Context in context - By Elaine Cohen

Elaine Cohen is the founding partner of Beyond Business Ltd (  ), a social and environmental business consulting firm, specialising in CSR strategy and roadmap developent, implementation of CSR processes, reporting and assurance. We work
Mar 10, 2011 10:11 AM ET
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Context in context


This post a response to Mark McElroy and Henk Hadders. Both have been urging me to "pronounce" on the subject of context, or lack of it, in sustainability reports, in particular following  my outline of the way the GRI guidelines and integrated reporting will be progressing over the next few years.

Mark McElroy is the founder of the Center for Sustainable Organizations, and has been working tirelessly for over 10 years to advocate for context-based sustainability reporting for which he has developed a particular methodology. I chatted to Mark on the phone yesterday. 

The GRI relates to the question of context in the GRI guidelines, as one of the reporting principles for defining content. The guidance on the principle of context states that reports should present the organization's sustainability performance in the wider context of sustainability. This is the explanation: "The underlying question of sustainability reporting is how an organization contributes, or aims to contribute in the future, to the improvement or deterioration of economic, environmental, and social conditions, developments, and trends at the local, regional, or global level. Reporting only on trends in individual performance (or the efficiency of the organization) will fail to respond to this underlying question. Reports should therefore seek to present performance in relation to broader concepts of sustainability. This will involve discussing the performance of the organization in the context of the limits and demands placed on environmental or social resources at the sectoral, local, regional, or global level." This is rather broad and of course, the degree to which context is reported in detail is left open to interpretation. The GRI offers nothing more specific on this subject. Mark McElroy, however, sees context in a very specific way. These are the tenets of the Context Based Sustainability Reporting approach a la Mark McElroy.

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