered as of 16 February 2001 ]