By Wright Communications -
9 December 2016
Sustainability reporting can be complicated, but a new global standard makes the process much clearer for businesses. Here is why the new GRI standards are the best yet.
One of the challenges of modern-day life is making a choice
between all the different options available. When you go to the
supermarket there are hundreds of wines and breakfast cereals and
dozens of most other products to choose from. For years, businesses
looking to be responsible corporate citizens have faced a similar
dilemma: which of the sustainability reporting standards should
Sustainability reporting is a major part of Corporate Social
Responsibility (CSR), but what should a sustainability report look
like? The answer may differ depending on which company you work
for, which industry you operate in and which reporting standard
your organisation uses.
Just as your CSR programme will evolve over time, the process
for reporting on sustainability is constantly being refined and
updated. Not only that, but different organisations have come up
with their own approach, which means there can be several competing
standards in the market. And you thought choosing between Marmite
and Vegemite was hard!
Fortunately, deciding which reporting standard to use has just
become easier. The Global Reporting Initiative, a not-for-profit
organisation that creates sustainability reporting guidelines, has
recently released its comprehensive new GRI reporting
The GRI sustainability reporting standards, which replace the
previous G4 standards, are the first global standards for
sustainability reporting. They are the most comprehensive reporting
structure for sustainability and contain several improvements from
The GRI standards are the world's most widely used framework by
businesses reporting on a range of economic, environmental and
social impacts. Their introduction is timely as the NZX looks set
to update its Corporate Governance Code to include sustainability
reporting requirements for listed companies.
If your organisation is listed on the NZX, you need to be
prepared. If you are not already doing sustainability reporting,
make it your mission in 2017 to start. If you traditionally
dedicate a couple of pages in your Annual Report to
"sustainability", "environment" or "community" consider applying a
more robust approach.
There is a chance NZX could recommend the use of GRI, so if you
already use it or start using it now you will be compliant from day
one. Regardless of what the NZX decides, listed companies should
follow best practice in all their reporting and disclosure and the
GRI standards are the most trusted and widely used worldwide.
Even if you are not a listed company, sustainability reporting
is a great way to measure your economic, environmental and social
impacts. The GRI standards are the clearest and most effective
reporting tool for doing so. Here is a short video explaining why.
The content has been separated out into a series of modular
standards, allowing for individual standards to be updated without
the need to revise all of them. There are three universal standards
all organisations use, as well as three series of standards
covering economic, environmental and social impacts.
There are 33 topic-specific standards in total, but don't panic,
as you probably won't have to do all of them. This is because one
of the themes of the GRI standards is materiality, which means
individual organisations identify the material issues and use them
to work out which standards are relevant to them, just like the
Specific Standard Disclosures in G4.
One of the areas where the GRI standards show improvement over
the G4 standards is in the language used, which is in several cases
much clearer and in 'plain English' compared to the
The GRI standards also feature clearer guidance on the
'boundaries' for topics. This concept was introduced in G4 to
ensure organisations reported on impacts up and down the value
chain, not just those directly caused by their own
Jackie Allender, a Senior Consultant at the Australasian Centre
for Corporate Social Responsibility, has written a useful summary of the new GRI standards at the
What organisations need to be aware of is that the GRI standards
will replace the G4 standards from 1 July 2018. This means that
even if you decide to start or continue with G4, you will need to
go through the hassle of changing over in under two years'
Wright Communications expects that New Zealand's Integrated
Reporting framework <IR> reporters are likely to want to
combine Integrated and GRI formats in a single document. This is
certainly possible and the earliest examples of integrated
reporting published so far here have used GRI in the development of
their integrated reports.
With all this in mind, choosing the GRI standards for
sustainability reporting really is a no-brainer. Marmite vs
Vegemite, on the other hand…