One of the most established international reporting templates for Sustainability reporting is the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Although this standard is used for Triple Bottom Line Accountability (TBL), this standard has six main areas of reporting: Finance, Environmental, Social, Labor, Human Rights, and Product. The last three are often combined in the Social reporting for TBL purposes.
Although there are standards for measurements, these standards are not used to compare one company against another. Just as in the financial world, the bottom line of the financial section may indicate the total net profit or loss, the company is judged by how it did financially according to the financial goals that it set and revealed. Even if a company exceeds its goals financially, it is often looked at as a company that is not in control of its growth and investors are therefore wary.
So it is with environmental and social reporting. A company is not measured by raw numbers, nor by comparison with other companies, but rather by the goals that it set and then either met or failed to meet. As such, transparency is a major element in Sustainability Reporting.
Sustainability Reporting From Wikipedia:
The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is a non-profit organization that promotes economic sustainability. It produces one of the world's most prevalent standards for sustainability reporting — also known as ecological footprint reporting, environmental social governance(ESG) reporting, triple bottom line (TBL) reporting, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting. GRI seeks to make sustainability reporting by all organizations as routine as, and comparable to, financial reporting.
A sustainability report is an organizational report that gives information about economic, environmental, social and governance performance.
GRI Guidelines are regarded to be widely used. More than 4,000 organizations from 60 countries use the Guidelines to produce their sustainability reports. (View the world’s reporters at the GRI Sustainability Disclosure Database.) GRI Guidelines apply to corporate businesses, public agencies, smaller enterprises, NGOs, industry groups and others. For municipal governments, they have generally been subsumed by similar guidelines from the UN ICLEI.
Environmental reporting guidelines
The Log aims to harmonize reporting standards for all organizations, of whatever size and geographical origin, on a range of issues with the aim of elevating the status of environmental reporting with that of, for example, financial auditing. Environmental transparency is one of the main areas of business under the scope of the GRI. As outlined in this section the GRI encourages participants to report on their environmental performance using specific criteria. The standardized reporting guidelines concerning the environment are contained within the GRI Indicator Protocol Set. The Performance Indicators (PI) includes criteria on energy, biodiversity and emissions. There are 30 environmental indicators ranging from EN1 (materials used by weight) to EN30 (total environmental expenditures by type of investment.
GRI and environmental governance
The GRI is an example of an organization that acts outside of the top-down power command structures associated with government (e.g., quasi-autonomous bodies and regulators). Environmental governance is the multifaceted and multilayered nature of "governing" the borderless and state-indiscriminate natural environment. Unlike major protected policy areas such as finance or defense, the environment requires sovereign states to sign up to treaties and multilateral agreements in order to coordinate action. Sustainability reporting is a more recent concept that encourages businesses and institutions to report on their environmental performance.
Sustainable reporting is, by definition, a way in which organizations assess their own environmental accomplishments and failings, reflect on this performance and subsequently transfer this information into the public domain. This broad concept has been theoretically termed ‘reflexive environmental law’ by some academics. Reflexive environmental law is an approach in which industry is encouraged to ‘self-reflect’ and ‘self-criticize’ the environmental externalities that result as a product of their activity, and thus act on these negative social impacts in a way that dually safeguards growth and protects the environment. There is also concern that the "exponential demand for disclosure", as described by Park et al. 2008, undermines the legitimacy and prestige of the GRI. It is, in other words, operating in a saturated market counting on businesses to volunteer their information to competing agencies. More recent organizations include the Carbon Disclosure Project which has similar aims.
The importance of the GRI in a globalizing world
The collapse of the USSR and the augmentation of capitalist economic systems in Eastern Europe and more recently in ostentatiously self-styled ‘communist’ countries like China, coined “bamboo capitalism”, suggests that this system of economic governance is likely to shape the world economy in the foreseeable future. Proponents of ‘sustainable capitalism’ or ‘conscious capitalism’ would conclude that organizations like the GRI effectively reconcile capitalism and the environment in an otherwise disjointed world. They concede that capitalism is not currently congruous with environmental aims, but it can be modestly redesigned where an emphasis on the GRI and its counterparts play a bigger, more innate role in business reporting. However, academic criticisms of sustainable reporting in a capitalist context abound. Moneva et al. (2006) suggest that many organizations that subscribe to the GRI’s voluntary reporting regime do not improve their performance and can often manipulate the guidelines just to appear more transparent.
Governance of the GRI
The “GRI” refers to the global network of many thousands worldwide that create the Reporting Framework, use it in disclosing their sustainability performance, demand its use by organizations as the basis for information disclosure, or are actively engaged in improving the standard.
The network is supported by an institutional side of the GRI, which is made up of the following governance bodies: Board of Directors, Stakeholder Council, Technical Advisory Committee, Organizational Stakeholders, and a Secretariat. Diverse geographic and sector constituencies are represented in these governance bodies. The GRI headquarters and Secretariat is in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The GRI was formed by the United States based non-profits Ceres (formerly the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) and Tellus Institute, with the support of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 1997. It released an “exposure draft” version of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines in 1999, the first full version in 2000, the second version was released at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg — where the organization and the Guidelines were also referred to in the Plan of Implementation signed by all attending member states. Later that year it became a permanent institution, with its Secretariat in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Although the GRI is independent, it remains a collaborating center of UNEP and works in cooperation with the United Nations Global Compact.